Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) isn’t officially recognized in dogs. The idea that an animal could suffer from PTSD first arose about two years ago when military veterinarians began noticing that dogs who had been exposed to gunfire and explosions were exhibiting worrisome behavior, said the New York Times.
The problem of proving canine PTSD’s existence lies mainly in accurately diagnosing whether an animal is suffering from the effects of stress induced by trauma. Dogs, like humans, can exhibit a spectrum of PTSD symptoms ranging from agitation to troubles sleeping that can be difficult to specifically categorize.
To Margaret Duxbury, D.V.M., a specialist in animal behavior and assistant clinical professor in Veterinary Clinical Sciences at the University of Minnesota, a dog suffering from PTSD isn’t mentally who he was before a traumatic case of abuse, neglect, car accident, tornado or other weather event.
Duxbury, in fact, has a file filled with past cases of dogs she believes have shown signs of PTSD.
Take the case of an English Springer Spaniel who experienced two car accidents just months apart: “After the second car accident the spaniel was fearful at home, fearful of noise and fearful in the car. He was afraid of everyday noises like a can opener, oven beeps and, of course, traffic noises,” Duxbury said. The spaniel also hid under the bed or couch for hours each day. According to Duxbury, the biggest tip-off that something was wrong was that the spaniel couldn’t engage in normal, everyday life.
To help the spaniel, anxiety-reducing medications and behavior modification training for both animal and owner were employed. The spaniel was given an opportunity to participate in activities outside of hiding and was taught with treat rewards to relax and breath deeply. With medication, re-training, and positive reinforcement the spaniel improved. As for whether the spaniel actually suffered from canine PTSD, Duxbury is convinced.
“I absolutely believe he suffered from PTSD,” she said. “As more cases like his are recognized, the diagnosis of PTSD in dogs may become more widely acknowledged.”