Dogs Trained to Sniff Out Distress May Revolutionize PTSD Treatment

Dogs Trained to Sniff Out Distress May Revolutionize PTSD Treatment
Israeli service dogs assist former IDF soldiers. (shutterstock)

Since October 7th, 23% of the Israeli public is at risk of developing PTSD and 1,600 IDF soldiers have already been diagnosed with the condition.

By Shula Rosen

An innovative treatment program trains dogs to assist their owners with PTSD symptoms.

With 23% of the Israeli public at risk of developing PTSD and 1,600 IDF soldiers already diagnosed with the condition, the use of dogs to treat trauma can revolutionize the management of trauma symptoms and be useful for interventions.

A Canadian study shows promising results of training dogs to sniff out psycho trauma on the breath of humans.

Canines have already been trained to detect hypoglycemia and to detect warning signs of seizures through their keen sense of smell.

The study explores changes in the quality of breath among those who have been reminded of traumatic incidents and or are experiencing flashbacks and discovering whether dogs can perceive these differences through their sensitive sense of smell.

Laura Kiiroja, a doctoral student at Dalhousie University in Halifax who authored the study noted that dogs already assist people in times of distress, and wanted to determine whether dogs can also help trauma victims.

Kiiroja previously authored a study “Can scent-detection dogs detect the stress associated with trauma cue exposure in people with trauma histories? A proof-of-concept study” published in Frontiers in Allergy. 

In addition to responding to human body language and physical cues, they can also sense how breath changes when humans undergo physical or emotional distress.

In the study, 26 people acted as scent donors with 54% diagnosed with PTSD.

The participants with PTSD were reminded of traumas while wearing face masks to catch the scent of their breath.

As part of the study, 25 dogs who were trained to pick up certain scents took part, however, only two were able to successfully finish the study.

The two dogs, a female golden retriever named Ivy and Callie, a female mix of German Shepherd and Belgian malinois, were able to detect the difference between stressed and non-stressed samples with 90% accuracy.

Kiiroja said, “We speculated that Ivy was attuned to sympathetic-adreno-medullar axis hormones (like adrenaline) and Callie was oriented to the hypothalamo-pituitary-adrenal axis hormones (like cortisol). ”

She added, “This is important knowledge for training service dogs, as alerting to early-onset PTSD symptoms requires sensitivity to sympathetic-adreno-medullar axis hormones.”

“With 40 sample sets, ours is a proof-of-concept study that needs to be validated by studies with larger sample sizes,” Kiiroja added.

“In addition to enrolling more participants, validation studies should collect samples from a higher number of stressful events to confirm dogs’ ability to reliably detect stress VOCs in the breath of one human across different contexts,” she concluded.

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The post Dogs Trained to Sniff Out Distress May Revolutionize PTSD Treatment first appeared on United with Israel.
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