A study from the Vall d'Hebron Hospital shows that dog-assisted therapy is effective in the treatment of fetal alcohol syndrome

A study from the Vall d'Hebron Hospital shows that dog-assisted therapy is effective in the treatment of fetal alcohol syndrome

  • It is the first study in the world that has evaluated the efficacy of assisted therapy with dogs in children suffering fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS)
  • Vall d'Hebron, with the collaboration of CTAC and the Probitas Foundation, was already the first center in the world, in 2018, to use assisted therapy with dogs to treat this pathology
  • The study has shown that children with FAS who do therapy with dogs enhance their social skills, better regulate their behavior and show an improvement in the severity of the disorder

A study carried out by professionals from the Vall d'Hebrón Psychiatry Service in collaboration with CTAC (Center for Dog Assisted Therapies) and the Probitas Foundation, shows that dog-assisted therapy is effective in patients suffering from fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS). Fetal alcohol syndrome is a pathology related to alcohol consumption during pregnancy. As explained by Dr. Nuria Gómez, psychiatrist and head of the Fetal Alcohol Syndrome Program of the Vall d'Hebrón Psychiatry Service, "drinking alcohol during pregnancy can cause damage to the development of the central nervous system. These damages cause the patients present diverse symptoms, such as cognitive, psychological, behavioral and social problems ". Patients have difficulties in emotional control and behavioral self-regulation, difficulties in understanding social rules, deficits in daily life skills, social skills and learning. Without a proper diagnosis and approach, they can suffer from school failure, drugs abuse, and legal problems. Most of the patients who come to the consultation are children and adolescents. But this pathology also affects adults, since there is no cure, although it can improve.

In 2018, Vall d'Hebron, with the collaboration of CTAC and the Probitas Foundation, was the first center in the world to use dog-assisted therapy to treat fetal alcohol syndrome. In these sessions, patients interact with dogs in therapies led by a psychologist and with the presence of a CTAC technique. In each therapy, a series of objectives are set (such as improving tolerance to frustration) that are worked with different exercises. As Laura Vidal, a psychologist in the Fetal Alcohol Syndrome Program, explains, patients with FAS have many problems communicating through verbal language. For these patients, "dogs are facilitators of therapy, since, with another type of language, they mobilize affective and communicative resources in patients". Patients connect emotionally with dogs thanks to the help of the psychologist and technique, and through play.

Improvements in three major aspects of the pathology

As Dr. Nuria Gómez indicates, "Now, we have carried out the world's first scientific study to evaluate the efficacy of dog-assisted therapy in minors with fetal alcohol syndrome." In this study, 33 patients between 6 and 18 years of age participated. They were divided into two groups: patients receiving only pharmacological therapy and patients receiving dog-assisted therapy and pharmacological therapy. There were first six individual sessions and then six group sessions. The main conclusions are that children with FAS who do therapy with dogs have a bigger improvement in their social skills than those from the other group, also, they better regulate their behavior and achive a general improvement in their disorder. In this sense, as Laura Vidal adds, "we have seen that, thanks to dog-assisted therapy, patients communicate better with the family and express their feelings better, present fewer risky behaviors, better self-regulate, become less frustrated, they control their impulsivity better and have fewer tantrums. "

The implementation of assisted therapy with dogs in Vall d'Hebron is the result of an agreement with the Probitas Foundation and the collaboration of CTAC. Vall d'Hebron does a multidisciplinary follow-up of these patients, as they participate in the treatment, through the Psychiatry Service and in their diagnosis, also through this Service, the Genetics Area and the Neurology, Radiology and Neurophysiology Services. The Ophthalmology and Endocrinology Services also participate in assessing possible complications. In Vall d'Hebron more than 400 children and adolescents have already been treated with this pathology in the last three years.