POST TRAUMATIC STRESS IN ANIMALS
PTSD in animals is not a recognized diagnosis in veterinary medicine, but many believe it exists. Recent attention to dogs assisting soldiers in war zones and to animals rescued from Katrina has put a spotlight on the consequential behavior of these animals.Your animal friend does not have to be in a disaster or war zone to develop PTSD symptoms. Common causes may include accident, surgery, attacks by other animals, human-inflicted abuse, life threatening illness, separation or death of a loved one, getting lost, or even moving to a new home.
Animals, like humans, differ in how they respond to events which are harmful or distressing. Events are more likely to cause Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) when the threat is severe and prolonged. Intentional human-inflicted harm tends to be more traumatic than natural disasters. The extent to which the event was unexpected, uncontrollable, and inescapable also plays a role.
PTSD is a complex condition which disrupts memory, learning, emotional responses, trust, intellectual processes, and nervous system. POST-traumatic stress refers to symptoms of duress which appear after the trauma, including but not limited to severe anxiety, markedly less interest in pre-trauma activities, panting and trembling, hiding, peeing inappropriately, sudden agression, withdrawal, hypervigilance, exaggerated startle response, pacing, and self-destructive behavior. Moreover, there may be layers of trauma which was experienced from different events that reveal themselves over time. It can sometimes be years before the animal feels secure and happy.
According to Dr. Nicolas Dodman, director of the animal behavior clinic at the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University, the post-traumatic learning that results from a terrifying experience depends on the release of fight-flight hormones in the brain which help animals, including humans, to survive fearful events. Post-traumatic learning is helpful when it allows the animal to remember a danger to be avoided in the future. The learning becomes dysfunctional when it causes excessive and debilitating behavior. As with people, some animals are more sensitive to develop PTSD, while others experiencing the same event are not.
Betty and her husband deeply care for Jasper, the basset hound. Jasper had been chronically ill with leukemia. Although he was in remission, loud noises suddenlly caused debilitating panic attacks. In addition, he suffered from separation anxiety and could never be left alone. Using an animal communicator, Betty and her husband learned from Jasper how he felt physically and emotionally, and what things would make his painful body more comfortable. Jasper had several layers of symptoms that needed to be addressed one at a time. The family tackled panic attacks first with veterinary medication, acupuncture and flower essence treatments. Jasper now sleeps through thunderstorms. He is ready to address separation anxiety now. Betty can’t wait to be able to leave home for more than an hour.
Jake, the quarterhorse, exhibited unexpected behaviors when he returned home from a training facility. He lost his youthful exuberance and seemed withdrawn. He resisted simple commands. Kevin, his person, discovered through veterinary consultation that Jake had a painful injury to his back. When Kevin consulted an animal communicator, he discovered from Jake that the trainer to whom he had been entrusted had overworked him with very harsh techniques. The horse showed an incident where the rider pulled hard on the bit. To avoid pain, Jake followed the bit, rearing into a backwards somersault, landing on his back. The rider was not injured, but Jake was traumatized and physically hurt.
Using Jake’s information, Kevin developed a plan that included a wholistic veterinarian, acupuncture, flower essence treatment, and shamanic animal healing. He spent time with Jake, just to reconnect. Because of his youth, Jake is healing quickly—physically, mentally and emotionally—in response to Kevin’s understanding of ptsd and his quick response to it.
Many PTSD symptoms irritate humans: defecating in the house, aggression toward other dogs or passersby, destruction of the environment, constant barking. Some expressions of the fight-flight anxiety are dangerous to the person: bucking, reactions to small children, biting or pecking. Punishing the animal may increase its anxiety. Kind, considerate treatment supports healing.
“Pumpkin, our cat, was upset by our basement renovation”, says Katherine. “This was her safe haven and litter box location. She expressed her anxiety by peeing on my bed, right near my head while I slept, and by spraying on the wall. It took days to dismantle my room and clean it properly. I contacted an animal communicator, who listened to Pumpkin’s concerns and helped her locate another safe place in the house, negotiated strategies with both of us, and did a flower essence treatment to support Pumpkin’s energy.“
“Since the communication, Pumpkin is calmer. The conversation also helped me manage feelings of frustration and anger with Pumpkin. I understood her side of everything. We're not through the renovation, but Pumpkin is happy and sweet, and I don’t panic every time she is in my room.”
When Sammy, our own feral cat, arrived, he took over the barn. He was severly ill, limping and starving. He drove the other cats out of the barn and established himself on the hay. My husband and I had slashes on our wrists and ankles, which he made when we tried to approach him. He terrorized us all and was highly distrustful. Watchful of his biting and slashing and wearing thick leather gloves, I fed him and nursed his pain. I was able to pick him up with a towel, put him in a crate and take him to my veterinarian. Within a few weeks, he physically recovered from his ills. Then, the process of healing his mind and spirit began. There were many layers.
Animal communication consultation revealed that when he was 9 months old, he was thrown out the window of a moving truck onto a dirt road, dislocating his shoulder and hip. Sammy told us that the betrayal of his family was worse than any injury he suffered. For over four years, he led a feral life, foraging, hunting and surviving alone. He said he was overjoyed to go to the vet. He reasoned that if we took him to the vet, we would keep him. He desperately wanted a home. Over the next three years, layers of vigilance and aggression came forward to be addressed. He is now a responsible, caring member of our animal family, with a wonderful heart, but still has a hard time being put into a truck.
If your pet exhibits symptoms that are not his normal behavior, are extreme and last a month or more, he probably needs treatment. How can you help your pet? Here are options to help manage PTSD in your animal friend.
1. Patience is essential with PTSD. Like Sammy, it may take years to recover from the trauma’s many layers. Anticipate and prepare for PTSD triggers, and don’t take the symptoms personally.
2. Enlist a veterinarian’s help. Wholistic veterinarians team with resources such as acupuncture, reiki, Chinese Traditional Medicine, homeopathy, and animal communicators to help heal the animal.
3. A behavioral trainer can help you and your animal friend reduce triggers of PTSD with suggestions and strategies to help change the behaviors. Specific trainers are knowledgeable about species behavior and can teach you how to redirect the animal appropriately.
4. Consistency and structure create a framework for the animal which feels safe and predictable. It gives back some form of control over their lives.
5. Kind attention reconnects the animal to you and to the world around him. Walking the dog, hanging out with the horse without performance requirements, singing, talking, grooming. These are all helpful in re-establishing trust and restoring confidence.
6. Most animals respond well to flower essences and essential oils for first aid, as well as long term. Some effective flower essences are Rescue Remedy (a Bach flower essence), Animal Relief Formula and Post-Trauma Stabilizer (fesflowers.com) which are specifically for animal ptsd, and Soul Support (Alaskan Essences). Essential oil of lavender is very calming. Consult a practitioner for a remedy particularly suited to your animal friend and his experience.