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Veterans report healthier cortisol levels from the support and companionship of service dogs


A new study showed veterans with PTSD benefited from having a service dog compared to those without one

24K-Production / stock.adobe.com

24K-Production / stock.adobe.com

A new study from The University of Arizona College of Veterinary Medicine (CVM) analyzed the impact service dogs had on military veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) by examining cortisol levels in veterans with a service dog vs a veteran without one.1 Ultimately, research showed that those with a service dog had healthier cortisol levels compared to those without a service dog.2 The study, funded with support from the Dogtopia Foundation, the National Institutes of Health, and Purina, aimed at demonstrating the benefits service dogs can have on veterans in need.

Led by Maggie O'Haire, PhD, associate dean for research and professor at the CVM, and Leanne Nieforth, PhD, the research assessed a total of 161 veterans who had PTSD; 88 who had a service dog and 73 who did not.1 Participates were recruited from non-profit service dog organization, K9 For Warriors. Cortisol, a stress hormone in saliva, was evaluated at 2 intervals, 3 months apart for each participant. Findings indicated that veterans with service dogs exhibited stress hormone levels more akin to those in non-PTSD-affected healthy adults, compared to veterans without service dogs.2

"The goal of our research is to gain a robust understanding of the impact service dogs have on veterans and their mental health," said O'Haire, in a news release. "Science continues to evolve in our understanding of how service dogs may influence symptoms for veterans struggling with PTSD and their quality of life."2

According to the Dogtopia Foundation, around 52% of veterans suffer from PTSD.3 "We've had the profound privilege of meeting many of the veterans we've supported through our fundraising efforts and hearing first-hand how these service dogs saved their lives," said Liz Meyers, executive director of the Dogtopia Foundation. "Their testimonials drive our commitment to support Dr O'Haire's incredible work, while we continue fundraising to support our veterans in need."2

One success story from the Doptopia Foundation’s work comes from Anthony Torres who served in the United States Marines for 6 years. In a partnership with Next Step Service Dogs, Torres was joined with golden retriever, Tillman. “He’s that number one spot in my life, and I need to make sure he’s taken care of,” Torres told Doptopia.3

This study further legitimizes the positive impact service dogs have on veterans with PTSD," said K9s For Warriors chief program officer, Kevin Steele. "Every day, K9s For Warriors has the privilege to witness the life-changing effect a service dog has on a veteran. Thank you to the Dogtopia Foundation, NIH, and Purina for supporting this crucial research, allowing us to continue changing veteran lives."2

A deeper look at the cortisol study can be found in the Scientific Reports journal.1 The study details methods used and exact numeric results of cortisol awakening response.


  1. Nieforth LO, Rodriguez KE, Zhuang R, et al. The cortisol awakening response in a 3 month clinical trial of service dogs for veterans with posttraumatic stress disorder. Scientific Reports. 2024;14(1):1664. doi:10.1038/s41598-023-50626-y
  2. According to a new study, veterans with PTSD who had service dogs showed healthier cortisol levels compared to those without. News release. Dogtopia. February 13, 2024. Accessed February 14, 2024. https://prnmedia.prnewswire.com/news-releases/according-to-a-new-study-veterans-with-ptsd-who-had-service-dogs-showed-healthier-cortisol-levels-compared-to-those-without-302060923.html
  3. Our worthy causes. Dogtopia Foundation. Accessed February 14, 2024. https://dogtopiafoundation.org/our-worthy-causes/#veterans
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