Service Dogs Significantly Reduce PTSD Symptoms in Military Members and Veterans

Service Dogs Significantly Reduce PTSD Symptoms in Military Members and Veterans

University of Arizona Researcher Leads Groundbreaking Study on the Benefits of Service Dogs

For military members and veterans diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), the addition of a service dog to their usual care regimen could significantly reduce PTSD symptoms, anxiety, and depression while enhancing their quality of life and social functioning. This finding comes from a comprehensive study funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

Key Findings

The study, the largest nationwide trial to compare service dog partnerships with standard care alone, involved 156 military members and veterans diagnosed with PTSD. Participants were recruited from the K9s For Warriors database, an accredited non-profit service dog provider. Under U.S. federal law, service dogs are trained to perform tasks for people with disabilities.

After three months, the 81 participants who received service dogs reported notable improvements in their conditions compared to the 75 participants in the control group who were waitlisted for a service dog. Specifically, those with service dogs experienced:

  • Lower PTSD symptom severity: Participants showed significant reductions in the frequency and intensity of PTSD symptoms.
  • Reduced anxiety and depression: There was a marked decrease in feelings of anxiety and depression among participants with service dogs.
  • Decreased social isolation: Many participants reported feeling more connected to their communities and experiencing less loneliness.
  • Increased feelings of companionship: The presence of a service dog provided a constant source of companionship and emotional support.

All participants had unrestricted access to their usual care outside their participation in the study, ensuring that the benefits observed were attributable to the service dogs.

The Challenge of PTSD

PTSD is marked by symptoms such as intrusion, increased arousal and reactivity, and avoidance of trauma reminders. This condition is notoriously difficult to treat and is often accompanied by other disorders, including major depression and general anxiety disorder. Approximately 23% of military members and veterans who served post-9/11 are estimated to have PTSD. Veterans also face a higher risk of suicide compared to non-veterans.

Leading the Study

The study was spearheaded by Dr. Marguerite E. O’Haire of the University of Arizona College of Veterinary Medicine in Tucson. Dr. O’Haire’s team meticulously designed and executed the study, ensuring robust data collection and analysis. The research has been published in JAMA Network Open, highlighting its significance in the medical community. NIH funding was provided by the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD), the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences, among other organizations.

“This study underscores the profound impact service dogs can have on the mental health and well-being of military members and veterans, offering a promising avenue for enhancing the standard care for PTSD,” said Dr. O’Haire. “The partnership between a service dog and a person with PTSD goes beyond simple companionship. The dogs are trained to assist with specific tasks that help mitigate PTSD symptoms, providing both physical and emotional support.”

The Role of NIH

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) is the U.S. medical research agency, comprising 27 Institutes and Centers. It is the primary federal agency for conducting and supporting medical research, investigating the causes, treatments, and cures for both common and rare diseases. NIH’s comprehensive research efforts have significantly advanced medical knowledge and improved health outcomes. For more information about NIH and its programs, visit [NIH](


The results of this groundbreaking study highlight the potential for service dogs to be integrated into the standard care regimen for PTSD, providing a non-pharmaceutical intervention that can lead to significant improvements in mental health and overall quality of life for military members and veterans. This innovative approach could pave the way for more widespread use of service dogs in therapeutic settings, offering hope and healing to those who have served their country.