Animals have a healing ability that often goes unmatched in the minds and hearts of many people. For centuries, animals–like dogs–have been known to Due to their therapeutic abilities, animal-assisted therapy has become a popular service for healthcare patients.

One area where animal-assisted therapy offers benefits is in veteran care. Today, there are hundreds of pet-assisted therapy programs that help to treat veterans with post-traumatic disorder and other disabilities.

Although research for PTSD treatment is still in its infancy, evidence suggests that ongoing animal-assisted therapy can benefit veterans in need. Today animal-based therapy seeks to improve the emotional, mental, and physical well being of veterans through strategic clinical programs.

How Animals Help Soothe Veterans

Animal-assisted therapy has already shown to have many tangible benefits amongst veterans. Research from the National Institute of Health found that direct interactions with animals significantly improved socialization and helped stabilize mood. The study also showed that subjects reduced aggression rates and improved feelings of empathy. Furthermore, psychologists have noted that 82% of veterans showed reduced symptoms of PTSD.

But how do animals have such a powerful effect on the human condition? Studies show that interaction with animals releases the chemical oxytocin in the human body which gives us feelings of happiness and calmness. These feelings allow patients to bond with the service animals and feel trusting towards them. A similar study even provided evidence that therapy dogs can increase dopamine and oxytocin after 20 minutes with patients.

Animals including dogs, cats, horses, and iguanas have all been used to treat trauma patients. In veteran patients who have high heart rates due to stress syndromes, the  relationship building techniques help to reduce heart rate and soothe anxieties.

A Psychiatric Services study demonstrated that animal-assisted therapy is closely associated with reduced anxiety rates for patients with psychiatric diagnoses. In addition, reoccurring therapeutic sessions improved only for patients with mood disorders supporting the notion that regular animal-assisted therapy appointments would benefit veterans with PTSD and other mood traumas like depression.

Animals Can Guide Vets into the Future

There is still some controversy over animal-assisted therapies. However, since preliminary research suggests there are some benefits for patients, then an addition of

It’s estimated that over 20% of returning vets have emotional or physical traumas that make it difficult for them to reenter society. Pet therapy is expected to become popular because of the subjective positive effects on patients. However, more substantial, long-term is sought in the field of animal-assisted therapies for veterans. Yet, these encouraging findings have allowed the Department of Defense to invest $300,000 in research for pet-assisted therapies for veterans in recent years.

With hope, we may see more refined animal-human interaction programs that are part of comprehensive therapy initiatives. Preliminary research shows that we can help veterans with animal-assisted therapies by providing education and reducing the stigma of trauma-related injuries. The nonjudgmental support that animals have to offer is a great way to break the stigmas and stereotypes of PTSD for our heroic veterans.

In the meantime, if you’d like to help support animal-based therapies for veterans, you can donate to charities like Pets for Vets and Paws for Veterans.