Do dogs remember traumatic events? As intelligent creatures, canine memory is one of their remarkable features but it works differently in humans. Associative memory plays a significant role in their lives and the unpleasant experiences are retained for a long time. A dog is quick to associate places, things or even smell with a negative reaction brought by a traumatic experience from the past.
PTSD in dogs
PTSD or Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder refers to the severe anxiety disorder due to extreme traumatic events. PTSD is not only common amongst human soldiers but also in heroic military dogs. They too have faced major life-threatening experiences together with their handler.
Canine PTSD is a new diagnosis after having strange behaviours observed on dogs exposed to explosions, gunshots, and other types of violence in a war. However, this is not an issue for working dogs alone. Household canines can be affected, too. This issue also manifests in dogs that are mistreated by their owners.
Different cases can cause a dog to lose confidence:
- Car accidents
- Dog attacks
- Hunting accidents
- Physical abuse or any other form of violence
- Natural disasters
How to recognise PTSD in dogs?
The sad thing about this is that many opted to rid themselves of their pet dogs due to the inability to properly diagnose the condition. Symptoms are often dismissed as having a “bad dog”. This leads to pets having to end up as rescue dogs and some are even euthanised.
The symptoms of PTSD in dogs can vary depending on the individual canine. Common symptoms observed are as follows:
- Aggressive reactions (especially to ones that are never aggressive before)
- Avoidance behaviour
Some canines with PTSD are reminded of their traumatic experiences through environmental triggers.
How to help PTSD-ridden dogs
Just like any other dogs, they crave for love and attention. Just be sure to find a balance between playtime and downtime.
Two parts of treatment:
- Anti-anxiety medication prescribed by veterinarians. This is provided together with a behavioural program.
- Systematic desensitisation is part of the behavioural program introduced to dogs with PTSD. Desensitisation involves exposing the said dogs to stimulants. Exposure will be gradually increased. For instance, if noise is the main trigger, the animal behaviourist will introduce a certain noise to the affected dog. It starts with a particular noise at a very low level. Food treats will be given to those that tolerated the noise. This is to create a positive association with the used-to-be stimulant. Are you in need of an animal behaviourist? Here are 9 questions to ask before getting one.
What you can do as an owner:
- Provide him with his own space.
Your goal is to make him feel safe and secure in a place of his own. Ensure the space is quiet and away from any potential triggers. Place familiar things such as his favourite toys, food bowl, and a piece of clothing with your scent. Chew toys are also helpful.
- Keep routine in order.
These dogs needed to have a stricter routine. They need assurance that everything is still in order in their world. It helps to strictly follow the feeding schedule and daily walks at the same time. Give him enough time to adjust when introducing new things.
- Exercise and playtime matter as part of therapy.
Cheer him up through tough times. Spend more time with him and enjoy fun activities such as running, chasing game, playing retrieve game, swimming, participating in an agility course, and more. Treatment is said to take a faster effect when he is having fun.
- Provide A high-quality diet.
Seek advice from a veterinarian about the right diet for your pooch. It should be supplemented with Omega 3 fatty acids and nutrients that act as a natural booster of positive hormones. This helps in the battle with depression.
- Offer comfort with natural sedatives.
There are herbs and nutraceuticals that relieve dogs with PTSD. This includes Back flower essence, CBD oil, homoeopathic medicine and other essential oils.
[Insert photo: dog-in-shock-after-being-attacked]
It might be challenging to keep pets away from traumatic injury, especially those exposed to an active lifestyle or outdoor life. This is said to be one of the common reasons why our four-legged friends are brought for immediate veterinary care. Trauma involves physical injuries or wounds from extreme violence or external force.
Here are the common causes of traumatic injuries:
- Accidents from moving vehicles
- Wild animal attacks
- Dog or cat attacks
- Falling from high places
- Stabbed by sharp objects
- Voluntary or involuntary jumping out of a moving car
How to help your pooch with traumatic injury:
Assessing your dog’s condition is the first step to help him.
- Performing first aid should help stabilise your dog’s condition whilst waiting for professional help.
- Take note of further complications whilst assessing your pooch to report later on to the vet.
- Apply pressure to bleeding injuries. Look for a clean piece of clothing to apply pressure for 15 minutes.
- Assist your vet in taking care of your dog. The best thing you can do is give a thorough description of what happened and be as detailed as possible. Expect that he may stay over the vet for at least 24 hours for a comprehensive evaluation.
Be cautious after potentially traumatic events. He may appear fine but you should be keen to observe any signs of internal bleeding. Signs of internal bleeding include coughing with blood, lethargy, having pale or white gums, and cool to touch at the legs and ears.
As Dr. Nicholas H. Dodman once said, one may help to manage PTSD in dogs but there is no assurance in full recovery because “dogs never forget”. As dog owners and companions, the best thing we can do is shower them with love and patience. Be with them not only on great days but during tough times as well.