PTSD and Animals

By Judy Ramsey

While post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in animals is not an official diagnosis in veterinary medicine, many animal professionals have observed it. Recent attention to dogs assisting soldiers in war zones and to animals rescued from natural disasters has put a spotlight on the consequential behaviors that these animals have shown. Your animal friend does not have to be in a disaster or war zone to develop PTSD symptoms. Common causes include accident, surgery, attacks by other animals, human-inflicted abuse, life-threatening illness, separation or death of a loved one, getting lost, or even moving to a new home.

Animals, like humans, differ in how they respond to events that are harmful or distressing. Events are more likely to cause PTSD when the threat is severe and prolonged. Recognizing symptoms in your pet will help you identify the support he needs to recover physically, mentally, and emotionally. Like humans, animals also need support on a variety of levels, and can benefit from holistic options, such as flower remedies, herbal therapy, acupuncture, and homeopathy. Enlisting the help of an animal communicator can also be useful in determining your animal’s individual needs for healing.

PTSD is a complex condition that disrupts memory, learning, emotional responses, trust, intellectual processes, and the nervous system. In pets, symptoms include, but are not limited to, severe anxiety, markedly less interest in pre-trauma activities, panting, trembling, hiding, peeing inappropriately, sudden aggression, withdrawal, hypervigilance, exaggerated startle response, pacing, and self-destructive behavior. Moreover, there may be layers of trauma experienced from different events that reveal themselves over time. It can take years before the animal feels secure and happy.

According to Dr. Nicholas Dodman, director of the animal behavior clinic at the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University, the post-traumatic learning that results from a terrifying experience depends on the release of fight-flight hormones in the brain, which help animals, including humans, to survive fearful events. Post-traumatic learning is helpful when it allows the animal to remember a danger to be avoided in the future. The learning becomes dysfunctional when it causes excessive and debilitating behavior. As with people, some animals are more prone to develop PTSD while others experiencing the same event are not.

In my work with animals, I have had many cases involving PTSD. The person, or the veterinarian, usually notices that the animal’s behavior is uncharacteristic, but doesn’t know the cause. As a communicator, I can speak directly with the animal to discover what happened and find out what he or she needs to eliminate the symptomatic behavior. Here are a few examples from my own case files to illustrate what can happen. (Please note that names have been changed to keep confidentiality.)

Jasper is a basset hound whose family cares deeply for him. While the family was out one day, something happened that left him traumatized and unable to be calmed for hours. Afterwards, any loud noise caused Jasper to have panic attacks. He also developed separation anxiety and couldn’t be left alone. Through animal communication, the family learned that the smoke alarm had been triggered and stayed on. Jasper’s entire nervous system was on alert. The family addressed the panic attacks first, combining medication, acupuncture, and homeopathy. Over a period of four months, Jasper was able to calm enough to sleep through thunderstorms. Separation anxiety had to be approached differently. The family couldn’t leave home for months. When Jasper communicated that he was okay being left with a pet sitter, they slowly decreased the amount of time he had a companion until he had the confidence to be left for up to four hours. This remains an ongoing issue nearly a year after the initial event.

Another case involved Jake, a two-year-old quarter horse who exhibited unexpected behaviors upon returning home from a training facility. Kevin, Jake’s owner, explained, “My horse was out of my care for several months. When he got home, he was physically unhealthy and body sore. My vet thought he had been injured and suggested a plan, but I wanted to explore holistic options.” When Kevin called me, we discovered from the horse that the trainer had overworked him harshly. Jake showed how, when the rider pulled hard on the bit, he followed it to avoid pain and reared into a backwards somersault, landing on his back. The rider was uninjured, but Jake was traumatized and physically hurt. He showed me where the pain occurred when he was being ridden, particularly in his back and hindquarters, and also the behavior he was using to avoid the pain. Kevin was able to confirm this behavior and also note that Jake’s usual outgoing curiosity had changed to a quiet reluctance. Using Jake’s information, Kevin developed a plan that included a holistic veterinarian, acupuncture, rest, flower essences, and shamanic animal healing. He spent time with Jake, just to reconnect. Because of his youth, Jake is healing quickly over months, not years, in response to Kevin’s understanding of PTSD and his rapid response.

When Katherine called me, she was distraught: “Help! Pumpkin, our cat, is upset by our basement renovation. This is her safe haven and litter box location. She sprayed the walls of the bedroom and even peed near my head while I slept! It’s taking days to dismantle and clean everything properly.” When I met with Pumpkin, I listened to her concerns and helped her locate another safe place in the house. Then, I communicated Katherine’s distress to Pumpkin and helped the two of them agree on a strategy that worked for them both. A flower essence treatment helped to calm Pumpkin’s nerves. “Since the communication, Pumpkin is calmer,” Katherine reported. “The conversation helped me manage my feelings of frustration and anger. I understood her side of everything. We’re not through the renovation, but Pumpkin is happy and I don’t panic every time she is in my room.”

If your pet exhibits symptoms that are not his normal behavior, are extreme and last a month or more, he probably needs treatment. What can you do? Here are options to help manage PTSD in your animal friend.

•  Patience is essential with PTSD. 
    It may take years to recover
    from the trauma’s many
    layers. Anticipate and prepare
    for PTSD triggers. Don’t take
    the symptoms personally.
•  Enlist a veterinarian’s help. Holistic veterinarians teem with resources, 
    such as diet or herbal therapy, acupuncture, Reiki, Chinese Traditional
    Medicine, homeopathy, and animal communication, to help the healing
    process.
•  A behavioral trainer can help you reduce triggers of PTSD with
    suggestions and strategies to help change behaviors and redirect the
    animal appropriately.
•  Kind attention reconnects the animal to you and to the world around      
    him. Walking the dog, hanging out with the horse without performance
    requirements, singing, talking, grooming. These are helpful in re-
    establishing trust and restoring confidence.
•  Most animals respond well to flower essences and essential oils for
    trauma, short and long term. An effective essence for both of you is Rescue
    Remedy (Bach Flower Essences), and there are others that are formulated
    specifically for animal PTSD. Consult a practitioner or holistic veterinarian
    for a remedy particularly suited to your animal friend and his experience.

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Judy Liu Ramsey is an animal communicator in Ann Arbor, who facilitates telepathic conversations between animals and their people. She worked as a social work counselor for 25 years, working with trauma recovery, which she also addresses with her massage practice. She was trained in PTSD and trauma response for animals by Teresa Wagner, animal communicator and pet loss grief support specialist. Judy can be contacted at ramsey.judy003@yahoo.com or through her website, 
www.hearttoheartanimalcommunication.net. 734-665-3202.

Posted on April 29, 2016 .