Monday, June 10, 2024

Service Dogs Prove Their Worth in PTSD Clinical Trial

Service dogs with specialized skills may help reduce symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in veterans in as little as three months, a study in JAMA Network Open has found.

“These results are notable given the relatively short follow-up period [of 3 months] compared with the typical service dog partnership length [of 8 years or more],” wrote Sarah C. Leighton, M.S., of the University of Arizona and colleagues.

The researchers enrolled 81 veterans with a diagnosis of PTSD who received a trained service dog as well as 75 veterans on a waiting list for a service dog. The service dogs were trained in specialized PTSD-related skills such as calming veterans when they feel distressed, positioning themselves to create personal space for veterans or guard their back, and offering a paw to greet people. All participants received unrestricted access to usual care.

The researchers analyzed the results of the participants’ self-reported PTSD Checklist for DSM-5 (PCL-5) to measure symptom severity at baseline and at three months. They also used the Clinician-Administered PTSD Scale for DSM-5 (CAPS-5) to assess PTSD diagnosis at baseline and at three months. Clinician raters were blinded to the study topic, design, timing, and how participants were grouped.

At three months, participants who received service dogs had a mean score of 41.9 on the PCL-5 (down from a baseline of 57), compared with 51.7 among participants on the waiting list (down from 55.7). Those who received service dogs also had a lower mean score of 30.2 on the CAPS-5 (down from 42), compared with 36.9 among participants on the waiting list (down from 40). Measures of depression, anxiety, and social isolation were lower in those who received dogs, as well.

“Based on standardized self-reported and clinician assessed symptom severity, service dog partnership may serve as an effective complementary intervention for military service–related PTSD,” the researchers wrote. “Including both subjective (self-report) and objective (blinded clinician assessment) measures of PTSD symptoms strengthens the reliability of these findings and reflects clinical practice to help inform evidence-based practices.”

For related information, see the Psychiatric News special report “How Companion Animals Can Participate in Treatment of Mental Illness.”

(Image: Getty Images/iStock/24K-Production)

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