As a pet owner and an animal health researcher, I’ve always been amazed by the emotional depth of our furry friends. Dogs, in particular, have a way of connecting with us on a profound level. They’re not just pets; they’re family. But just like us, our canine companions can experience emotional distress. One condition that’s been gaining attention in recent years is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in dogs. Yes, you read that right. Our dogs can suffer from PTSD, just like humans.
Understanding Canine PTSD
What is Canine PTSD?
When we think of PTSD, we often think of humans who’ve experienced severe trauma, like war veterans or victims of violent crime. But dogs can also suffer from this debilitating condition. Canine PTSD, or C-PTSD as it’s sometimes called, was first recognized in military dogs returning from war zones. These brave dogs, who’d experienced the horrors of war, showed signs of severe anxiety and stress that mirrored the symptoms of PTSD in their human counterparts.
I remember reading about this for the first time and feeling a wave of empathy for these dogs. It made me look at my own dog, a rescue with a troubled past, in a new light. I began to wonder if some of his behaviors could be a result of past trauma.
The Different Forms of Canine PTSD
PTSD in dogs can take on different forms, including acute PTSD, chronic PTSD, and delayed onset PTSD. Acute PTSD can occur immediately after a traumatic event and can last for a short period. Chronic PTSD, on the other hand, can last for months or even years. Delayed onset PTSD can occur months or even years after the traumatic event.
Causes of PTSD in Dogs
PTSD in dogs is caused by a traumatic event. These events can range from natural disasters, abandonment, loss of an owner, physical and emotional abuse, to being involved in a major accident. Even something as common as a thunderstorm can cause PTSD in dogs.
I remember when my dog was terrified of thunderstorms. He would shake, hide, and even become aggressive. After talking to a vet, we realized that his fear could be a result of a traumatic experience with a thunderstorm in the past. This was a turning point for us, and we began to understand the depth of my dog’s fear and anxiety.
Recognizing PTSD in Dogs
Recognizing PTSD in dogs can be challenging. The symptoms can be similar to those in humans and include chronic anxiety, hypervigilance, avoidance of certain people, places, or situations, sleep disturbances, fear of being alone, decreased interest in a favorite activity, or aggression.
My dog, for example, would become extremely anxious whenever we had guests over. He would hide in a corner and growl if anyone tried to approach him. At first, we thought he was just being protective, but after learning about PTSD in dogs, we realized that his behavior could be a symptom of PTSD.
Diagnosing PTSD in Dogs
When you bring your dog to the vet for symptoms of PTSD, the first thing they’ll do is rule out physical causes of your pet’s anxiety. Once physical causes have been ruled out, your vet will look at the history of your dog. Recent traumatic events may cause your vet to suspect canine PTSD, but diagnosis may be more difficult in cases of delayed PTSD symptoms, or symptoms related to a trauma that you are unaware of.
Treating PTSD in Dogs
Treating PTSD in dogs can involve a combination of behavioral and medical treatments. The most commonly prescribed medication for dogs exhibiting behavior consistent with PTSD is Alprazolam, a benzodiazepine sedative more commonly known as Xanax. Other sedative drugs that may be considered include Diazepam (Valium), Sertraline (Zoloft), or even Fluoxetine (Prozac).
The behavioral approach to treatment focuses on retraining, which helps your dog feel like their environment is safe once again. Techniques include establishing a stricter routine, so your dog knows what to expect day to day, exercise and play therapies, and dog pheromone collars and infusers.
When my dog was diagnosed with PTSD, we worked closely with our vet to create a treatment plan that included both medication and behavioral therapy. It was a long journey, but with patience and consistency, we saw a significant improvement in his behavior and overall well-being.
Understanding, recognizing, and treating PTSD in dogs is crucial for their well-being. If you suspect your dog may be suffering from PTSD, it’s important to consult with a vet or a veterinary behaviorist who can provide a proper diagnosis and treatment plan. With the right support and care, dogs with PTSD can lead happy, fulfilling lives. I’ve seen it firsthand with my dog. He’s not just a dog with PTSD; he’s a survivor, a fighter, and most importantly, he’s family.