Canine PTSD - Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment
Just like our military soldiers serving in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, our military dogs are developing canine Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
An anxiety disorder, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder occurs after experiencing a traumatic event involving injury, threat of an injury or death. Dogs serving in our military are exposed to all sorts of duties such as; parachuting out of a helicopter, frontline, gunfire, sniffing out explosives and are even involved in top secret missions (Osama Bin Laden)! Many have witnessed a traumatic event or death and unfortunately, these military dogs will begin to associate their handler or certain situations with danger and anxiety, making everyday life extremely stressful.
Symptoms of Canine PTSD
Military veterinarians and the dog's handlers have been linking these following canine symptoms with PTSD in these dogs.
- Sudden Aggression (toward their handler)
- Unwillingness to Work / Perform Duties
- Barking violently at noises (where before they were silent)
- Avoiding buildings and areas where they were once comfortable.
With over 650 working dogs on active duty, veterinarians have only been diagnosing canine PTSD over the past 18 months with military dogs, and 5% are estimated suffering with canine PTSD. According to an article about canine PTSD published in The New York Times, half of these dogs will likely not recover enough to return to serve our military.
Canine PTSD Treatment
With dogs of course, PTSD treatment is much more complicated. Dogs can't tell us what their symptoms are or what their triggers were. It can be difficult and sometimes can take time to reverse.
Reversing canine PTSD requires desensitizing the dog to the source of their PTSD. A vet may begin by having the dog at a safe distance from the sight and sound of their triggers, treating them with a toy or treat if they do not react. With each success, the vet will continue to move the dog close to their trigger.
In addition, dogs may be treated with an anti-anxiety medications to help reduce their panic-attacks and with some time off to focus instead on basic and mild obedience training, lots of exercise and playtime.
With the continued work on desensitizing, the dog may even be able to make a full recovery and return to their duties.
Dogs that do not recover quickly from their PTSD are returned home and will continue treatment for about 3 months. If they do not recover after that time, they are retired from their duties or transferred to other services.
A Final Word....
Early detection and treatment makes a huge difference for military dog with PTSD. Although the details of treatment and diagnosis are still being debated, it will do our military dog's no justice to turn a blind-eye and ignore the problem. They truly are a pivotal source that assists our military on a daily basis! They deserve the upmost care and treatment to help them with their PTSD.
A quick note: PTSD has also been found in family pets that have experienced some type of trauma (such as getting hit by a car, abuse and other such events). If you suspect PTSD in your dog, talk to your vet. There is treatment available!
Dog Fancy Magazine, 2012