Being diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can be difficult, not only for the individual, but for his or her family, friends and others as well. Learning to cope with this particular disorder is something many people struggle with every day. During any given year, there are close to 5.2 million people who have PTSD. The U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs estimates between 7 and 8 percent of the population will have PTSD at some point in their lives.

While there are various treatments (cognitive-behavioral therapy, family therapy, medication and more) individuals can pursue to help alleviate the symptoms of PTSD, there is one particular therapy that seems to be gaining a lot of attention and popularity: animal therapy.

With the help of a caring pit bull, one former U.S. Marine has found it much easier to re-acclimate himself into society and get back to the normal activities of everyday life. NBC News reported the two were paired up after the New York-based, Animal Farm Foundation began rescuing and training pit bulls to become assistance dogs to aid the blind, those who were wheelchair-bound and others. Now, organizations like Canines4Hope have PTSD service dogs available who are trained to offer comfort, companionship, a sense of security, physical exercise, assistance in coping with emotional stress, and more. It is organizations and animals such as these that are changing people’s lives, and giving veterans and others with PTSD a renewed hope for the future

Main Categories of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Symptoms

An individual who goes through or is witness to a seriously traumatic event may find him- or herself suffering from at least a few of the symptoms of post-traumatic stress. That is normal. When those feelings don’t go away, or you continue to feel worse, or you are left with a sense of helplessness and hopelessness, you may have post-traumatic stress disorder.

The three main categories of symptoms of PTSD are:

  • Re-experiencing the event through flashbacks, bad dreams or frightening thoughts
  • Avoiding symptoms such as staying away from reminders, emotional numbness, guilt, depression, loss of interest in previously enjoyable activities, difficulty remembering the event
  • Hyper-arousal symptoms such as being easily startled, feeling on edge or tense, difficulty sleeping, or having angry or violent outbursts.

The Benefits of Animal Therapy to Those with PTSD

Pets, particularly dogs, seem to have this innate ability to bond with their owners and sense their needs even when others cannot. The benefits of having a pet has long been recognized as pets can help reduce stress levels, alleviate anxious behavior, lower blood pressure, boost immunity and promote overall health and well-being. They can also be extremely beneficial to those with PTSD.

While there are many different type of service dogs available to provide assistance and act as a form of therapy, the following are just some of the things PTSD service dogs can do:

  • Provide companionship and alleviate a sense of isolation
  • Calm their handler, if the dog senses stress levels are high
  • Prevent people from crowding around their handler
  • Aid in episodes of depression or anxiety
  • Assist in a medical emergency
  • Help their handler cope with a disability

Of course, dogs are not the only animals which can be used in animal therapy, however they are one of the most common animals used for those with PTSD. Horses, cats, birds and even dolphins have elicited positive results when these animals were paired with PTSD patients. Through animal therapy, many PTSD patients are likely to find they can slowly regain control of their lives and get back to some of the normal, everyday activities they once enjoyed.