NIH-funded research project to study effectiveness of K9s for Warriors program

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Purdue University’s College of Veterinary Medicine has received funding from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to research the efficacy of K9s for Warriors’ service dogs in mitigating the effects of PTSD on veterans and their families.

To date, the Veterans Administration (VA) has not funded service dogs for veterans suffering from PTSD, citing insufficient scientific data to support their effectiveness. Led by Dr. Maggie O’Haire of Purdue’s Center for the Human-Animal Bond, the NIH-funded research project will attempt to provide that data.

“Many veterans are increasingly seeking complementary interventions for PTSD, including service dogs,” she said. “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.”

O’Haire and her research team hope to learn how service dogs are incorporated into the lives of veterans and what changes they may confer in terms of PTSD symptomology, social functioning and physiological biomarkers. Using standardized survey instruments as well as objective measures of physiology, researchers will track stress and functioning. They also will use an ecological momentary assessment protocol to capture the role and function of the dogs in everyday life.

“This project represents a substantive departure from the status quo by applying rigorous research methodology to an area that has historically been characterized by a reliance on emotional intuition rather than evidence-based science,” O’Haire said. “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.”

K9s for Warriors officials say they welcome the study.

“We are overwhelmingly confident that this research will prove what all of us dedicated to the mission of saving our veterans already know – that service dogs work,” said Rory Diamond, CEO of K9s For Warriors. “Once this scientific data is published, it will help put more leashes into the hands of disabled veterans in the battle against veteran suicide.”

In addition to NIH, funding for the study is being provided by Mars Petcare’s Waltham Centre for Pet Nutrition and Merrick Pet Care, a supporter of K9s for Warriors.

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