Can pets have post traumatic stress disorder? They sure can…and some do. PTSD was first recognized in former military dogs who’d returned home from combat. Over the last decade, veterinarians have come to recognize the condition as a treatable but generally lifelong mental disorder in pets.
What to Know About PTSD in Pets
Just like in humans, PTSD in pets is caused by a singular trauma or a series of traumas that ultimately make pets fear for their lives. A few of the most common reasons pets experience the symptoms of PTSD include…
- Car accidents or other sudden accidents
- The death of a caretaker or fellow household pet
- Adverse experiences such as a particularly traumatic trip to the vet clinic
- Physical or mental abuse
- Abandonment by an owner
- Fights with other animals
- Military or police service
Rescue pets are especially likely to suffer from PTSD, particularly if their histories are unclear. Pets who were raised in overcrowded conditions, with the threat of physical abuse, or without sufficient food or shelter are far more likely to display the signs of PTSD later in life.
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The Signs of PTSD in Pets
Because post traumatic stress disorder is, at its core, an anxiety disorder, its symptoms are often confused with other behavioral issues. No two pets react to PTSD exactly the same, and symptoms can vary widely. Some of the most common include:
Hyper Vigilance: Particularly in specific situations or when specific noises or environmental factors are present.
Extreme Reactions: To “triggers” like loud noises, other animals, or even to nothing at all.
Stress Symptoms: All pets show stress differently but insomnia, anorexia, a tucked tail, and hiding are all common symptoms.
Unusual Clinginess: Pets with PTSD may want to stay very close to you at all times.
Aggression: Particularly if the aggression is highly erratic and spontaneous.
Of course, a litany of anxiety responses are linked to physiological issues such as panting, restlessness, and excessive grooming. PTSD symptoms can come and go, and they can also take days, weeks, or even months to show up after a traumatic event.
What to do if You Suspect PTSD
If you have any inkling your pet may be suffering the effects of a stress disorder, talk to your vet. It’s important to have your pet physically evaluated by a professional to rule out any health issues that could be manifesting in symptoms that look like PTSD. Since pets can’t tell us they feel sad or scared, we sometimes have to rely on diagnostic tests to determine whether their condition is mental or physical.
Your veterinarian will talk to you about treatment options if you do determine it’s likely your pet is suffering from PTSD. Some behavioral therapies such as play therapy and exercise therapy can be helpful for mild cases. Many pet owners have had success with non-traditional treatments such as acupuncture or reiki. There are may supplements, pheromones, and even prescription medications such as Alprazolam, Sertraline, or Fluoxetine that may be beneficial to a pet with PTSD as well.
Suspect your pet may have PTSD?