Can Dogs Have PTSD? Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder in dogs revealed

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Can Dogs have PTSD? As devoted pet owners, we often find ourselves grappling with the difficulties that dog anxiety brings. A particular issue that can be difficult to deal with is post-traumatic stress disorder, otherwise known as PTSD.

This terrible condition is typically considered a problem that only people deal with. PTSD is a mental health condition triggered by experiencing or witnessing traumatic events.

Sufferers of PTSD can have flashbacks, nightmares, and severe anxiety. It can also severely impact a person’s daily life.

But what about our furry friends, can dogs have PTSD?

Can Dogs Suffer from PTSD?

The answer, surprisingly, is yes. Like humans, dogs can develop PTSD following traumatic experiences, resulting in behavioral changes that bring on their anxiety. 

sad looking dog

This article will dive head-first into the world of canine PTSD and explore the causes, symptoms, and ways to support our fluffy friends when life gets hard.

What is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in Dogs?

Post traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, is a mental health condition.

In dogs, it’s known as canine PTSD, in which a dog experiences intense anxiety or fear after a harrowing event. 

Trauma can come from any number of different scary incidents, including accidents, physical or mental abuse, or suffering abandonment.

military dog

Working dogs that play roles in rescue, military, or police are highly susceptible to encountering stressful situations on a regular basis. Military dogs returning from war zones are especially at risk of PTSD and other anxiety disorders.

Just like us, dogs can develop PTSD anytime when exposed to circumstances that overwhelm their ability to cope, and it can happen at any age, from young puppies to senior dogs.

Causes of PTSD in Dogs

Canine PTSD may arise from diverse events, such as:

  • Physical or emotional abuse.
  • Abandonment or prolonged confinement.
  • Exposure to loud noises, like fireworks or thunderstorms.
  • Involvement in accidents or witnessing another dog’s injury or death.
  • Sudden changes in environment or living conditions.

Symptoms of PTSD in Dogs 

Dogs suffering from canine post-traumatic stress disorder may display a range of anxiety related signs, which may differ from one dog to another.

close up of dog's eyes - can dogs get ptsd

Some common symptoms may include:

  • Increased aggression or fearfulness.
  • Excessive barking or whining.
  • Uncharacteristic clinginess or separation anxiety.
  • Sleep disturbances, such as insomnia or restlessness.
  • Hypervigilance or heightened startle response.
  • Sudden accidents or house soiling despite prior training.
  • Loss of interest in activities they once enjoyed, including play and social interaction
  • Depression

When recognized in dogs, the symptoms are crucial for providing the necessary support and interventions for dogs struggling with PTSD. 

How is PTSD diagnosed in dogs?

The act of diagnosing posttraumatic stress disorder in a person normally involves a mental health specialist conducting an assessment, including a detailed discussion of the patient’s history, experiences, and symptoms.

dog getting a diagnosis with a vet

Confirming the diagnosis involves using standardized diagnostic criteria, such as those found in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders and psychological assessments.

When it comes to diagnosing PTSD in dogs, the process is somewhat different.

Since our canine companions can’t communicate their experiences verbally, diagnosis relies on careful observation of behavioral changes and thorough evaluations of possible underlying medical issues that could cause similar symptoms.

The Diagnostic Process For Canine PTSD

Here’s a step-by-step breakdown of the diagnostic process for canine PTSD:

  • Observation: Pet owners must first identify and document changes in their dog’s behavior, such as increased anxiety, aggression, or other symptoms mentioned earlier.
  • Consultation: The owner should then consult with a veterinarian, providing a comprehensive account of the dog’s history, recent traumatic events, and observed behavioral changes.
  • Medical examination: The veterinarian will perform a complete physical examination and may run a series of tests to rule out potential medical causes for the observed symptoms, such as pain, infections, or hormonal imbalances.
  • Behavioral evaluation: In some cases, a veterinarian or a certified animal behaviorist may conduct a more in-depth behavioral assessment to evaluate the dog’s reactions to specific stimuli and better understand the nature of the problem.
  • Diagnosis: Once medical issues are ruled out and the presence of a traumatic event is confirmed, the veterinarian may diagnose the dog with PTSD.

The role of a veterinarian in diagnosing PTSD in dogs is key to discerning whether the symptoms are indeed indicative of PTSD or if an underlying medical condition is to blame.

A proper diagnosis is essential in formulating an appropriate treatment plan tailored to the dog’s specific needs.

By correctly identifying PTSD, dog owners, and their local veterinaries can join forces to create a plan of action that addresses their dog’s emotional welfare and lessens the difficult symptoms linked to the disorder.

This combined effort is necessary to ensure our furry friends receive the best support and care they need.

Common Triggers of PTSD in Dogs

Just like humans, dogs with PTSD may exhibit increased sensitivity to specific stimuli, which can trigger their stress and trauma responses.

Dog in a crowd

Recognizing these triggers and finding ways to avoid or manage them is crucial for the well-being of dogs suffering from PTSD.

Common Triggers For Dogs with PTSD

Here are some common triggers and strategies for caring for a dog struggling to cope:

  • Loud noises: Fireworks, thunderstorms, and construction work are loud noises that can trigger anxiety disorders in dogs with PTSD. To minimize their exposure to such sounds, provide a quiet, secure space for your dog during these events, and consider using soundproofing materials or white noise machines to dampen the noise.
  • Unfamiliar environments: Changes in surroundings or living conditions may intensify a dog’s PTSD symptoms. Gradually introduce your dog to new areas, keep a steady routine, and use positive reinforcement to commend their bravery.
  • Crowds and strangers: Large groups or unfamiliar faces can overwhelm dogs with PTSD. Limit your dog’s exposure to crowded places and provide a home retreat for times of stress. If expecting visitors, instruct them beforehand on calmly approaching your dog.
  • Other animals: Encounters with other dogs or animals (as well as crowds and strangers) can trigger not just social anxiety in dogs, but also PTSD-related anxiety, especially if their trauma involves aggression. A slow, controlled socialization with friendly animals can build positive bonds and boost your dog’s confidence. Leash your dog during walks and provide ample retreat space if they appear anxious.
  • Confinement or restraint: Dogs with traumatic experiences related to confinement may become intensely averse to restriction. Help your dog by preventing prolonged confinement in tight spaces and using positive reinforcement when familiarizing them with crates or carriers. to dogs that are anxious while traveling. Always strive to make these enclosures safe and comfortable for your dog.
  • Abrupt movements or loud voices: Sudden movements or loud voices can trigger anxiety in a PTSD-affected dog. Interact with your dog gently and softly, promoting the same behavior among family members and visitors to ensure a tranquil environment for your pet.

Different Types of Treatments for Dogs with PTSD

Dealing with PTSD in dogs involves a versatile approach that addresses the condition’s emotional and physical aspects. Below are some treatment options that can be combined to create a comprehensive plan tailored to your dog’s needs:

Medications for Dogs with PTSD

In some instances, veterinary medicines may be advised to manage the symptoms of PTSD in dogs. These could encompass:

  • Anti-anxiety medications: Certain medications belonging to the class of tranquilizers or drugs that affect the brain’s neurotransmitters can help alleviate anxiety and stress in dogs with PTSD.
  • Antidepressants: Another category of medications may be prescribed to regulate your dog’s mood and relieve symptoms of depression by controlling the balance of specific neurotransmitters, such as serotonin or norepinephrine.
  • Pheromone therapy: Synthetic pheromones, like Adaptil, can create a calming atmosphere for your dog and minimize anxiety.

Make sure to stick to your vet’s instructions regarding medication dosage and administration.

Behavioral Therapy for Dogs with PTSD

Behavioral therapy, often involving a certified animal behaviorist or a qualified dog trainer, focuses on modifying the reaction to triggers your dog is exposed to and improving their overall emotional well-being.

Techniques may include:

  • Counter-conditioning: This type of behavioral training involves getting a dog to associate the trigger with treats or other positive experiences.
  • Desensitization: This form of behavior modification gradually exposes your dog to whatever triggers them in a controlled environment and can help a dog build tolerance and lessen anxiety.
  • Obedience training: Reinforcing basic commands and establishing trust can help your dog feel more secure and confident.

Alternative Therapies for Dogs with PTSD

 Some pet owners may explore alternative therapies to complement traditional treatments for their dogs with PTSD. These options can include:

  • Massage therapy: Gentle massages can help relax your dog and is a great way to alleviate tension and stress.
  • Aromatherapy: Incorporating essential oils, such as lavender or chamomile, to create a soothing environment and help reduce anxiety in your dog.
  • Acupuncture: Some dogs may benefit from acupuncture, a traditional Chinese practice that involves inserting thin needles into specific points on the body to promote relaxation and stress relief.
  • Canine-geared music: Specially designed music with frequencies and rhythms tailored for dogs may help calm and soothe your pet during stressful situations. 

Natural Calming Remedies for Dogs with PTSD

In addition to traditional treatments, some pet owners may turn to natural remedies to help their dogs with PTSD feel more relaxed and at ease:

  • Herbal supplements: Certain herbs, such as valerian root or passionflower, are known for their calming properties and can be administered as supplements to help reduce anxiety in dogs.
  • L-theanine: This amino acid, naturally found in green tea, can promote relaxation and stress relief in dogs without causing drowsiness.
  • Omega-3 fatty acids: Adding omega-3 fatty acids to your dog’s diet, either through food or supplements, may help improve brain function and make healthy changes in temperament.
  • Calming chews: Some over-the-counter calming chews for dogs contain natural ingredients, such as chamomile or tryptophan, which can help soothe your dog during stressful situations.
  • Calming wraps or vests: Applying gentle, constant pressure to a dog’s torso using a specially designed wrap or vest can provide a comforting sensation, similar to swaddling a baby.
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 We have a more extensive list of treatments and solutions here. It’s crucial to consult with a veterinarian or a certified animal behaviorist before implementing any treatment plan for a dog with PTSD.

How to Prevent Dogs Developing PTSD

Preventing PTSD in dogs involves proactive measures to minimize exposure to traumatic events, ensure early intervention when necessary, and create a safe, nurturing environment.

dog getting checked

Here are some tips to help prevent PTSD in dogs:

  • Early socialization: Expose puppies to various experiences, people, and animals during their early months to build confidence and resilience.
  • Positive reinforcement training: Foster a trustful bond using reward-based training methods that include treats and praise.
  • Supervision and safety: Monitor your dog in unfamiliar settings to prevent accidents or negative encounters with other animals.
  • Regular exercise and mental stimulation: A well-exercised and mentally engaged dog is less prone to anxiety and stress. Decrease the chances for anxiety with ample physical activity, play, and mental challenges.
  • Consistency and routine: Provide a consistent daily routine for a sense of security and ease.
  • Early intervention: Address signs of canine PTSD promptly by consulting a veterinary consultant, animal behaviorist, or dog trainer.
  • Trauma awareness: Be aware of your dog’s past experiences, particularly if they have a history of abuse, neglect, or other traumatic events. Monitoring for stress signs, and address concerns swiftly.
  • Safe and secure environment: Create a comfortable quiet space at home for times when your dog feels stressed. Designate a room, crate, or a cozy corner with their bed and favorite toys.
  • Foster positive experiences: Reinforce positive encounters with new people, animals, or environments to build their resilience.
  • Communication and patience: Establish gentle and consistent interactions with your dog, showing patience and understanding for their fears.
dog swimming - can dogs get ptsd

These preventive measures can help you safeguard your dog against developing PTSD in the first place.

Final Thoughts on Signs, Causes, and Treatments for PTSD in Dogs

PTSD, and how the condition can affect dogs is a complex and troubling for dog owners trying to get to the bottom of their furry friend’s troubles. 

Throughout this discussion, we’ve explored the nature of PTSD in dogs, its causes, symptoms, and triggers.

We’ve also delved into the various treatment options, including medications, behavioral therapy, alternative therapies, and natural calming remedies.

Furthermore, we’ve emphasized the importance of prevention and early intervention in safeguarding our canine companions from this distressing condition.

Knowing how to identify and tackle PTSD in dogs quickly and efficiently is incredibly important if you want to impact your dog’s quality of life positively.

happy dog on a beach

We need to be proactive, observant, and empathetic to support our furry friends on their journey to emotional healing and resilience.

As pet owners, we are responsible for creating a safe, nurturing environment for our dogs and monitoring their behavior for signs of anxiety. If we suspect canine PTSD, it’s up to us to take immediate action to address it.

By doing these simple but meaningful actions, we can help ensure their mental and emotional health and happiness while fostering a strong, loving bond that lasts a lifetime.

Disclaimer

All information in this article is for educational purposes only and is not meant to replace your veterinarian's advice.
Jen Smart

Transforming anxious pups with her wealth of hands-on practical experience, and qualified in the following disciplines: Holistic Healing, Canine Anxiety & Therapy, Zoopharmacognosy, and CBD Oil for Animals

Founder of Anxious Canine and proud member of the Complementary Medical Association.

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