Study examines health effects that shelter dogs might have on veterans with PTSD

AURORA, Colo. — A small nonprofit organization studying the health of American veterans recently received funding to examine how shelter dogs physically and psychologically impact veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder.

The funding was provided to the organization Canines Providing Assistance to Wounded Warriors,which is a center within the University of Colorado College of Nursing at the Anschutz Medical Campus.

The study is funded from an International Society for Anthrozoology/WALTHAM collaborative research grant.

There already is research that suggests interacting with animals, particularly dogs, benefits human physiological and psychological health. This study will specifically evaluate the effects of dogs on veterans.

The research team will work with the WYCO Vet-to-Vet Alliance, a support and advocacy organization for veterans based in Fort Collins, to reach out to area veterans to participate.

“Our study’s findings have the potential to contribute physiological and psycho social evidence indicating that volunteering at a dog shelter can decrease stress and enhance quality-of-life indicators in reintegrating veterans with PTSD,” said principal investigator Cheryl Krause-Parello, an associate professor at the CU College of Nursing.

“This study may also give us some valuable insights regarding how shelter dogs themselves are impacted by being socialized with and exercised by veterans. In the future, this investigation could help shape the development of policies and volunteer programs at dog shelters implemented specifically for veterans coping with PTSD.”

Veterans in the study will walk shelter dogs at Animal House Rescue and Grooming in Fort Collins in an eight-week intervention aimed at reducing stress levels and improving psychological outcomes.

Researchers will collect various measures of physiological stress from veterans, including heart rate variability, blood pressure and salivary cortisol, and alpha amylase levels.

Additionally, they will examine stress levels in the shelter dogs by collecting the heart rate variability of the dogs involved in the study.

The investigation will examine the reciprocal nature of human-animal interaction and the effects that interacting with canines have on veterans coping with PTSD.

The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals estimates 3.9 million dogs currently live in shelters nationwide. The United States is home to more than 21 million veterans.

Up to 30 percent of veterans struggle with PTSD, dependent upon deployment era.