Friday, November 13, 2015

Can dogs develop post-traumatic stress disorder?

Can dogs develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)?

This week was Remembrance Day, and many took the opportunity to also remember the efforts of non-human animals used in combat. We know that veterans can develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), but it’s been suggested that animals can develop a similar condition.

The Guardian provides an interesting discussion here. But it isn’t just experience in a war zone that can lead to PTSD. I met a rescue dog this week who had signs consistent with PTSD in relation to hoses. The owner has been dedicated, at one stage even sending the dog away for specialised training, and seeking the opinion of behaviourists: but nothing shifts this dog’s pure apparent anger around hoses.

Some have argued that dogs abandoned after natural disasters may develop PTSD (you can read a paper about the Fukushima earthquake here). There's also an argument that dogs might develop PTSD in the intensive care unit, with some advocating pre-emptive use of medications like beta blockers (read more here). 

Another setting we’ve seen PTSD arise in is in the context of animal hoarding, where typically large numbers of animals are kept in suboptimal settings. Increasing recognition of this phenomenon means that animals rescued from hoarding situations are treated medically for anxiety, some requiring treatment for life.

It is important that PTSD in animals is being recognised, but crucial that we investigate risk factors and triggers so that we can prevent PTSD in the first place.

Thank you to Dr May Chin Oh for sharing the link to the Guardian story.