Sample Psychology Paper: PTSD Symptoms and Pet Ownership

Examining the Relationship between Post-traumatic Stress Symptoms and Pet Ownership:
The Ne\w School for Social Research


In a survey commissioned by the Department of Veteran Affairs, the National Institutes of Health, and Sidran Institute, statistics revealed that 70% or 223.4 million of the adult population in the United States have experienced traumatic encounters at least once in their lives (PTSD United, Inc., 2013). However, only 20% of these numbers will actually progress to PTSD (Glover, 2014). PTSD or posttraumatic stress disorder is a psychiatric disorder which initially developed following a traumatic experience (Zoladz, 2013, p.860). The severity of the condition depends on how significantly the PTSD symptoms affects an individual’s ability to live and function normally in the society. In this study, the proponent tried to establish the correlation between PTSD symptoms and pet ownership. The proponent tried to document how owning a pet can actually impact the development, progression and severity of PTSD. In this study, 46 r\espondents evealed that there is no significant correlation between PTSD symptoms and pet ownership as revealed in the computation of the rho = (-.392) using Pearson Product Correlation. This revealed that while it has been assumed that pet ownership has been reported to bring a calming effect to people, it does not support that it has any direct relationship to PTSD symptoms nor does pet owner suggests that it can help manage or control PTSD symptoms.

Keywords: PTSD, pet ownership, anxiety, mood, intrusion, avoidance


Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a psychiatric disorder that may develop following the experience or witnessing of a traumatic event (Zoladz, 2013). Some examples of these traumatic events include, but is not limited to, domestic violence, sexual abuse, acts of terror, or accidents. Not everyone with PTSD has personally survived a dangerous event; some can get PTSD witnessing a friend or family member endure danger or harm. The sudden death of a loved one can also be a cause of PTSD. According to the American Psychiatric Association, (2013), there are four clusters of symptoms that characterize PTSD—(a) intrusion, (b) avoidance, (c) negative alterations in cognition and mood, and (d) alterations in arousal and reactivity. Common symptoms in PTSD include reliving a traumatic event through nightmares, flashbacks, or constantly thinking about the traumatic event (The National Institute of Mental Health, 2015). An individual might avoid situations or people that remind them of the event, experience recurring thoughts or emotions, feel jittery, nervous, or “on edge”. PTSD is diagnosed if a person encounters at least two hyper-arousal symptoms, a minimum of three avoidance symptoms, as well as at least one re-experiencing symptom. These symptoms must persist for more than one month, and interfere with daily functioning (American Psychiatric Association, 2015).

PTSD cannot be cured, but there are many varieties of treatment that may aid with the symptoms. Medications such as Sertraline and Paroxetine assist in regulating mood, anxiety, sleep, and other bodily functions like breathing (Jeffreys, 2011). Trauma-focused psychotherapy techniques such as prolonged exposure therapy and cognitive processing therapy have also been proven to be effective (Schouten, de Niet, Knipscheer, Kleber, & Hutschemaekers, 2014, p.5). . Altschuler (1999), suggests that pet-facilitated therapy might be a good adjunct to treatment of \PTSD because it could help alleviate fear and anxiety of patients. The author suggests that pets divert the attention of individuals from recollecting the traumatic events. Furthermore, it allows an individual to transfer their energy and attention towards another object. In a study conducted by Minatrea and Wesley in 2008, the authors found out that Animal Assisted Therapy (AAT) is associated with better self-esteem, lower stress, and improved behavior, as reflected by calmness, pleasantness and amicable. Other benefits include better physical health, reduced stress, increased social skills, improvement in cognitive functioning, and mental health (Minatrea & Wesley, 2008, pp.74-75). A longitudinal research design was initiated in 1975 by the authors to explore the possible effects of pet ownership on the health of non-institutionalized human subjects. Mugford and M’Comisky (1975) compared the behaviors of three groups of elderly subjects who were exposed to three objects–(a) cage birds, (b) houseplants, or (c) no treatment (controls). The purpose of this approach was to establish the effect of the objects to the elderlies’ behavior. Although the authors reported significant improvements in the pet-owning groups, \particularly in social and psychological faculties over a five-month period. Nevertheless, the findings of this study have reliability and validity concerns because their results were based on very small sample sizes and uncertain statistical treatment. Critics argued that such type of study should have used a correlational analysis. Nevertheless, these findings raise a valuable insight that owning a pet aids in the reduction of PTSD symptoms.

Another study conducted by Serpel (1990), examined the long-term effects of pet ownership on human health. A 10-month prospective study was carried out which investigated changes in behavior and perceived health status in 71 adult subjects following the acquisition of a new pet, either a dog or a cat (Serpell, 1990, p.4). Fifty percent of dog owners believed that the pets had made a major difference to their lives, and they ranked increased exercise and increased companionship as the two most important differences. By comparison, only thirty seven percent of cat owners felt that the animals had made a major difference to their lives, and they ranked increased companionship, and responsibility as most important. The dog owners in this study also experienced a dramatic and sustained increase in physical exercise as a result of walking their dogs. Although the results show an apparent influence of pet ownership on human health and emotional state, they provide little evidence responsible for these effects. Several explanations may be novelty (strongest connection with pet after initial acquisition, and declines after time), companionship, and social catalyst (social interaction while out walking their dogs) (Rhoades, Winetrobe, & Rice, 2014). Studies linking pet ownership and PTSD symptoms have not yet been conducted, this only further exemplifies why this research could provide insight on minimizing distress after a traumatic event. Despite the publicity the subject of pet acquisition has received in recent years, convincing evidence for a beneficial influence of pet ownership on PTSD symptoms remains scarce.

In a similar study, not related to PTSD, it revealed that pet ownership brings elated emotion that fosters hope and optimism (Rhoades, Winetrobe, & Rice, 2014). The study focused on homeless youths who were experiencing frustration, hopelessness and pessimism. The study revealed that 80% of the respondents who admitted to own a pet felt loved because of their pets and that gives them so much joy and hope that better things will happen (Rhoades, Winetrobe, & Rice, 2014, p.242). On the other hand, pet ownership has been linked to an individual’s occupational health. In fact, a study concluded that pet ownership helps decrease depression, and anxiety, while it also strengthen a person’s mental health because it helps cultivate positive outlook (Johnson, 2015).

The purpose of this study is to examine whether ownership of a pet may reduce symptoms associated with PTSD, and postulates that pet ownership may improve bereavement, anxiety, and depression following a traumatic event. The rationale of this hypothesis is derived from the idea that if a person has a pet companion, a strong attachment for an animal, or is simply a pet owner, the effects of traumatic events may be less severe than non-pet owners because pet-owners tend to be preoccupied and consumed of the activities that relates to attending to their pets.
The study initially began with the recruitment of participants. The proponent utilized an electronic platform to look for the right participant for the study. The study will be advertised as ‘studying various life experiences’ through the platform called Qualtrics via Amazon’s Mechanical Turk program. This platform allows the proponent to have an access to a large and diverse population. Furthermore, screening respondents through this platform enables the proponent to screen qualified applicants based on the enumerated demographic profile that was selected for the study. After the right participants were selected, the proponent presented the chosen sample population with the prepared consent form.

Population and Sample

The proponent employed the use of purposive random sampling in the process of selecting the participants for the study. Purposive random sampling was used to determine precisely the qualities that would fit the criteria set by the proponent for the study. In this case, the proponent only wanted individuals who had encountered a traumatic event in their lives. However, the proponent was not specific in saying that it should be personally experienced by the participant. Instead, the trauma can be foster through other people’s experiences provided that it made a significant impact to the participant, thereby, resulting the formation of symptoms associated with posttraumatic stress disorder. Only participants who were at risk of PTSD were included in the sample population. Furthermore, only participants who were 18 years and above at the time of the survey were qualified to participate in the survey. Those who responded positively to the two screener questions were selected for the study. The screener questions relates to an instance when the individual experienced a traumatic event. After going over the list, 46 people qualified for the study.


The proponent used two sets of questionnaires for this study—the PCL-5 for civilians and the Lexington Attachment Scale. Both are self-reporting tests that allows the participant to choose the answer that best applies to them. The PCL-5 for civilians is a self-report assessment composed of 20-items with the objective of assessing the symptoms of PTSD according to the classification of DSM-5. On the other hand, the respondents who expressed pet-ownership will be requested to complete the Lexington Attachment Scale. This self-report measure is designed to measure the level of attachment that pet owners have for their pets.


The participants will be screened whether they qualify or not to the standards set by the proponent. After the screening and recruitment, all who qualified were given the consent form to fill up and signed. The questionnaires were then explained and each participant were requested to complete the online test. The participants were discouraged from writing their names and other personal details. However, each participant were requested to provide information that will form the demographic profile of the participants. These information include: age, gender, date and details of trauma exposure, as well as symptoms.
The first test administered to the participants was the PCL-5. After the said test, the participant were asked to complete the Lexington Attachment Scale. The proponent estimated the time to complete the tests between 30 minutes to an hour. After completing the online test, the participants were assigned with an id number through MTURK.

Statistical Treatment

The proponent decided to conduct a correlational study. To process the result, the proponent decided to use a software application that is designed to render accurate statistical computation for testing the correlation of the variables used in the study. SPSS 22.0 will be utilized to test the correlation between PTSD symptoms and pet ownership. Although a software has been utilized to compute for the correlation and reliability of the results, the proponent decided to use Pearson correlate to establish the relation that exist between PTSD symptoms and pet ownership. To ensure the reliability and validity of the test results, the proponent decided to use t-test.


The proponent hypothesized that pet ownership have a positive effect to individuals who are experiencing PTSD symptoms. It is the belief of the proponent that having pets offers a calming experience and a form of Zen on the part of the pet owner. Similarly, the proponent also assumes that having pets divert the attention of the individual from recollecting their traumatic experiences because they become preoccupied of the situation to which they are into at the moment when the individual are with their pets. Likewise, the proponent also considers the findings in previous studies that having pets are good for an individual’s health as believed by most pet owners (Minatrea & Wesley, 2008; Johnson, 2015). Respondents were profiled according to gender, ethnicity, marital status, and educational background. These factors were utilized to classify the participants to serve as the demographic profile for the study. A total of 46 respondents were included in the study, composed of 22 male and 24 females. The participants were all categorized according to ethnicity. The highest percentage were whites (non-Hispanics) with 73.9%. This was followed by Asians (15.2%), Native Americans and Blacks were tied with 4.3% while the Hispanic groups rated 2.2%. However, in terms of personal human relationships, 24 of the respondents said that they were never married. 17 of the respondents are married, while 4 fell under the category of divorce or separated. Only one respondent said that she’s a widower. 34 of the respondents reached the college level; however, only 18 were able to complete a bachelor’s degree. 6 of the respondents had been able to earn their master’s degree while have only completed high school.
Since the study is concerned with establishing the relationship between PTSD symptoms and pet ownership, the proponent delineate the participants according to pet ownership and the kind of pets owned. 24 of the respondents or 52.2% were pet owners, 22 or 47.8% represents the population who does not own a pet. The 24 pet owners were further classified according to the pets they own. Majority of the respondents were dog owners (26.1%). There were a fraction of the respondents who owns a cat (9%). 6.5% admitted to own both cats and dogs. There was one respondent who had a different answer but failed to classify the pet owned.
Since it is imperative that all respondents have experience a traumatic event. Every participant scored a perfect score on this category. Nevertheless, there were specific questions asked by the proponent to describe the traumatic experience experienced by the participants. These details include: (a) what the experience was, (b) how the participant experienced the event, and (c) how long since the event took place relative to the time the test was taken. Since there was no specific options provided, the participants had to write their answers on the space provide to satisfy the question.
According to the participants of the study, the worst event that they’ve experienced was being in a horrible car-related accident (18). A number of these people said that it was very traumatic because they all felt like they were about to die. Street crimes like assault, hold-up and abductions ranked second to the most traumatic encounters with twelve (12) respondents. Sexual abuse is proven to be one of the most committed crime and is often undocumented as six (6) respondents suggesting they were victims of sexual abuse by people they know and felt even more traumatized because of threats of being killed if they tell anyone. Domestic violence ranked fourth with four (4) respondents. Three (3) respondents were all victims of natural calamities. One of them specifically cited being caught up in the midst of hurricane Katrina. The two others mentioned being trapped in a building during an Earthquake and learning about a family member was in Japan when the tsunami hit the country were their most traumatic experience. There were also three (3) respondents who said that experiencing what they believed to be health related attacks.
The participants were eventually asked when the traumatic event took place to determine whether the symptoms were persistent because according to DM-5’s classification of posttraumatic stress disorder, the four type of symptoms which includes: (a) intrusion, (b) avoidance, (c) negative alterations in cognitions and mood, and (d) alterations in arousal and reactivity which should last more than a month (American Psychiatric Association, 2015). Onset of the stressors, however, should manifest either abruptly or 6 months after the traumatic event takes place (National Center for Biotechnology Information, 2009). Relative to this, there were participants who revealed that they’ve endured the trauma for more than two to three decades. The longest recollection happened 34 years ago from when the respondent was still 7 years old and she was sexually abused by a relative. Nevertheless, the most recent traumatic event for a participant took place a month ago proving that PTSD is a lifelong debilitating psychiatric condition (Grohol, 2015).
The study has also been able to confirm that PTSD does not necessarily have to be personally experienced by the individual himself. In fact, while 87% of the participants stated that they have personally experienced the traumatic event themselves, there were 13.1% who said that they either witnessed it, heard about it or have someone really close to them experience the trauma.
On the other hand, the result of the Lexington Attachment Scale revealed that almost unanimously the respondents who identified themselves as pet owners express significant attachment to their pets. In fact, the respondents perceived their pets as a friend. Thus, even their personal relationships with other people are significantly affected by how others treat their friends. Nevertheless, none of the pet owners believe that their pets are capable of making them happy. However, there were five respondents who believed that their pets are able to make and keep them healthy. Quite considerably, when pet ownership was correlated with PTSD symptoms it showed no significant correlation for any of the four symptoms. According to the result of the correlational analysis while pet ownership seem to have an effect to the individual, it does not prove to be significant to merit the conclusion that it is an effective intervention to cope with the symptoms of PTSD, (please refer to Table 1 and Table 2 for the result of the Pearson Correlation). Specifically, a rho (r) = .068 was documented for correlating pet ownership with intrusion, one of three PTSD symptoms, along with avoidance, and negative cognition and mood, that was part of the correlational analysis. For avoidance, r = .079 was determined, while r = .068 for negative cognition and mood was determined. Overall, the correlation between PTSD symptoms and pet ownership reported a rho, r = .056. Results of the Pearson correlational analysis is presented in Table 1 and 2, determined using statistical assessment application SPSS 22.0.


After extensive review of relevant literature as well as the survey conducted for the purpose of this study, it was sound that there is no significant correlation between the three specific symptoms of PTSD and pet ownership. While the result of the Lexington Attachment Scale which measures the level of attachment that individuals have with their pets revealed that they treat their pets like a friend, and they feel energized around their pets there is still insufficient findings that could identify that there is a significant correlation between PTSD symptoms and pet owners. While numerous studies have cited pet ownership to bring elated feeling to the owners, in this survey it revealed that none of the participants stated that owning a pet makes them feel happy. Although there were five respondents who believed that owning a pet have a positive effect on their health, this still shows insignificant impact as far as effectively managing the symptoms of PTSD.
Furthermore, there has not been enough evidence that could support that pet ownership can serve as an intervention that could serve as an effective coping technique for patients suffering with PTSD. In addition, while there has been a number of respondents who suggested that they feel that having a pet helps keep them healthy, it is not a sufficient number to conclude that an individual suffering from PTSD can use pets to manage their symptoms. Although it cannot be denied that the result may have been significantly affected by the low number of respondents, this is yet to be tested. However, it is the assertion of the proponent that an important factor to this should be the statement that pet owners experience happiness brought by their pets. Failure to generate a response for this particular item indicates that pet owners do not experience happiness regardless of their feeling for their pets. Again, this assumption is yet to be established in a research that is well substantiated.
On the other hand, the result of the survey has been able to support the understanding that PTSD does not suffice that an individual has to personally experience the traumatic event. In fact, there is 13.1% of the participants who stated that they were traumatized simply by witnessing a traumatic experience happened to another person. In addition, trauma was not only created with an individual’s presence during the event. There were respondents who were deeply traumatized based on the knowledge of a traumatic event as testified and revealed by another person. The trauma is created on this account because the testimony of another person makes the event realistic.
Individually, the three symptoms of PTSD has been correlated with pet ownership and showed insignificant findings to reveal or establish a relationship between the selected variables. A rho (r) = .068 was documented for correlating pet ownership with intrusion. This findings indicate that an individual does not feel secured from being seized, robbed or abducted regardless with the presence of their pet. However, it will be helpful to isolate this particular symptom of PTSD and determine whether there is a correlation between this with owning a particular kind of pet—a dog or a certain type of dog for that matter. It has been the common belief among dog owners that dogs are used to protect an individual or a property from intruders. Thus, dogs are used in various settings like in Forensic investigation and as a watch dog for individuals with physical disability or physical limitation like the blind. It would be interesting to document how for example victims of robbery, assault and violence react to having a pet dog, whether they feel safe and secured in the presence of this particular kind of pet.
For avoidance, rho (r) = .079 was determined. Avoidance was defined as the mental or physical isolation or avoiding of things, person, events or place that causes distress (National Center for Biotechnology Information, 2009). In this particular PTSD symptom, the survey results revealed that pet owners do not necessarily feel that having a pet distracts them from a stressful recollection of a previous traumatic experience. In fact, there are even claims that owning a pet can be quite stressful for selected individuals especially if the pet exhibits unfavorable behavior like breaking personal belongings. The claim that having pets distract an individual from going back to their traumatic experience was not proven in this study. While some respondents felt that they can express themselves with their pets, it does not reveal that the same respondents felt that their worries had been resolved nor did they experience wellness after doing so.
The last PTSD symptom that was negative cognition and mood. For this particular symptom the proponent has been able to determine a rho of (r) = .068. The negative cognition and mood relates that an individual who experiences this symptoms are often paranoid and moody. They tend to be easily agitated because they are anxious that the trauma will happen again. Usually, the mere presence of anything that the patient could be associated with the trauma can trigger the symptoms. In the case of this study, pet ownership is not helpful in allowing for patients to take control of their thoughts and emotions. Contrary to misconceptions, pets cannot help facilitate a healthy mindset. It does not clear the individual’s mind of any unfavorable thoughts. The response on the participants referring to fostering positive impact of pets to their health as documented in the Lexington Attachment Scale does not relate to mental health, contrary to the result of a study initiated by Christine Johnson (2015). According to Johnson (2015), owning a pet helps decrease depression, and anxiety, while it also strengthen a person’s mental health because it helps cultivate positive outlook. Instead, it could relate to physical health because pet owners, especially dogs are exercised when they take their pets to walking activities. Again, this is yet to be proven with an empirical research that could substantiate whether mental or physical health is improve with pet ownership. While there may be conflicting results with Whitmarsh’s study in 2005, it cannot be denied that this could have been so because Whitmarsh utilized 800 participants in that study, while the study initiated by the proponent was limited only to 46. The difference in the sample size may have created the discrepancy in the results. Thus, it is recommended that follow-up study to the research initiated by the proponent should extensively cover a larger population to at least generate a good statistics.
On an overall, a rho of (r) = .056 has been computed for the correlation between PTSD symptoms with pet ownership. This statistics is not substantial to declare that pet ownership delivers an impact to PTSD symptoms. There was no evidence to suggest that pet owners are able to manage and control the symptoms of PTSD. Furthermore, there was no evidence to indicate that pet ownership can be an effective coping strategy for victims of traumatic events. However, the proponent of this study does not state this with absolute certainty because of the fact that there were only 46 respondents in this study. The small sample population can affect the result of the study because it will not be enough to represent the entire population. Thus, recommendations had been proposed throughout the discussion section on studies which could help measure in detail the impact of pet ownership to a specific PTSD symptom.
Nevertheless, it is important to establish that the insufficient number of participants due to limited time to conduct the study served as a major limitation of the study. This affected the validity and reliability of the report. Furthermore, this also consequently affected the result of the study considering that there was a very limited sample to be manipulated and processed to arrive at a credible conclusion.


The study concludes with an important findings that PTSD symptoms are not easily managed and controlled without sufficient link to the event that caused the trauma. To effective conquer the symptoms of PTSD there is a need to assure the patient that he or she is safe and that situation has already happened in the past. Although the effect of trauma is lasting because of the uncertainty that such event can take place again makes it difficult to assure the patient. Nevertheless, removing the object that is causing the anxiety is still the best option. Since such object cannot be removed, diverting the individual’s attention to more productive and less stressful things that could remind the patient of the incident that took place which causes the trauma is the next best option. If there is enough evidence to support that pet ownership can stand as a positive distraction to PTSD patients then it could stand as an alternative treatment to dealing with PTSD symptoms. However, even when this is established the severity of the condition should be taken into serious consideration. Severe PTSD might not be effective managed without the help of medications like anti-depressants because such symptoms might be too intense to be managed and controlled, thus, might lead to a more serious and severe condition.


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Glover, L. (2014, May 20). Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) Statistics for Veterans. Retrieved from NerdWallet, Inc. Website:

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Schouten, K. A., de Niet, G., Knipscheer, J., Kleber, R., & Hutschemaekers, G. (2014). The Effectiveness of Art Therapy in theTreatment of Traumatized Adults: A Systematic Review on Art Therapy and Trauma. Trauma, Violence and Abuse, 1-9.

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The National Institute of Mental Health. (2015, August 26). Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Retrieved from The National Institute of Mental Health Website: The National Institute of Mental Health

Zoladz, P. (2013). Current status on behavioral and biological markers of PTSD: A search for clarity in a conflicting literature. Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews, 860–895.

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