What to Do if Your Pooch has PTSD…

Sweet Ginger isn’t doing so hot. A few months back, her human opened the door for the mail, and Ginger bolted into the street. Ginger yelped loud and quick when the car struck her. Thank goodness the car had already been breaking, or Ginger would’ve been a gonner. Ginger’s human told our pet sitter Sally that after her stitches, fixing her broken bones, and getting the cone of shame off, she’s healed.

I don’t think she’s the same.

Ginger doesn’t want to play. She hides under the bed. I can see her cute, fluffy white tail sticking out from the edge of the bedspread. When I stick my nose underneath to coax her, she barks at me and bares her teeth. She barely touches the organic chicken Sally cooks up for her. Sometimes she wets herself when her owner wants her to get in the car on the street.

I miss the old Ginger.

Today, Sally recommended Ginger’s owner hire a veterinary behaviorist.

Dog psychological disorders can sometimes be tough to diagnose. We waggers can’t exactly open up and tell you all about it, can we? To say the least, you humans don’t have the ability to analyze our mental health in the same way that you can for yourselves.

That doesn’t mean our troubles aren’t real.

Although many vets suspect that dogs can get a dog-form of PTSD, it is not officially recognized and so they are cautious about labeling it that. Even though it’s not formally recognized, both general veterinary practitioners and veterinary behavioral specialist recognize that it exists, however.

The official DSM-5 for human PTSD is comprised of eight criterion that include things like intrusive thoughts, flashbacks or traumatic nightmares among some other sub-criterion that are diagnostically impossible to determine for dogs. So as of yet, there is no correlated PTSD criterion for dogs, however Psychology Today reports that the U.S. army has come up with a working definition of C-PTSD (canine PTSD), a narrow definition that applies only to combat military dogs.

Whether or not it has an official diagnosis, doesn’t mean you can’t observe tell-tale negative fallout from trauma in your wagger—peeing from fear, jacked-up startle responses that don’t jive with the context, new aggression, lack of eating or other signs of depression, fear or anger, could all be indicative of an issue. Maybe like Ginger, your dog has fully recovered physically from a trauma, but they aren’t interested in playing anymore.

Sometimes, the trigger may be obvious, such as a loud noise and other times it might be less so—an esoteric scent or a visual cue. It might take some sleuthing to figure out what is triggering your dog, and maybe you never will.

Even if you don’t know what the trauma was or you can’t reliably determine the triggers, there are still things you can do to help your dog work through fears and sadness and other troubles that they aren’t shaking.

If your pooch is experiencing PTSD-like symptoms or has other psychological issues, here are some things you can do:

  • Have your vet rule out physiological disease because sometimes behavior problems aren’t psychological.
  • Get a referral to a veterinary behaviorist for exercises and other non-medical interventions.
  • If your dog is experiencing extreme anxiety or depression as evidenced by his behavior, talk to your vet about medications.
  • Keep your home as calm as possible and your routines consistent; create a specific place in your home where your dog knows that he will be safe (eg., crate) and can retreat to when feeling stressed.

It may not be easy, but improvement and even recovery can be possible. There is help out there for you and your wagger, so don’t give up and consult with a veterinary professional about exercises, non-medical interventions and medications that can help your pet cope!

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