Can Service Dogs Help Alleviate Symptoms of PTSD?

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A Purdue University researcher has begun a study involving military veterans to see if service dogs can help quell symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Marguerite O'Haire, PhD, an assistant professor of human-animal interaction at Purdue’s College of Veterinary Medicine, is heading up the study of 100 post-Sept. 11 vets to determine if the dogs can alleviate the anxiety often associated with the condition.

O’Haire is partnering with K9s For Warriors, a nonprofit group that trains rescue dogs for service work. She will run tests on the vets — 50 of whom already have dogs, and another 50 who are on a 14-month wait list to get one — to measure differences in medication, stress, relationships and quality of life.

The results of the study could have policy implications at the Veterans Administration (VA) as the agency currently only funds service dogs to vets with physical, but not mental health, illnesses. In the past, the VA has said there wasn’t enough scientific evidence to support the use of service dogs in PTSD, Stave Feldman, executive director of the Human Animal Bond Research Institute Foundation, told Military Times.

Congress in 2010 had ordered the VA to come up with a study on the benefit of service dogs in treating PTSD. The study began in 2011, but was soon suspended after two of the dogs bit children of handlers. It resumed again the following year, but was stopped again amid questions over the training and the care of the dogs.

However, in March, the VA said the three-year study, which has been revamped, will restart and include 230 vets with PTSD in Georgia, Iowa and Oregon.  

Can Service Dogs Help Alleviate Symptoms of PTSD?
Can Service Dogs Help Alleviate Symptoms of PTSD?

New research is under way at Purdue University to determine whether service dogs can alleviate symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Marguerite O'Haire, an assistant professor of human-animal interaction at the school's College of Veterinary Medicine, is leading a study of 100 post-9/11 veterans to see if a dog trained to help a veteran with PTSD influences medical symptoms, social anxiety, relationships and more.

The research could help answer a question that has plagued the Veterans Affairs Department, which provides service dogs to former troops with certain physical disabilities but not those with mental health disorders: Do service dogs have a tangible impact on veterans with PTSD and other anxiety-related conditions?

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