Service dogs have long provided practical services, like assistance opening doors and navigating city streets. For many years it has been recognized that these dogs can improve the quality of life for those suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.
Now it looks like science has come up with another benefit for vets with a service dog—better physical health. According to a new report, vets with dogs show fewer signs of physiological damage due to the harmful effects of stress.
A study published in Psychoneuroendocrinology monitored the effects of cortisol in the bodies of vets dealing with PTSD, studying those using and not using service dogs. Researchers measured the vets’ “cortisol awakening response,” a scientific way of tracking both acute and ongoing stress.
Vets with a service dog with them, in their home, showed better cortisol results than those who were still on a waitlist for a dog. In physiological terms, vets with dogs showed less anger, experienced fewer episodes of anxiety, and enjoyed deeper sleep. Their results matched those of adults without PTSD.
The scientists point out that their study hasn’t proved a direct connection between levels of cortisol and PTSD in individual vets. And it doesn’t mean that service dogs cure PTSD.
But it is good news. Those in the military suffering from PTSD have long said a service dog improves the quality of their life. More and more studies are coming up with scientific evidence behind this anecdotal evidence.
The Veterans Administration insists on scientific proof before throwing full support to providing service dogs to vets with PTSD. This study is adding another building block to the rigorous evidence the VA demands. A further study is underway, conducted by the National Institutes of Health. This is a clinical trial of vets, with and without dogs, that will extend for a long period of time.
As the scientific proof increases, it is likely that more service dogs will be available for vets. On a personal level, it is excellent news for individual veterans. PTSD can be debilitating. Trying to live a normal life while struggling with PTSD symptoms is a 24-hour-a-day challenge. Living with more sleep, less anxiety and fewer bouts of anger could be life-changing for vets with PTSD.
Supporting Service Dogs
USA Service Dog Registration supports service dogs for vets. We know how important they are for physical tasks and for psychological comfort. We’re not surprised that science is proving they also reduce the harmful effects of stress on the body.
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