A Study of Dog Adoption in Veterans with Posttraumatic Stress Disorder


Evaluate whether adopting a pet dog from the San Antonio Humane Society as a supplement to usual care can reduce psychological distress and improve quality of life for Veterans with PTSD.

Could man’s best friend help war Veterans who are living with PTSD? This is a question being investigated by Stephen L. Stern, MD, of the South Texas Veterans Health Care System in collaboration with co-investigator and STRONG STAR Consortium Director Alan L. Peterson, PhD, of The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio.

Numerous research studies have shown that social support is key both to PTSD prevention and recovery. Now, with funding support from the Department of Veterans Affairs Office of Research and Development, Rehabilitation, and the close collaboration of the San Antonio Humane Society, Dr. Stern and colleagues are looking at the value of social support from “man’s best friend.” Specifically, Dr. Stern’s team has developed a randomized clinical trial to examine how a dog’s companionship might help reduce psychological distress and improve overall quality of life for Veterans with PTSD.

Prompted by many personal stories from Veterans about how much they had been helped by having a dog, Dr. Stern and his colleagues — supported by the Disabled American Veterans (DAV) Charitable Service Trust — previously recruited Veterans with PTSD to participate in a pilot study of shelter dog adoption from the San Antonio Humane Society.

The positive results from their pilot study led Dr. Stern and his colleagues to undertake the present, larger study. It will look in more detail at the benefits of dog adoption and what might be the mechanisms at work. For example, in addition to the companionship that a sociable pet like a dog provides, having a dog could encourage Veterans to get outside and exercise with their dog through interactive play or a walk. This may additionally lead to more social interaction with people. The satisfaction of giving a happy home to a homeless animal might also contribute to the benefits of dog adoption.

How the study works

After an evaluation with study staff, participants will be randomly assigned either to adopt a dog right away or to go onto a waiting list for three months and then adopt their pet. With the assistance of the San Antonio Humane Society veterinarian and adoption counselors, participants will be able to choose their new life-long companion from the many animals available at the shelter. The adoption fee will be waived, and free training classes and veterinary care for the duration of the study will be provided. Veterans will be responsible for the other costs of caring for their pet. Study investigators will follow study participants closely over the course of six months to evaluate potential benefits related to PTSD, depression, and health-related quality of life.

Potential impact

If the results of this study are positive, investigators hope it will lead to shelter dog adoptions becoming a widely available option for enhancing the care of Veterans with PTSD and helping to heal the psychological wounds of war.

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