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Can Dogs Hallucinate?
You're sitting on the couch when it happens. You and your dog are enjoying a nice Saturday afternoon watching your favorite movie and sharing a snack when your pup starts acting strangely. First, your doggo cocks their head to the side, then, they trot to the window. They start barking, but when you look up to check, there's nothing there.
Is it possible that your dog is hallucinating?
In short, yes, it's likely that dogs can hallucinate. Many people are shocked to find out that dogs can suffer many of the same neurological conditions that people can, and hallucinations are no different. When a person or a dog hallucinate, they are picking up on an experience involving the perception of something that isn't actually there. In other words, you're seeing something that doesn't exist.
Signs Your Dog is Hallucinating
While it's impossible to know with 100 percent certainty that dog hallucinations work the exact same way human hallucination works, it is likely that dogs experience the same symptoms of this neurological condition. But, instead of these symptoms manifesting the same way that they would in people - talking to nothing, communicating with people who aren't there, verbally expressing a situation that isn't happening - dogs share their hallucinations with us in other ways.
For example, dogs who are relatively introverted who suddenly refuse to come inside can possibly be experiencing hallucinations. In the same way, if a dog, especially a relatively quiet or soft-spoken dog, starts to obsessively bark or growl at the same spot over and over, then it's possible they are seeing something that isn't really there.
If you notice your dog is staring off into space far more than he normally does with intense focus, it's also possible that hallucinations could be the culprit. Don't rule out hallucination if your dog starts fly-biting, either. Fly biting is a behavior that dogs with epileptic tendencies often show. With this behavior, your dog will likely frantically nip about at flies around him that don't actually exist - so, in reality, they are nipping and biting at the air.
Historic Causes of Hallucinations in Dogs
When it comes down to determining the causes of dog hallucinations, it can get kind of dicey. Though we can't say 100 percent that dogs experience hallucinations in the same way people do, we're relatively sure they do. However, because dogs can't tell us what they're seeing or how they're feeling with words, we often have to guess.
Historically, signs of hallucination occur in dogs when they're struggling with epilepsy or seizures. Hallucinations are often a precursor to epilepsy, so in a way, the cause of hallucinations are a warning sign of what's to come. Focal seizures are the biggest cause of this, as well as liver problems. Sometimes, liver problems trigger hepatic encephalopathy which can result in strange dog behaviors.
But hallucinations can also be a result of a toxic food that your dog has eaten. For example, if your dog eats chocolate, the toxicity might affect him within 24 hours and he could start seeing hallucinations, among other things.
The Science Behind Hallucination
In order to understand why your dog is hallucinating or to best understand how to help them combat these hallucinations, it first helps to understand what a hallucination is and what kind of hallucination your dog is able to experience. A hallucination, as we discussed before, is having some sort of experience with something that isn't there - whether that's hearing, seeing, or in a dog's case, smelling something that doesn't exist in front of them.
Auditory hallucinations are a big one for dogs. This affects their hearing. Your dog might think they are hearing something real, but instead, their neurological functions are acting up and they're not hearing anything at all. This can be exceptionally hard to determine because dogs have superior hearing to humans, so it's harder to tell if they're hearing something we can't or if they're hearing something that doesn't exist. Visual hallucinations are big, too. Your dog can experience these just like you can. They typically manifest themselves in something called flycatching or star gazing. With this, your dog will bite or nip at flies that aren't there, stare fixedly at objects, chase things that don't exist, or avoid imaginary objects that you can't see.
Training Your Dog to Deal With Hallucinations
Training your dog to deal with hallucinations is a tough and tricky business. For starters, diagnosing your dog's hallucinations is a tough thing to do. Once you get a handle on what's happening with your dog, though, it's likely that your dog-tor is going to want to put them on a slew of different medicines.
First off, they might prescribe something like Valium. Valium will reduce pet anxiety, which might be the first step in helping your dog deal with their hallucinations. If they're suffering from epileptic issues or seizures, that's a whole extra ball game and it's likely that your dog will have to deal with quite a few different pills and medicines to keep his health in the clear.
But how do you train your dog to take these pills without a problem? We have a few suggestions. First, you can always go the super-simple route and try to hide pills in your dog's food. This works most of the time, but if you have a dog that's too sly to fool, you'll want to try to slip the pill in a special treat - like a piece of cheese or lunchmeat. If this doesn't work, try simply being upfront and feeding your dog the pill from your hand. Some dogs won't mind this and they'll think you're offering them a special treat.
Other dogs, though, might require some convincing. With this situation, we recommend training your dog to play a fun game to distract them from the actual pill. With this, we suggest a throw-and-catch game. Teach your dog to go long for the treat, catch the treat, and then eat it as their reward. Fun loving dogs will get a kick out of this game and they'll also get the medicine they need.
By a Great Dane lover Hanna Marcus
Published: 03/26/2018, edited: 04/06/2020
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