As any dog lover can attest: dogs make great pets. They provide companionship and can lift your mood and reduce stress in your life. But can owning a dog play a role in PTSD treatment? According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, more research is needed, but here’s what we know.

First, PTSD recovery is a process that requires treatment and takes time. Owning a dog may help people with PTSD deal with certain aspects of the disorder, but it’s not a substitute for standard PTSD therapies. Second, while a dog can provide comfort for people with posttraumatic stress disorder, relying too heavily on the animal can impede recovery and lead to dependence—preventing the owner from learning how to handle stressful situations on his/her own–without the dog.

Emotional Support Dogs

Emotional support dogs, also called comfort dogs, are identified by mental health professionals as animals that help owners with mental health conditions like PTSD. Support dogs do not receive special training—unlike service dogs, which are trained to help a handler (owner) manage his/her disability. Emotional support dogs provide comfort and companionship.

In most states, emotional support dogs are not allowed in all public places—like service dogs are. However, on the written recommendation of a qualified health care provider, they may be given special consideration. For example, support dogs may be allowed in an apartment complex that usually does not permit pets, or may be allowed to fly on a plane with its owner.

Should You Get a Dog?

If you or a family member has PTSD, talk to your health care provider, mental health care professional, and the rest of your family before getting a dog. Dogs need owners who can take care of them and it may be difficult for a person suffering with posttraumatic stress disorder to provide a safe, caring home.

Remember, a dog is not a substitute for PTSD treatment. If you’re worried about your ability to care for a dog, it’s better to wait until your treatment progresses and you are feeling better. Research is ongoing to determine if dogs can provide a service for people who have posttraumatic stress disorder.

Source: U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs

Publication Review By: the Editorial Staff at

Published: 29 May 2014

Last Modified: 29 May 2014