Working Dogs for Wounded Warriors: Effects of Animal-Assisted Therapy on PTSD


Name: Mona Pearl

Rank: Col

Organization: Henry M. Jackson Foundation for the Advancement of Military Medicine

Performance Site: Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, Bethesda, MD; Kean University, Union, NJ

Year Published: 2012

Abstract Status:


With such high rates of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Traumatic  Brain Injury (TBI)  in returning wounded warriors (WW) from Iraq and Afghanistan and a growing number of combat veterans surviving the trauma of combat and suffering from PTSD, interventions are urgently needed to promote the healing process and prevent future, negative repercussions from the trauma of war. Stress-related psychological issues, such as PTSD, have been linked to traumatic events, can disrupt an individual’s life, and become an antecedent for substance abuse, loneliness, isolation, depression, self-blame, and suicide. A unique method of intervention, animal-assisted therapy (AAT), has been supported in recent literature as a therapeutic tool to reduce stress and enhance health, and this study seeks to confirm and expand upon this relationship. The purpose of this exploratory study is to investigate the biobehavioral and psychobiologic interface among AAT and stress indicators, salivary cortisol and IgA, blood pressure (BP), and pulse, in 140 WW being treated at National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, MD. The central hypothesis is that AAT can lead to stress indicator reduction in WW's. This hypothesis will be tested by measuring these in vitro and in vivo measures in WW before, after, and 30 minutes after a 20 minute visitation from an AAT canine and control condition (usual care). Building on past, related research, this study will pursue specific aims: Reducing in vitro and in vivo measures of stress indicators (cortisol, BP, and pulse); Increasing an in vitro measure of a stress indicator (IgA); To correlate cortisol and IgA levels with WW's current health in terms of coping ability, quality of life, emotional/social loneliness, perceived stress, and pet attitude; and To determine the degree of exposure to combat in relation to WW's current health and response to AAT in terms of cortisol, IgA, and vital signs. The long-term goal of this investigation is to provide an innovative and effective intervention during recovery of PTSD that promotes well-being in this vulnerable population by reducing stress and stress indicators and consequently preventing impaired well-being. The proposed project describes an innovative and cost-contained initiative to support wounded warriors.