For most people, post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, conjures up images of soldiers returning from combat. But dogs can also experience the stress-induced anxiety disorder, says Dorothy Black, D.V.M., a clinical assistant professor in emergency and critical care at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Science.
“Dogs and people display similar behaviors after traumatic events and have similar biochemical changes,” Black says. “A severe thunderstorm, a natural disaster such as a flood or earthquake, gunfire, war, bombings, abuse and attacks by other dogs are just a few known events that have caused PTSD in dogs.”
Dogs suffering from PTSD exhibit a range of behaviors. “The most common behavior changes seen are fear, shaking, shying away from people, including those they know, hiding, urinating when greeted, inappropriate elimination in the house, on a bed, etc., howling or barking, and/or aggressive behavior,” Black says.
Black says it’s important to remember that animals suffering from PTSD have been wronged in some way – intentionally or not – and should receive rehabilitation, not harsh punishment. If you suspect your dog is suffering from PTSD, Black recommends seeking the help of an animal behaviorist or veterinarian to start the healing process, which often includes behavior modification training, and can sometimes involve medication.
“Each dog behaves differently and each dog follows a different course, but time, patience and consistency will all be key in restoring your dog’s confidence,” Black says.