Can Dogs be Psychotic?

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Introduction

Are you wondering if your dog’s behavior is normal? Starting to feel nervous about their unpredictability? When dogs behave out of the ordinary it could be a sign that something is going wrong in their mind or body. 

Psychosis is defined as a mental disturbance that leads to erratic behavior, personality changes, and a lost sense of reality. While it is a somewhat common mental illness symptom for humans to have, can dogs suffer from it too? Keep reading to understand the symptoms your dog may be experiencing and what they mean.

Introduction of Can Dogs be Psychotic?

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Signs a Dog is Psychotic

There are multiple signs that your dog is experiencing a mental breakdown and should be taken to the vet. It could be a range of medical or behavioral issues that a licensed veterinarian should be able to help with.

  • Sudden mood swings. A dog experiencing psychosis can be sweet and pleasant one moment, and then suddenly enraged and ready to attack anyone the next second.

  • Hallucinations. Psychosis causes a break from reality; the dog may not even be aware it’s acting strangely. In this break, it’s common for dogs to hallucinate people or things, and then react to them even though they aren’t real. You might notice your dog barking or growling at the wall or staring intently into space.

  • Strange responses to normal stimuli. If your dog, who normally loves food, is suddenly acting terrified of his kibble, something could be seriously wrong.

  • Lack of response to human commands. Most dogs will obey their owner ’s commands, or at least acknowledge that they aren’t doing what they’re told. If your dog no longer responds to your prompts and simply ignores your presence completely, they could be suffering psychosis.

Early in evolution when dogs were essentially wolves, it’s hard to say whether they experienced psychosis. There aren’t enough studies regarding the topic; researchers are still unsure how early humans domesticated wild wolves into the pups we have today. It’s likely that any weakness or obstacle to being able to fulfill survival duties in the wild would result in death. If a wolf was experiencing psychosis or any illness for that matter, they would either be left behind by the pack, killed, or cause their own death. Survival of the fittest meant mentally or physically sick wolves didn’t make it to the next level.

There is a history of dogs having other mental illnesses like anxiety, depression, and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). Dogs who had worked in the military sometimes returned from war exhibiting post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) just like the soldiers. Dogs who survive a major natural disaster like a tsunami or earthquake can also show symptoms of PTSD. If a dog has gone through a traumatic circumstance, they are more likely to experience some form of anxiety, depression, or OCD.

Body Language

Here are some signs that your dog may be psychotic:
  • Growling
  • Back hair on edge
  • Exposed teeth
  • Stiff tail

Other Signs

Other signs of psychosis include:

  • Showing Aggression
  • Showing Teeth
  • Barking at the Wall
  • Unwarranted Aggression

History of Dogs and Psychosis

History of Can Dogs be Psychotic?

Early in evolution, when dogs were essentially wolves, it’s hard to say whether they experienced psychosis. There aren’t enough studies regarding the topic; researchers are still unsure how early humans domesticated wild wolves into the pups we have today. It’s likely that any weakness or obstacle to being able to fulfill survival duties in the wild would result in death. If a wolf was experiencing psychosis or any illness for that matter, they would either be left behind by the pack, killed, or cause their own death. Survival of the fittest meant mentally or physically sick wolves didn’t make it to the next level.

There is a history of dogs having other mental illnesses like anxiety, depression, and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). Dogs who had worked in the military sometimes returned from war exhibiting post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) - just like the soldiers. Dogs who survive a major natural disaster like a tsunami or earthquake can also show symptoms of PTSD. If a dog has gone through a traumatic circumstance, they are more likely to experience some form of anxiety, depression, or OCD.

The Science of Dogs Suffering from Psychosis

Science of Can Dogs be Psychotic?

According to scientists, your dog’s psychotic behavior might not be a symptom of an emotional or mental disorder. It’s already been proven that dogs can’t be schizophrenic because they lack the “human accelerated regions” of their genomes that humans innately have. However, dogs can experience other brain-related disorders that can result in psychotic behavior. For example, psychosis in dogs is sometimes a side effect of epilepsy, a neurological disorder that causes the sufferer to experience seizures, confusion, and loss of consciousness.

Since dogs can’t simply tell you something is wrong, or something hurts, their behavior is full of clues to what may be really going on. One owner discussed how her dog was hallucinating; it seemed like he was trying to catch a fly in the air that didn’t exist. After taking him to an animal behaviorist, it was discovered that he had a form of epilepsy and the hallucinations were a post-seizure symptom. The best advice is to monitor your dog's behavior so you know when it’s acting abnormally, and then to seek medical and/or behavioral guidance.

Treating Your Dog's Psychosis

Training of Can Dogs be Psychotic?

Once you’ve noticed strange and unwanted behavior in your dog, it’s time to get the vet or an animal behaviorist involved. First, they’ll want to know what the behaviors your dog is exhibiting are and what could potentially be triggering them. They’ll need to know as much about the dog’s history, medical and trauma-related, as possible. To rule out mental illnesses like PTSD, depression, and anxiety, it must be clear that there are no obvious triggers for their behavior and no past trauma they could be reliving. 

Second, a urine test and blood test will show the dog’s hormone levels and check for parasites. Your dog could be physically sick and not know how to tell you other than by acting out. Or, they could have a hormonal imbalance which affects a myriad of things, not in the least their mood. Depending on the diagnosis, your vet may prescribe medication to treat the causes of the psychosis or the symptoms. Or, your pooch could require training from a dog behaviorist. Ultimately, psychotic behavior is a symptom of something more serious going on in your dog’s body and mind.

Safety Tips for Dogs with Psychosis

  • Watch for strange behaviors.
  • Do not ignore unwarranted aggression, barking at the wall or other unusual responses.
  • Be careful while your dog is experiencing hallucinations. They may not realize who you are, or that they are seeing things that are not real.
  • Get your dog the appropriate medical care.