PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – A new study shows how veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder may experience mental health benefits from having service dogs.
Nonprofit organization K9s for Warriors, which is headquartered in Ponte Vedra Beach, helped with the study led by the Purdue University College of Veterinary Medicine.
It's not a surprise that a PTSD service dog can have a significantly positive influence on a military veteran's health and wellbeing. But, according to the new study, there may now be a way to actually measure the effects of having a service dog by studying a person's saliva.
Researchers noted that service dogs do not appear to be a cure for the disorder, but the study used saliva samples from veterans with PTSD to start to define the effects of service dogs.
“This study compared a group of veterans with PTSD who had a service dog to a group on the waitlist to receive one," said Maggie O'Haire, an assistant professor who helped lead the study. "Our previous research suggests that the presence of a service dog reduced clinical PTSD symptoms and improved quality of life. In this study, we wanted to determine if those beneficial effects also included changes in the physiology of stress.”
The study found that the group of veterans with service dogs in their homes produced more of the crucial body-regulating hormone cortisol than those on the waitlist. Researchers also found that pattern was closer to the cortisol levels of health adults with don't have PTSD.
Military veterans with service dogs told researchers that they experienced less anger, less anxiety and better sleep.
Founded in March 2011, K9s for Warriors pairs service dogs with veterans with PTSD, traumatic brain injury or military sexual trauma as a result of military service post-9/11.
The organization's CEO, Rory Diamond, told News4Jax on Tuesday that he gets to see how the dogs help veterans every day, but the study is proof for others who don't get to see that firsthand.
"A couple of years ago, K9s for Warriors was small and people would say, 'Prove that your dogs work.' And we couldn’t," Diamond said. "What’s amazing today is that, for the first time in the history of the world, we have peer-reviewed, hard science that a service dog can help a veteran with PTSD."
Diamond described the service dogs as miracles, and said that, many times, they give a warrior a reason to be alive.
"It's amazing. A service dog can get a veteran who is forced to isolate in a home back out into the world again," Diamond said. "Even the small things we take for granted, like going to the store, become possible again for a veteran."
Diamond hopes the study will not only lead to more funding for K9s for Warriors, but more importantly, help save lives.
"The goal is, eventually, to keep our warriors alive. Twenty-two veteran suicides a day -- a dog can help many of those veterans," he said. "This study leads us down the path to be able to pay for that."
Researchers said they were very grateful to the veterans who participated in the study.
The next step involves a large-scale National Institutes of Health clinical trial in which researchers are studying cortisol levels over an extended period of time.