Study Shows Benefits to Veterans With PTSD Who Have Service Dogs

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. (Image: Purdue University photo / Kevin Doerr)
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. (Image: Purdue University photo / Kevin Doerr)

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.

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. O’Haire said:

Rodriguez, lead author on the paper, said:

“We chose to focus our assessments on cortisol, as it is a biomarker centrally involved in the stress response system.”

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, Rodriguez  added:

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

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, O’Haire said:

She also emphasizes that the participation of veterans in the studies should not be taken for granted.

Provided by: Purdue University [Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.]

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