Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome in Dogs (PTSD): Our Dogs, Our Selves
A recent article in the NY Times acknowledges that Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome seems to be documented now in dogs as well as people.
The dogs being diagnosed are service dogs in the U.S. Armed Forces.
It is no surprise to me that dogs exposed to such trauma experience what is now titled Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome (PTSD). As a veterinarian and an animal behaviorist, I have seen many cases over the past thirty years that I would describe now as PTSD. In the past, one would see evidence of this in dogs after car accidents and then being fearful of getting into cars, shaking uncontrollably or simply refusing to get in one, or after loud noises such as fireworks on the Fourth of July or thunderstorms. I believe we see this in many species, elephants after they watch their relatives slaughtered or horses after a traumatic experience with needles or getting into a horse trailer. In a previous post I discussed PTSD in Chimpanzee’s in captivity.
Personally, I believe that there is not that much of a difference in the nervous system of other mammals and us. Hence, it is not unreasonable to believe that they can have similar behavioral issues as we do. Unfortunately, it takes dogs exposed to the ravages and trauma’s of war to classify these traumatic events as PTSD. There is evidence that dogs search and rescue dogs experience depression and PTSD as well. There were cases of that in the rescue dogs after 9/11.
Dr. Walter F. Burghardt Jr., chief of behavioral medicine at the Daniel E. Holland Military Working Dog Hospital at Lackland Air Force Base feels that “the four-legged, wet-nosed troops used to sniff out mines, track down enemy fighters and clear buildings are struggling with the mental strains of combat nearly as much as their human counterparts
As the article states….”By some estimates, more than 5 percent of the approximately 650 military dogs deployed by American combat forces are developing canine PTSD. Of those, about half are likely to be retired from service, Dr. Burghardt said”. The article gives multiple examples of behavioral issues in the war dogs.
Signs, diagnosis and treatment are similar to humans. Treatment consists of behavioral modification with desensitization or medications, or a combination of the two. Recently a colleague and friend of mine, Vera Paisner, a renowned human psychotherapist, developed a new approach in dogs and horses, extrapolating it from people. It is called EMDR, Eye movement Desensitization and Retraining. She has had some excellent success with a dog in an automobile accident and horses with needle phobia.
It seems only reasonable that we explore new more natural approaches for PTSD in animals as we still do not understand the modes of action of medications in people, how can we understand them in animals. In addition, if EMDR is documented to help animals, then any placebo effect has been eliminated and we can appreciate how it can be of more benefit in people as well.