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Dog PTSD Guide: Symptoms, Treatment & Why It Happens | Pupford

December 27th, 2023

Filed under Pet Parenting

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In our journey as dog lovers, it's essential to recognize that our four-legged companions can also experience emotional challenges, just like humans.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) isn't limited to people; it can affect dogs too.

In this blog, we'll delve into the world of dog PTSD and explore how we can compassionately help them manage their emotional struggles. As responsible pet parents and trainers, understanding and addressing their emotional well-being is crucial to building a stronger bond with our beloved furry friends.

UNDERSTANDING POST-TRAUMATIC STRESS DISORDER (PTSD) IN DOGS

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a deeply distressing condition experienced by individuals who have gone through traumatic events. It's essential to recognize that this condition is not limited to humans; dogs can also suffer from a similar condition known as Canine Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (C-PTSD).

Like humans, traumatic experiences can profoundly affect dogs, leading to sleep disturbances, generalized anxiety, hypervigilance, depression, and irritability.

Treating C-PTSD in dogs involves a combination of behavior modification and sometimes the use of anti-anxiety medications. It is remarkable to observe that the research and therapies developed for canine PTSD can also be adapted and utilized to aid humans struggling with PTSD, highlighting the interconnectedness of our emotional experiences.

Related Reading: FAS Score in Dogs

CAN DOGS HAVE PTSD?

dog that is frightened and has ptsd

Just like humans, dogs can also experience Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), with a particular focus on working dogs who have served in military or police roles. These brave canines, who have dedicated themselves to serving and protecting, are often exposed to traumatic events that can leave lasting emotional scars.

It is estimated that around 5% to 10% of working dogs returning from war zones develop PTSD, highlighting the significant impact of their service on their well-being.

Canine PTSD, while recognized more recently, affects a considerable number of dogs, with estimates ranging from 5% to 17%. The understanding of this disorder in dogs has grown over the last decade, shedding light on the emotional experiences and struggles of our loyal and devoted companions.

UNDERSTANDING AND IDENTIFYING PTSD IN DOGS: SYMPTOMS & SIGNS

When it comes to recognizing PTSD symptoms in dogs, we must approach it with empathy, as they cannot verbally communicate their feelings. Instead, we must interpret their experiences through their behaviors, which can serve as telltale signs of Canine Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (C-PTSD).

Some behaviors & symptoms that may indicate C-PTSD in dogs and general trauma include:

  1. Avoiding familiar areas they used frequently
  2. Barking excessively, possibly as a response to triggers or anxiety
  3. Fear urination during greetings, indicating heightened anxiety or distress
  4. Seeking isolation and hiding as a coping mechanism for their emotional turmoil
  5. Hypervigilance, being on high alert for potential threats at all times
  6. Displaying aggressive behaviors that seem disproportionate to the situation
  7. Trembling or shaking due to fear and anxiety
  8. Shying away from people, possibly due to trauma-related fear
  9. Exhibiting unwarranted stress reactions to seemingly benign stimuli

Dogs experiencing severe stress reactions and/or PTSD may display physical signs, such as:

body language of dog who has post traumatic stress disorder
  1. Tucking their tail between their legs, showing submission or fear
  2. Pinning their ears back, indicating discomfort or unease
  3. Dilated pupils, a sign of heightened arousal and anxiety
  4. Lowering their body as a sign of fear or submissiveness
  5. Rapid breathing, reflecting increased stress and nervousness

There are different types of PTSD in dogs:

  1. Acute Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder: The most common form, where reactions appear immediately after the traumatic incident and generally subside within three months.
  2. Chronic Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder: Symptoms manifest shortly after the trauma but persist or are easily triggered for over three months.
  3. Delayed Onset Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder: This form can occur more than six months after the traumatic event. It may involve worsening of mild initial symptoms or symptoms appearing after a long delay.

UNDERSTANDING TRIGGERS FOR CANINE POST-TRAUMATIC STRESS DISORDER (PTSD)

scared white dog

Like humans, traumatic experiences can also deeply affect dogs, leading to Canine Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (C-PTSD). As compassionate caretakers, it is essential to recognize the various triggers that can cause PTSD in dogs, so we can better understand and support them through their struggles. Some common causes of C-PTSD in dogs include:

  1. Abuse: Dogs that have experienced severe or chronic abuse may develop PTSD due to the trauma they endured at the hands of humans.
  2. Accidents: Traumatic accidents, like car or hunting accidents, can trigger PTSD responses in dogs, causing lasting emotional scars.
  3. Attacks: Dogs that other animals have attacked can develop PTSD due to the event's distressing and potentially life-threatening nature.
  4. Natural Disasters: Natural disasters, like floods, earthquakes, or hurricanes, can leave dogs stranded, separated from their human family members, and vulnerable to traumatic experiences.
  5. Military or Police Careers: Working dogs that have served in military or police roles may return home with PTSD, mirroring the experiences of their human counterparts in these demanding career fields.
  6. Fear and Trauma: Fear and trauma caused by loud sounds like thunder and fireworks can significantly impact our beloved canine companions, potentially leading to Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). These noises' sudden and overwhelming nature can evoke fear and stress in dogs, leaving lasting emotional scars.

As empathetic caregivers, we must recognize the potential triggers and provide our dogs with the support they need during these distressing situations.

DIAGNOSIS OF CANINE POST-TRAUMATIC STRESS DISORDER (C-PTSD)

Diagnosing Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder in dogs requires a thorough examination by a veterinarian who will first want to rule out any physical causes for your pet's anxiety. Addressing potential pain from undetected or unresolved chronic conditions is crucial, as this can lead to confusion and stress in animals.

Once physical causes are ruled out, the veterinarian will review the dog's history, looking for recent traumatic events that may indicate C-PTSD. However, diagnosis can be more challenging when symptoms are related to delayed PTSD or traumas that might be unknown to the dog's parents.

Identifying C-PTSD triggers is essential in providing appropriate care and understanding for our canine companions' emotional well-being.

HOW TO HELP AND TREAT A DOG WITH PTSD

how to identify ptsd in dogs

Witnessing your dog in a traumatized state can be heart-wrenching, but as a caring parent, you can improve things, even in the most severe cases of PTSD. The healing process will require time, patience, and effort, but positive results are attainable, and the rewards are immensely fulfilling. If you believe your is showing symptoms of PTSD, it's good idea to consult your veterinarian.

Here are some ways to help your dog in overcoming PTSD:

  1. Create a Safe Haven: Dedicate a cozy and protected area in your home as a safe space for your dog. Provide a soft and comfortable bed or blanket, allowing them to rest and relax without fear of negative stimuli. Supervise their time in these safe areas to help them associate it with security and calmness, giving them much-needed breaks from feeling scared and stressed.
  2. Establish a Daily Routine: A predictable daily routine can be soothing for all dogs, especially those with PTSD. Regular walks, mealtimes, play sessions, and other activities help your dog feel organized and know what to expect. By removing surprises and fostering predictability, you contribute to her overall calmness and emotional stability.
  3. Choose a Calming Diet: Instead of relying solely on medications, choose a nutritious diet that naturally promotes calmness. Incorporate foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids, potassium, and magnesium, such as fish, bananas, leafy greens, broccoli, and green beans. These nutrients support inflammation, heart health, and brain function.
  4. Respect Their Choices: Allow your dog to have a say in their daily activities. Pay attention to their cues and preferences, letting them choose the pace and direction during walks and avoiding situations that make them anxious. Empowering their decision-making can significantly reduce stress and improve their quality of life.
  5. Radiate Positivity and Calmness: Dogs are incredibly perceptive to our emotions. Maintaining a calm and reassuring demeanor will give your dog a sense of security and trust. When they sense your confidence, they'll feel safer, more at ease, and less vigilant about potential threats.
Need additional help calming your pup down? Try our Calming Supplement for Dogs and Puppies. 

Helping a dog with PTSD requires compassion, understanding, and unwavering patience. With your support and commitment, you can guide your furry companion toward a brighter and emotionally balanced future.

DOG PTSD RECAP

A traumatized dog's journey to recovery is unique and can vary based on several factors. The process of decompression, where the dog learns to cope with and overcome trauma, may take several weeks or even months. The key is to create a nurturing environment filled with patience and empathy, allowing your dog to heal at their own pace.

During this time, your dog may appear hesitant and find it challenging to trust again. Being patient and understanding is essential, offering them the space they need to feel safe. Approach them calmly and soothingly, using gentle voices to reassure them that they are loved and cared for.

In the journey of caring for our canine companions, it is essential to remember that emotional struggles, such as PTSD, can also affect them. Recognizing and addressing the impact of traumatic events on our dogs' well-being is an act of empathy and compassion.

As we continue to explore and understand C-PTSD, we not only pave the way for effective treatments for our loyal companions but also contribute to the well-being of humankind. Together, through empathy and understanding, we can create a world where both humans and dogs find healing and comfort in each other's unwavering support.

Share your experiences and thoughts on supporting dogs with PTSD in the comments below.

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