Tag Archives: veterans

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.

rodriguez-ohaire

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

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Cena’s story

Last month, a Marine veteran said goodbye to his canine companion, Cena, who was suffering from bone cancer.

Giving Cena one last ride became a community event that Lance Corporal Jeff DeYoung hopes will help raise the profile of the dogs that serve the military, and why they deserve care.

This is their story.

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

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

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

 

 

 

Scent of my human

The functional MRI research team led by Gregory Berns have done it again.  In research published in the journal Behavioural Processes, they show that an area of the canine brain associated with reward responds more strongly to the scents of familiar humans than it does to the scents of other humans, or even to those of familiar dogs.

Kady, a lab involved in the study, shown training for the experiment in a mock-up fMRI scanner.  Photo by Helen Berns

Kady, a lab involved in the study, shown training for the experiment in a mock-up fMRI scanner. Photo by Helen Berns

“In our experiment, the scent donors were not physically present. That means the canine brain responses were being triggered by something distant in space and time. It shows that dogs’ brains have these mental representations of us that persist when we’re not there.”

When humans smell the perfume or cologne of someone they love, they may have an immediate, emotional reaction that’s not necessarily cognitive, Berns notes. “Our experiment may be showing the same process in dogs. But since dogs are so much more olfactory than humans, their responses would likely be even more powerful than the ones we might have.”

The experiment involved 12 dogs of various breeds. The animals had all undergone training to hold perfectly still while undergoing an fMRI scan. As they were being scanned, the subjects were presented with five different scents that had been collected on sterile gauze pads that morning and sealed in Mylar envelopes. The scent samples came from the subject itself, a dog the subject had never met, a dog that lived in the subject’s household, a human the dog had never met, and a human that lived in the subject’s household.

The familiar human scent samples were taken from someone else from the house other than the handlers during the experiment, so that none of the scent donors were physically present.

The dog scents were swabbed from the rear/genital area and the human scents were taken from armpits.

The results showed that all five scents elicited a similar response in parts of the dogs’ brains involved in detecting smells, the olfactory bulb and peduncle. The caudate responses, however, were significantly stronger for the scents of familiar humans, followed by that of familiar dogs.

“The stronger caudate activation suggested that not only did the dogs discriminate the familiar human scent from the others, they had a positive association with it,” Berns says. “While we might expect that dogs should be highly tuned to the smell of other dogs, it seems that the ‘reward response’ is reserved for their humans. Whether this is based on food, play, innate genetic predisposition or something else remains an area for future investigation.”

An interesting twist: The dogs in the experiment that had received training as service/therapy dogs showed greater caudate activation for the scent of a familiar human compared with the other dogs. It is unclear whether this difference was due to genetics or had simply been fostered through the service/therapy training.

“We plan to do further research to determine whether we can use brain-imaging techniques to better identify dogs that are optimal to serve as companion animals for the disabled,” Berns says.

The training of service dogs is time-consuming and expensive, he says, and only about one-third of the animals that begin the process successfully complete it. Meanwhile, the waiting list for service dogs is long, and includes many wounded veterans.

“In addition to serving as companion animals for wounded veterans, dogs play many important roles in military operations,” Berns says. “By understanding how dogs’ brains work, we hope to find better methods to select and train them for these roles.”

Source:  Emory University media release

Read my other blogs about functional MRI research:

 

 

Pets for Patriots

Pets for Patriots is a charitable organisation working to place adult dogs and cats from shelters with veterans from the U.S. military.  It is now well-documented that many U.S. veterans  return from overseas only to suffer the ongoing effects of post-traumatic stress disorder.  Animals help these personnel connect to civilian life and offer them the unique bond of non-judgmental support and love.

There are many dogs and cats up for adoption in U.S. shelters – and any shelter, rescue organisation or SPCA can join the programme.  The most important motivation is the commitment to find homes for hard-to-adopt animals.

Here’s a video of one Pets for Patriots success story, the first Pets for Patriots adoption in the State of Hawaii.

Paws and Stripes helping US veterans

A man who is good enough to shed his blood for his country is good enough to be given a square deal afterwards.”
– Theodore Roosevelt

Paws and Stripes is a not-for-profit organisation working to place service dogs with US war veterans who are suffering from post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and traumatic brain injury.   Through their efforts dogs from shelters are trained to have a new life as a service dog – all at no cost to the veteran.

The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan has been going on for many years now, and with this the escalating numbers of returning veterans who are suffering from PTSD. Traumatic brain injury is often suffered because soldiers are injured by  ‘improvised explosive devices.’  Sadly, insurance companies will not pay to see these men and women given the use of a service dog.

Jim Stanek is the co-founder of Paws and Stripes (along with his wife).  He received injuries during his third tour of duty in Iraq and, during his nine months of treatment, he found solace in the presence of service dogs. In May of 2010, Jim and his wife unsuccessfully tried to find a trainer for their rescue dog named Sarge.  They founded Paws and Stripes in June 2010 to fill the need for these types of service dogs.

Veterans are able to choose their own dog from a shelter before entering the training programme and part of their rehabilitation is their involvement in the training.

This seems like a very special organisation combining the involvement of service dogs with shelter rescue – all whilst helping a group of people in need.   Visit the Paws and Stripes website to learn more about the programme and how to help.  While there, read stories like that of Master Sargeant Justin Jordan and his dog, Dallas (pictured below – photos copyright Paws and Stripes).

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