Tag Archives: ptsd

Veterans with PTSD receive physiological and behavioral benefits thanks to service dogs

A new study shows how veterans with PTSD may benefit physiologically from using service dogs.

This study, led by the Purdue University College of Veterinary Medicine, is the first published research to use a physiological marker to define the biobehavioral effects of service dogs on veterans with PTSD.

The findings were published in the journal Psychoneuroendocrinology, and they may be significant as scientific evidence of potential mental health benefits experienced by veterans with PTSD who have service dogs.

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Kerri Rodriguez, human-animal interaction graduate student (left), and Maggie O’Haire, assistant professor of human-animal interaction in the College of Veterinary Medicine, look at cortisol samples. Cortisol was one of the measurements used in a new study that shows how veterans with PTSD may benefit physiologically from using service dogs. (Purdue University photo/ Kevin Doerr)

The study was co-funded by the Human Animal Bond Research Institute (HABRI) and Bayer Animal Health.  The research was led by Maggie O’Haire, assistant professor of human-animal interaction in the College of Veterinary Medicine, and Kerri Rodriguez, human-animal interaction graduate student, with the help of K9s For Warriors, an accredited nonprofit organization that provides veterans with service dogs. The study also was in collaboration with the Institute for Interdisciplinary Salivary Bioscience Research at the University of California, Irvine.

“Our long-term research goal is to quantify how service dogs may affect the health and well-being of military members and veterans with PTSD,” O’Haire said. “This study compared a group of veterans with PTSD who had a service dog to a group on the waitlist to receive one. Our previous research suggests that the presence of a service dog reduced clinical PTSD symptoms and improved quality of life. In this study, we wanted to determine if those beneficial effects also included changes in the physiology of stress.”

“We chose to focus our assessments on cortisol as it is a biomarker centrally involved in the stress response system,” said Rodriguez, lead author on the paper. In this way, the study seeks to improve the understanding of the potential mechanisms for how and why a service dog may help this population.

Cortisol can be measured non-invasively in saliva, which enabled the veterans to collect samples themselves at home immediately after waking up in the morning and about 30 minutes later. This allowed researchers to look at how much cortisol was being produced during the morning. The magnitude of the “cortisol awakening response” has been extensively studied and is used as a metric of the effects of chronic and acute stress. Non-PTSD, healthy adults experience an increase in cortisol after waking up.

“We found that military veterans with a service dog in the home produced more cortisol in the mornings than those on the waitlist,” Rodriguez said. “This pattern is closer to the cortisol profile expected in healthy adults without PTSD. Having a service dog was also associated with less anger, less anxiety, and better sleep.”

O’Haire says, though, while this finding is important, it should be taken in context.

“These findings present exciting initial data regarding the physiological response to living with a service dog. However, the study did not establish a direct correlation, on an individual level, between cortisol levels and levels of PTSD symptoms, and further study is needed. It is important to keep in mind that service dogs do not appear to be a cure for PTSD,” O’Haire said.

The next step, already underway, involves a large-scale National Institutes of Health clinical trial in which the researchers are studying veterans with and without service dogs over an extended period of time.

“Our research team will be able to look at morning cortisol levels both before and after getting a service dog to see how these physiological effects manifest over time,” O’Haire said. “The longitudinal nature of this clinical trial should bring about a better understanding of the interrelationships between physiological and behavioral processes, PTSD symptoms, and service dogs.”

She also emphasizes that the participation of veterans in the studies should not be taken for granted. “We are most grateful to the military veterans and their families who have participated in the research thus far,” O’Haire said. “We are honored to be collaborating with these individuals to advance the science behind our interactions with animals and how they affect human lives.”

Source:  Purdue University media release

Quantifying the Effects of Service Dogs for Veterans with PTSD

veteran with dog

 

Researchers from the Purdue University College of Veterinary Medicine’s Center for the Human Animal Bond will analyze the influence service dogs have on the lives of military veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in a unique clinical trial.

According to the United States Veterans Administration, 22 veterans commit suicide each day, and at least 40 percent have been diagnosed with PTSD. The rate could be even higher, as many cases of PTSD go undiagnosed.

Previous studies have suggested that individuals who bond with their pet dogs exhibit elevated levels of oxytocin – sometimes referred to as the “cuddle hormone” because it sparks emotional responses that contribute to relaxation and trust. Additionally, the National Center for PTSD claims dogs can encourage veterans to communicate more through commands and training, and prompt them to spend more time outdoors and meet new people.

These benefits support anecdotal reports that show an increase in the prevalence of service dogs for individuals with PTSD, but scientific evidence examining this growing trend and its effects on PTSD patients is still lacking.

“Many veterans are increasingly seeking complementary interventions for PTSD, including service dogs,” stated Maggie O’Haire, lead researcher and assistant professor of human-animal interaction at Purdue. “Yet, even with the well-meaning intentions of service dog organizations that are working to meet the demand, our systematic review of scientific literature confirms a lack of published, empirical research on the effects that service dogs have on veterans and their spouses.”

To help carry out the study, the research team has partnered with K9s for Warriors – one of the nation’s leading providers of service dogs to military vets suffering from a variety of conditions including PTSD, traumatic brain injuries, or sexual trauma as a result of service post-9/11.

The team hopes to determine what sort of PTSD symptom changes veterans may experience as a result of having a service dog, as well as any effects on social functioning and physiological biomarkers.

According to a university release, standardized survey instruments and objective measures of physiology will be used to track stress and functioning. The researchers will also use a novel ecological momentary assessment protocol to capture the role and function of the dogs in everyday life.

The results will be the first evidence-based data to be published that quantitatively identifies the roles and effects of service dogs for military veterans with PTSD.

The study is unique because it applies research methodology and evidence-based science to an area that has typically relied on emotion, according to O’Haire.

“Without scientifically sound studies that establish proof-of-concept for the therapeutic efficacy of PTSD service dogs, this animal-assisted intervention strategy will continue to be minimized as an unsupported and potentially unsound practice, despite anecdotal reports that the dogs may have a significant impact,” added O’Haire.

Source:  www.laboratoryequipment.com

Awareness of the human-animal bond and how it impacts pet care

The Human Animal Bond Research Initiative (HABRI) Foundation partnered with Cohen Research Group to conduct an online survey of 2,000 pet owners, which had a margin of error of plus or minus 2.2%.

This is the first survey of its kind to explore how pet owners’ knowledge of the health benefits of the human-animal bond impacts pet care and welfare. The survey also looked for generational differences among pet owners on this subject.

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Key findings are as follows:

There is strong awareness of the health benefits of pet ownership

  • 71% of pet owners have heard about scientific research on the human-animal bond that demonstrates pet ownership can help improve physical or mental health in people
  • 88% of pet owners were aware that pets reduce stress
  • 86% of pet owners were aware that pets reduce depression
  • 84% of pet owners were aware that pets reduce anxiety
  • 81% of pet owners were aware that pets increase our sense of well-being
  • 80% of pet owners were aware that pets help with conditions like PTSD in war veterans
  • 68% of pet owners were aware that pets support healthy aging
  • 65% of pet owners were aware that pets help with conditions like autism
  • 60% of pet owners were aware that pets improve heart health
  • 56% of pet owners were aware that pets help with conditions like Alzheimer’s disease
  • 47% of pet owners were aware that pets support child cognitive development and reading skills
  • 45% of pet owners were aware that pets support classroom learning
  • 32% of pet owners were aware that pets help prevent child allergies

The majority of pet owners have personal experience with the health benefits of pets.

  • 74% of pet owners reported mental health improvements from pet ownership
  • 75% of pet owners reported a friend’s or family member’s mental health has improved from pet ownership
  • 54% of pet owners reported physical health improvements from pet ownership
  • 55% of pet owners reported a friend’s or family member’s physical health has improved from pet ownership
  • 83% of baby boomers and 82% of greatest/silent generations reported more personal experience with mental health improvements from pets than millennials (62%) and generation X (72%)

The more pet owners learn about scientific research on the benefits of the human-animal bond, the more likely they are to take actions to improve pet health.

When educated on the scientific research on the health benefits of pets:

  • 92% of pet owners are more likely to maintain their pet’s health, including keeping up with vaccines and preventative medicine
  • 89% of pet owners are more likely to take their pet to the vet for regular check-ups
  • 88% of pet owners are more likely to provide their pets with high-quality nutrition
  • 62% of pet owners are less likely to skip visits to the veterinarian
  • 51% of pet owners (78% of millennials) are more likely to purchase pet health insurance

Knowledge of the scientific research on the benefits of the human-animal bond improves animal welfare.

When educated on the scientific research on the health benefits of pets:

  • 89% of pet owners are more likely to take better care of their pets
  • 75% of pet owners are more likely to microchip a pet to ensure it can be found if lost or stolen
  • 74% of pet owners are less likely to give up a pet for any reason

In addition:

  • 77% of pet owners believe that pets benefit from the human-animal bond as much as people
  • 80% of pet owners who were aware of the health benefits of pets reported spending most of the day or a big part of their day with their pets, compared to 71% of pet owners who were unaware

Knowledge of the scientific research on the benefits of the human-animal bond boosts pet ownership.

When educated on the scientific research on the health benefits of pets:

  • 87% of pet owners are more likely to recommend a pet to a friend or family member
  • 81% of pet owners are more likely to get another pet in the future (if the one they have now passes away)
  • 49% of pet owners (74% of millennials) are more likely to get an additional pet
  • 57% of pet owners that currently reported having multiple pets are more likely to get yet another pet

Veterinarians are trusted resources for scientific information on the human health benefits of pets and have an opportunity to further strengthen their relationships with pet owners, especially millennials.

  • Virtually all pet owners (97%) have a favorable opinion of their veterinarian
  • 66% of pet owners (77% of millennials) would have a more favorable view of their veterinarian if they discussed the health benefits of the human-animal bond with them
  • 61% of pet owners (74% of millennials) would be more likely to visit their veterinarian if they discussed the health benefits of the human-animal bond with them
  • 25% of millennials always talk to their veterinarians about the health benefits of pet ownership, more than generation X (16%), baby boomers (6%), or greatest/silent generation (4%)

Doctors can also benefit from increased communication on the human-animal bond.

  • 88% of pet owners agree doctors and specialists should recommend pets to patients for healthier living
  • 65% of pet owners would have a more favorable view of a doctor who discussed the health benefits of the human-animal bond with them
  • 59% of pet owners would be more likely to visit a doctor who discussed the health benefits of the human-animal bond with them

Pet owners believe society should be more pet friendly and should act on the scientific research that shows pets improve human health.

  • 93% of pet owners agree the government should provide service animals to veterans with PTSD
  • 69% of pet owners (83% of millennials) agree the government should help make it more affordable to own a pet
  • 84% agree health and life insurance companies should give discounts for owning a pet
  • 87% would be more likely to buy products from pet-friendly businesses
  • 58% of pet owners (74% of millennials) agree employers should consider allowing employees to bring pets to work

Pets are family

  • 98% of pet owners agree that their pet is an important part of their family
  • 95% of pet owners could not imagine giving up their pet for any reason

Source:  HABRI

VP Nominee Senator Kaine and why I’m writing about him in a dog blog

Today Senator Tim Kaine made news by officially becoming Hillary Clinton’s running mate in the race for the US Presidency.  That’s not why I’m writing about him.

The announcement of his status as candidate for Vice-President has overshadowed something he did earlier this month.  He announced his support for the PAWS Act.

On 15th July he announced his support for new legislation to help veterans suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). The bill, known as the Puppies Assisting Wounded Service members (PAWS) Act, would help veterans suffering from PTSD to access innovative treatment methods to improve their quality of life.

“We owe each and every veteran a debt of gratitude for the sacrifices they made on and off of the battlefield,” Kaine said.Many come home with injuries that are unseen, such as PTSD which affects a significant percentage of veterans who have returned from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. A service dog can provide loyalty and emotional support to help our veterans cope with the scars they return with. I’m proud to join this bipartisan effort.”  

The PAWS Act directs the Veterans Administration to implement a five-year pilot program to provide service dogs from certified providers as well as veterinary health insurance to those veterans who: (1) served on active duty on or after September 11, 2001; and (2) were diagnosed with, and continue to suffer from, PTSD. Veterans paired with dogs would receive follow-up support service from the certified service dog provider for the rest of the dog’s life.

Soldier with PTSD and dog

Pictured in 2012, a soldier in the Paws for Purple Hearts program, one of four experimental programs that paired veterans afflicted by PTSD with Labrador and Golden retrievers. (Joseph Matthews, Veterans Affairs Photo)

The bill authorizes $10 million for each fiscal year from 2017 to 2022 to carry out the pilot program. Following completion of the pilot program, the Government Accountability Office would conduct a program evaluation and submit a report to Congress.

The House version of the PAWS Act, H.R. 4764, was introduced by Congressman Ron DeSantis (R-Fla.) in March 2016. The House bill currently has 97 bipartisan cosponsors and has been referred to the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs.

I’m pleased to see the support for this Act, although I doubt even $10 million per year will go far enough.  It’s a start.   Thank you Senator Kaine for your support.

Kathleen Crisley, specialist in dog massage, rehabilitation and nutrition/food therapy, The Balanced Dog, Christchurch, New Zealand

In my book review of Reporting for Duty, I referred to these statistics concerning returning soldiers and their needs for support dogs:

  • More that 540,000 veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have PTSD or depression (or both)
  • More than 260,000 veterans have been diagnosed with traumatic brain injuries
  • Even if all of the service dog organisations currently operating in the United States increased their annual output by a factor of 100, the mental health challenges of veterans would still not be met
  • The present policy of the Veteran’s Administration is to provide service dogs only to veterans with visual or hearing impairment or some selected mobility challenges – a small sub-set of the range of uses and support that can be given by trained dogs (Assuming the pilot program referred to in the PAWS Act proved successful – then this policy may change)

Reporting for Duty – book review

I have just finished reading Reporting for Duty, a coffee table book written by Tracy Libby.  This book is presented well, with small vignettes interspersed with text, photos, and profiles of 15 veterans and their assistance dogs.

Reporting for duty by Tracy Libby

The book’s first chapter explains  PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder, a term that didn’t come into use until after the Vietnam War), TBI (traumatic brain injury), and MST (military sexual trauma) – pretty gut-wrenching content.

The chapters that follow include coverage of therapy dogs in history, prison puppy programs and combat and operational stress-control dogs.  The final chapter is about how dogs read us, with references to the various research findings about canine cognition and the human-animal bond (a favourite subject of mine).

There are many photographs in this book, which are lovingly presented.  It provides a good selection of case studies – veterans and their dogs – with veterans from different wars and each requiring different levels of assistance and support.

But it is the book’s Foreward that will remain with me for some time.  Written by Karen D Jeffries (retired Commander in the US Navy, and co-founder of Veterans Moving Forward, Inc – a charity which will benefit from some of the proceeds of sales), the Foreward contains some sobering statistics and facts:

  • The US Veteran’s Administration is unable to meet the needs of the disabled veteran population
  • More that 540,000 veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have PTSD or depression (or both)
  • More than 260,000 veterans have been diagnosed with traumatic brain injuries
  • Even if all of the service dog organisations currently operating in the United States increased their annual output by a factor of 100, the mental health challenges of veterans would still not be met
  • The present policy of the Veteran’s Administration is to provide service dogs only to veterans with visual or hearing impairment or some selected mobility challenges – a small sub-set of the range of uses and support that can be given by trained dogs

This is a book that is best enjoyed in hard copy – flick through the photos and thank heaven for the people who volunteer, fund raise, and train assistance dogs.

My copy of the Reporting for Duty was provided free-of-charge by the book’s publisher.  I will cherish it as part of my dog book collection.

Kathleen Crisley, specialist in dog massage, rehabilitation and nutrition/food therapy, The Balanced Dog, Christchurch, New Zealand

 

 

 

Gabe, Best Man

When veteran Justin Lansford got married last month to long-time girlfriend, Carol, his best man was his support dog Gabe.

A Golden Retriever, Gabe was matched with Lansford when he returned from Afghanistan an amputee thanks to an IED explosion in 2012.

Lansford lost his left leg to that explosion and also suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder.

Justin and Gabe wait at the alter (Brad Hall Photography)

Justin and Gabe wait at the alter (Brad Hall Photography)

ABC News’ Good Morning America also covered the story:

A big shout-out to Justin, Carol and Gabe….may you have a long and happy life together!

Kathleen Crisley, specialist in dog massage, rehabilitation and nutrition/food therapy, Canine Catering Ltd, Christchurch, New Zealand

The prescription for a soldier’s PTSD

I just found this very short item on the San Francisco Chronicle website.  A photo of a heavily tattooed man, his baby and his dog….

 Photo: Patty Snijders

Photo: Patty Snijders

The man is Ari Sonnenberg with his daughter, Nila Louise Sonnenberg, born April 1, 2015, and his Belgian Malinois dog, Sigmund Freud (also known as  Siggy).

Patty Snijders (Ari’s wife) says: “The dog has helped both Ari and me tremendously. He’s made our marriage stronger and prepared us for parenthood in many ways.”

A simple photograph and a lovely sentiment.  Siggy sounds very special and his presence has clearly been a help to the couple.

The body of knowledge about the value of dogs for our physical and mental health continues to grow, with research and study and stories like those of Siggy and his owners.

Kathleen Crisley, specialist in dog massage, rehabilitation and nutrition/food therapy, Canine Catering Ltd, Christchurch, New Zealand