In humans, PTSD or post-traumatic stress disorder, is a newer term for a very old condition suffered by those who have been through traumatic events in their childhood or adult lives. While we most commonly associate PTSD with soldiers returning from combat, PTSD can affect people from a variety of backgrounds, whether they have been in the armed services or not. Any traumatic event can cause flashbacks in people, with symptoms ranging from nervousness, anxiety, sweats, paranoia or other serious physical manifestation. While we know people can suffer from PTSD, what is less talked about is whether our doggy friends also experience and react to trauma in similar, or different, ways.
Can Dogs Get PTSD?
As it turns out, your pooch can also be affected by past trauma. PTSD in canines can take multiple forms and can be officially diagnosed as Canine PTSD (or C-PTSD) or can manifest in the form of a change in behavior after an event or series of events.
Does My Dog Have PTSD?
Diagnosing your dog with PTSD can happen in several ways. First, if your dog’s physical and medical condition is unknown, they may experience a shift in behavior after one or a series of traumatic events. Situations such as a major trauma or accident, attack by another dog or human, sudden exposure to loud noises or other new and potentially “scary” events can all cause PTSD. Your dog may shy or pull away from similar stimulus, sometimes in violent ways. Your dog may fight, attack, growl or bare their teeth to escape a stimulus. They could also become destructive or wet or defecate uncontrollably or hunker into a corner or small space. Some dogs may also try to crawl into their owner’s laps or arms to escape something that has caused them trauma in the past.
If your dog’s history is unknown, for example if they were rescued as an adult, it can be difficult to determine whether your dog is suffering from PTSD or general behavioral issues caused by lack of training. Working with a certified professional dog trainer can help identify if your dog has triggers that are caused by specific events.
To learn more about PTSD in your dog, see this helpful article .
How Do I Treat My Dog’s PTSD?
Regardless of an official diagnosis of PTSD in your dog, treatment for severe behavior issues triggered by specific events will involve a combination of training and medication. Training, or behavior modification, can be done at home but is best attempted in connection with a certified professional trainer who practices positive reinforcement methods. This involves slow, incremental reward of good behavior and withholding attention or reinforcement of unwanted or dangerous behaviors. For severe cases, your dog may need to stay with a professional for an extended boarding session where they can receive round the clock training in order to become a good doggy citizen.
In some cases, medications may be needed to help calm your dog during training or if training is ineffective. Medications can be sedatives that help your dog sleep during periods of loud noises such as Fourth of July fireworks, moving, parties, or other stressful events. Homeopathic remedies are also available that disperse fragrances known to have calming properties for your dog to inhale.
Whether training or medication, for dogs suffering from PTSD it will be important to provide consistent, regular application of treatment for the best chance at a pawsitive outcome.
How Is PTSD Similar in Dogs and Humans?
Just like in humans, a negative experience to a given stimuli can produce a strong mental and physical desire to avoid that situation in the future. If a dog experiences pain, loss, starvation or other traumatic event in connection with a loud noise, threatening motion, or other stimuli, this can cause an instinctual reflex, manifesting in aggressive or fearful behaviors. Both dogs and military or police members have been known to experience PTSD after resuming home life after service or major violent event.
How Is PTSD Different in Dogs and Humans?
While PTSD in humans is caused by similar events in dogs, the ability and type of treatment and impact PTSD has on both can be very different. Humans are able to process complex emotions that can often create multiple layers of trauma and thought processes both before, during, and after a PTSD inducing event.
In dogs, PTSD is a more instinctual process, given dog’s lack of complicated emotional expression. Our canine buddies are driven by primal systems that promote the physical well-being of them and their companions. Dogs tend to act more instinctively towards triggering events. Dogs are also unable of communicating the exact trauma in their past that is causing their PTSD, which can make modifying the behavior or lessening the trigger’s negative stimulus more difficult.
One of the most classic ways that your dog will exhibit PTSD is after a negative interaction with another dog. Your previously friendly pooch may enjoy spending time with other pups out at the local dog park or enjoy friendly sniffs on walks without incident. One day another dog may act inappropriate, either playing roughly and causing pain to your pooch or outright biting or attacking your dog. After this, your dog may avoid going near other dogs or may pull away violently or cower in fear when approached by dogs of similar size weight, or in general. Overcoming this fear is possible but will take plenty of consistent training from their trusted human owners.