Mental health is equally important for people and animals, but humans have an advantage when seeking help. We can communicate our needs and discuss what upsets us, but our pets cannot.. Post-traumatic stress disorder may be difficult to diagnose in dogs, but it occurs more frequently than you may think.
With the right management strategy, your dog with canine PTSD can significantly improve their quality of life.
What Is Canine PTSD?
Canine PTSD, or post-traumatic stress disorder, is a mental health condition that can affect dogs who have experienced significant trauma. A dog’s brain works very differently from a human’s, but there are many similarities between canine PTSD and the type of post-traumatic stress people experience.
PTSD is not a condition that can be cured. The effects of PTSD are usually lifelong, although an effective management plan can significantly reduce the effect canine PTSD may have on your dog’s life.
What Causes Canine PTSD?
Some dogs may have temporary reactions to an event. Ongoing reactions tend to be indicative of canine post-traumatic stress disorder. Any traumatic event has the potential to cause canine PTSD, but significant or prolonged exposure to a traumatic event or situation is more likely to cause canine PTSD.
Dogs Who Lived in War Zones
War leads to the displacement of people and pets. Soldiers often befriend and “adopt” stray animals they meet while serving overseas. Nonprofit organizations work to help military veterans bring their new pets back to the United States with them to save dogs displaced by conflict.
Dogs that have moved to the United States from Iraq or Afghanistan may carry war memories. They can have trouble adjusting and may be very reactive, even though they love their new adoptive parent very much. These dogs are often diagnosed with conditions like canine PTSD.
Dogs Who Have Survived Natural Disasters
Natural disasters like hurricanes, tornadoes, tsunamis, and wildfires can destroy homes and separate families. They’re often traumatic for people to endure.
They can be especially traumatic for a dog to endure, especially if they’re lost and unable to be reunited with their human family for an extended amount of time. The sudden upheaval of your dog’s life and routine, especially if it involves a lengthy period of uncertainty, can lead to canine PTSD.
Dogs Who Have Survived a Traumatic Event
If your dog survived a major illness, accident, or injury, you’re thankful they’re still with you. Your dog may not understand what happened to them and may not have been aware that veterinarians and human caregivers were trying to help them. Lingering effects from the experience can manifest in canine post-traumatic stress disorder.
Dogs Rescued From Abusive Situations
Adopting a dog can be equivalent to saving their life. Dogs rescued from situations where they were abused or neglected can experience a host of challenges while adapting to a safe home with a loving family.
Conditions like separation anxiety are relatively common among adopted dogs. Some dogs may experience canine PTSD if they were severely mistreated.
What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Canine PTSD?
When exposed to the trigger, which could be the sight of the crate, or a location, whatever reminds the dog of the traumatic event, they will have a strong physical reaction, like an adrenaline surge, shaking, or some other response. Once they have the physical fear response, it is very hard to calm them as they are not able to take in your comforting words and pats. Avoiding the trigger and using products that are shown to help calm their mind, like ElleVet Calm and Comfort, which is an emergency, situational use product, can help calm them enough to accept comfort and manage their fear. When given 1.5 hours ahead of exposure to the trigger, Calm and Comfort has been shown to be extremely helpful in reducing the fear response. .
Anxiety or Vigilance
Dogs with canine post-traumatic stress disorder are often very reactive and anxious. They may be tense or alert all the time.
Sounds like the doorbell ringing, thunderstorms, or fireworks can quickly set them on edge. They may feel like they need to guard the door or protect their favorite room of the house.
Avoiding Certain Triggers
If your dog experiences an accident relating to a car, they may have a persistent and intense fear of cars. Your dog remembers what happened and how they felt, and they would prefer to avoid situations that remind them of the event. They may hold onto a fear that it may happen again, and they could experience flashbacks of their traumatic experience.
Clinging to a Trusted Person
Your dog might feel very safe with you. They regard you as a loving, trusted parent.
They’ll feel better if you’re near them, especially if they understand that you want to help them and care for them. Dogs with post-traumatic stress may cling to one person to the exclusion of everyone else in their household. They may experience distress when that person isn’t around.
They may be fearful of strangers or fail to form bonds with other members of your family. It’s common for dogs with post-traumatic stress to hide or frantically bark when a new person enters their home.
Difficulty Sleeping or Nightmares
Dogs can dream, and they’re capable of having nightmares. Some dogs will have full-on night terrors. It’s normal for dogs to occasionally have bad dreams or move around to “act out their dreams” as they happen. Dogs with post-traumatic stress may have frequent nightmares, which can contribute to their reluctance to sleep.
Severe anxiety and hypervigilance can also cause difficulty sleeping in dogs. Dogs that feel as though they need to be on guard will be hesitant to let their guard down. A vigilant dog will have trouble relaxing and finding a comfortable sleeping position.
Aggression is one of the most difficult symptoms of canine post-traumatic stress disorder to manage. Aggression could be a reaction to a dog’s natural fight or flight instinct when afraid.
A traumatized dog may feel it’s necessary to protect themselves in a situation where there is no obvious danger. This doesn’t mean the dog is mean or has a predisposition to violence. It simply means the dog is fearful and doesn’t understand what’s going on.
How To Manage Symptoms of PTSD in Dogs
PTSD treatments for dogs generally involve multiple interventions designed to approach your dog’s distress from multiple angles. PTSD can affect your dog’s quality of life in many ways.
It’s important to address your dog’s symptoms in the moment and in the long term through specialized dog training and targeted emotional support techniques.
Through Training Techniques
Comprehensive training techniques that involve desensitization and controlled exposure to stressful situations can benefit your dog’s well-being in the long run. If your traumatized dog can act unpredictable when confronted with triggers, it’s best to outsource the creation of a training-based treatment plan to an expert specializing in canine post-traumatic stress disorder. They will be able to guide you and your dog through the process.
Avoiding Triggers When Possible
Consider how your dog reacts in certain situations and plan to accommodate their comfort. Avoid using a kennel if your dog has panic attacks when placed in a kennel.
If car trips are difficult for your dog, save them for necessary veterinarian appointments only. Recognize and respect your dog’s boundaries when it’s reasonable to do so.
Using ElleVet Calming Products
Using a calming supplement like ElleVet Sciences Calm and Comfort situational use product which calms their mind and does not just sedate their body. It has been shown to be extremely effective in helping dogs manage high stress situations.
Getting a Service Dog
Service dogs don’t only work for people. A service dog can work to support another dog with special physical or emotional needs. If your traumatized dog has difficulty being alone or needs reminders to play, a service dog companion may help.
If your dog has difficulty getting along with other dogs, a service dog companion may not be a good choice for your household. Just make sure to introduce your dog to a potential new dog before you adopt that dog. It’s important to be sure they get along.
In Conclusion: Treatment for Canine PTSD Can Improve Your Dog’s Well-Being
Dogs with PTSD need a little extra love and care, but they’re worth the effort. Consistency in treatment and remaining mindful of your dog’s special needs can work to improve your dog’s quality of life. You may notice that your dog displays a significant reduction in symptoms over time if you’re diligent about following their treatment plan.