Importance: A growing body of evidence supports service dogs’ positive psychosocial impact on people with a chronic condition, but very little is known about the effect of service dogs on the family members with whom they live.
Objective: To measure the impact that a service dog may have on family member functioning.
Design: Cross-sectional with a single time-point assessment.
Setting: Data were collected via a self-report survey completed online, over the phone, or by mail.
Participants: Potential participants were recruited from national service dog provider Canine Assistants. Participants were caregivers or spouses of a person with a disability or illness who either currently had a service dog (n = 51) or was on the waitlist to receive one (n = 77). Participants were 50 family members (46 parents–caregivers and 4 spouses–partners) living with a service dog and 76 family members (68 parents–caregivers and 8 spouses–partners) whose family member was on the waitlist to receive one.
Outcomes and Measures: Participants completed standardized measures to quantify psychosocial health and functioning, health-related quality of life (HRQOL), and family functioning.
Results: Living with a service dog was most closely associated with less health-related worry and better overall psychosocial health and emotional functioning, less total family impact from the chronic condition, and better emotional HRQOL.
Conclusions and Relevance: These findings provide preliminary evidence that, in addition to having an impact on recipients, service dogs can affect several aspects of family members’ psychosocial health and functioning.
What This Article Adds: This research demonstrates that the impact of a service dog may extend beyond the recipient and have positive impacts on family members’ psychosocial functioning as well. Occupational therapy practitioners should include family members in discussions regarding the integration of a service dog into the home and recognize the potential for family-wide effects from the service dog’s assistance.