Study finds service dogs contribute to owners’ emotional well-being

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In addition to the physical benefits that service dogs provide to owners, the dogs also contribute to owners’ emotional and psychosocial well-being, according to preliminary study results from researchers at Purdue University College of Veterinary Medicine.

The findings were presented Feb. 7 at the North American Veterinary Community Conference in Orlando, Florida. Elanco Animal Health, a division of Eli Lilly and Co., is funding the study.

The new research is part of a larger, four-year study on the emotional and health benefits of service dogs to owners. The goal of the three-part study is to evaluate the impact of the human-animal bond on mental health and well-being. Leading the project is Maggie O’Haire, PhD, assistant professor of human-animal interaction at Purdue’s veterinary college.

Researchers worked with Canine Assistants, a nonprofit organization dedicated to education and placement of service dogs with children and adults who have physical disabilities or other special needs. Elanco is a sponsor of Canine Assistants.

The study compared recipients of service dogs and those recipients’ family members with people who were on a waiting list for service dogs and the families of those people.

Preliminary findings of the study indicate the following:

  • Recipients of a service dog enjoyed a higher overall quality of life as well as better emotional, social, and work or school functioning than people who were waiting to receive a service dog.
  • Family members with a service dog in the home functioned better socially and emotionally as well as worried less as a result of the recipient’s health than family members on the waitlist did.
  • Family members with a service dog also managed daily family activities better than family members on the waitlist did.
  • No differences were found between the two recipient groups in the categories of anger, companionship, and sleep disturbance.