We weathered Hurricane Harvey at home with our dog. Ever since, whenever we have heavy rain, thunder or lightning, he really freaks out! He never did this before the hurricane. I was wondering if what he is experiencing is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, similar to what humans experience?
PTSD in Acres Homes,
When most people think of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), veteran soldiers might come to mind, or perhaps someone who has experienced a bad car accident or a natural disaster. The reality is that people are not the only ones capable of having this anxiety disorder. Animals experience it as well.
PTSD is an anxiety disorder or change in behavior following a stressful event. Therefore, anything deemed stressful by an animal has the potential for creating a stress disorder.
“A severe thunderstorm, a natural disaster (flood earthquake, tornado, etc.), gunfire, war, bombings, abuse, and attacks by other dogs are just a few known events that have caused PTSD in dogs,” said Dr. Dorothy Black, clinical assistant professor in emergency and critical care at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences.
Fear, shaking, hiding
“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 said.
When people feel stressed or frazzled oftentimes they just need a getaway for some private time, and the same applies for pets. Creating a kennel for the pet, if one does not already exist, could possibly help the pet feel safer.
Create safe spaces, routine
“Creating a routine with set meal times, dog walks, and play time gives your pet a sense of control,” Black said. “Ultimately your goal is to desensitize your dog to situations they find stressful.”
There are many approaches to this, but all involve slow, controlled, small doses of stressful events and reinforcement of improved behavior.
Animal behaviorists can help
It is possible–just as in humans–for dogs to recover and even eventually come out of this disorder. Black recommends seeking the help of an animal behaviorist, trainer or veterinarian to start the healing process for your dog. These specialists can help create a plan and monitor the dog’s progress. They can help determine if your pet may benefit from medications along with behavior modification.
If your animal has been through something traumatic, do not assume that any odd behavior they might be displaying is permanent. Because they cannot tell us how they are feeling, it is important to take their mental health seriously. Be patient with your pets so they can regain a confident, happy and healthy lifestyle.
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