What Is PTSD?
PTSD, or post-traumatic stress disorder, is a mental condition in which a certain trigger such as an event, place, person, smell, or something else may trigger an episode of extreme panic, anxiety, or other symptoms.
According to the Mayo Clinic, PTSD most commonly includes traumatic events and people with the condition may improve over time with proper treatment and care.
While PTSD is common in humans, you may be wondering if pets can experience PTSD. If they do, what are the signs and symptoms, and more importantly, how can a pet receive PTSD treatment?
Most pets, such as cats and dogs, are able to remember events rather well. That’s how your dog learns tricks, knows when mealtime is, and generally follows a routine and set way of living.
Your furry friend can also experience PTSD from remembering natural disasters, trauma from encounters with unfriendly animals, and most commonly, past trauma from previous owners who were unkind to them.
If you suspect that your pet may have PTSD, then you may want to look for the following signs and symptoms.
Symptoms of PTSD in Dogs and Cats
Identifying PTSD in humans is rather easy since we can communicate our thoughts and feelings in words. Conditions such as alcohol abuse may also indicate some form of mental problem that may be PTSD. That’s why it’s important to seek assistance from the likes of an alcohol treatment program that can treat both addiction and PTSD if you believe that you have a problem with both.
Generally, PTSD includes reoccurring thoughts associated with certain types of events or stimuli relating to the traumatic experience. Dogs and cats can experience the same phenomena, but it might be tough to determine since we can’t always understand what our pets are thinking or experiencing. That’s why you’ll need to guess what your pet is feeling based on their behavior rather than their thoughts.
Some of the most common signs and symptoms of animal PTSD include:
- Avoiding certain areas
- Barking or hissing at specific people, objects, or around specific places
- Urinating and displaying fear around certain places or people
- Hiding from people or around certain places
Remember that PTSD in dogs and cats often results in fear and even anger. So, your furry friend may lash out in anger when people are around or when they come into contact with an object associated with their PTSD.
Some animals might try to bite anyone who wears a hat, for example. This doesn’t occur because the animal necessarily hates the person or even the hat, but rather the pet might be experiencing a flashback and anxiety triggered by the presence of a hat.
That could occur because someone who abused the animal in the past could have been wearing a hat when he or she abused it. As a consequence, the pet associates hats with abuse.
In other cases, you may also notice your dog or cat tucking its tail and raising or lowering its ears. Although this trait may be more difficult to spot, pets’ pupils may dilate due to a fear response, their posture may become more defensive, and their breathing may become more rapid.
Causes of PTSD in Pets
Before treating your pet for PTSD, it’s important to understand what may have caused it in the first place. This will be necessary since treatment could depend on the cause.
The most common form of PTSD in dogs and cats is abuse. Often, abuse occurs from previous owners or children who physically beat, hit, kicked, or otherwise hurt the animal repeatedly over some period of time.
Your pet may also have experienced trauma from an accident such as a car collision, a natural disaster such as a tornado, an attack from another animal, or even a past career working as a trained police or military dog.
Think back and try to recall moments where your pet experienced trauma or pain, whether physical or emotional. If you can’t pinpoint a specific time or event, then their treatment might need to be more generalized, but it can still help tremendously.
A good option is to bring your pet into a veterinarian’s practice for a professional opinion. Although the veterinarian may not witness actual PTSD-related episodes, he or she may be able to determine if your pet has PTSD based on your descriptions and possibly through the pet’s behavior at the office.
In addition, your vet could use the visit to rule out other possible causes of your pet’s behavior, such as disease and infection.
Treatment for PTSD in Pets
An important aspect of treatment is addressing your pet’s symptoms. Often, a vet may prescribe a calming medication such as Valium, Xanax, or even Zoloft to soothe its anxiety.
You might also need to seek out retraining therapies that can help your pet understand that the world is a safe place and that they won’t experience the traumatic event again. This often includes incorporating therapies such as safe playtimes or routines that promote regularity and kindness for the pet so they know what to expect throughout the day.
The recovery process for PTSD in pets requires your patience and devotion to helping your furry friend. At the same time, treating PTSD in humans also requires dedication. That’s why it’s important to avoid substance abuse and seek out healthy avenues of help through therapy, talking with loved ones, and more.
Patrick Bailey is a professional writer mainly in the fields of mental health, addiction, and living in recovery. He attempts to stay on top of the latest news in the addiction and the mental health world and enjoy writing about these topics to break the stigma associated with them.
mayoclinic.org – Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome
wagwalking.com – Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder in Dogs
dogabuseawareness.weebly.com – Facts and Statistics on Dog and Pet Abuse
dogsnaturallymagazine.com – PTSD in Dogs and How to Manage It Naturally