Canine PTSD: What You Need To Know About PTSD In Rescue Dogs

Lori Ennis
by Lori Ennis

You’re likely familiar with what Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is and what it may look like in humans. But did you know that up to nearly a fifth of rescue dogs are also affected by canine PTSD? Research out of the Texas A&M School of Veterinary Medicine suggests that more dogs suffer from it than we know, and understanding what symptoms look like can help dogs and their families live happier lives.

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Robert Misseri is the founder of Guardians Rescue, an organization headquartered in New York. Their mission is to protect the well-being of all animals by providing aid to animals who are distressed. They also assist other rescue groups and provide assistance to families who may need help with their animals.

Misseri said that they’ve seen many rescue dogs with PTSD, and it’s a very sad situation. He also suggests that once you know the signs of PTSD in dogs, you are more likely to see it in dogs who have experienced trauma. Knowing the signs can make a huge difference in rescue dogs with PTSD because we can get them the help they need to sustain those life-giving relationships they do.

A Texas A & M School of Veterinary Medicine study found that up to 17% of dogs are affected by canine PTSD. 

It’s often seen in working dogs–for the military or law enforcement–due to the nature of the work they’re exposed to.

But it can also happen when dogs experience weather situations like hurricanes or tornadoes. Because of the conditions they live in, or perhaps were exposed to before rescue, they may be terrified and have flashbacks when events trigger memory.

PTSD in dogs can also come from irresponsible pet ownership or breeding. When dogs are bred in puppy mills, or live attached to chains or spend long periods of time alone and cold or in dark environments, this can have an impact on their mental health. Dogs who suffered from abuse and or neglect may continue to feel trepidation about those issues, and may struggle with dog PTSD symptoms. These include fear, timidity, aggression, anxiety, separation anxiety or depression.

Misseri suggests that if you suspect a dog has canine PTSD, speaking with a vet to help treat the issue is advised.

According to Texas A & M, many things can be done to help a dog with PTSD. Both behavior modifications and therapy have been shown effective, and together, believed to give the best results.

Typical behavior modification works by gradually getting your dog used to triggers by exposing them to lower stress levels as they build a tolerance. This is combined with exercise and increasing their mental stimulation to help them break through those mental blocks.

Misseri also says that a stressed or anxious dog will need help to find the perfect home for adoption. He adds that cruelty and hoarding cases in exponential numbers have heartbreaking effects and many dogs who are rescued need help for their canine PTSD. The best support begins with empathy and patience. 

Lori Ennis
Lori Ennis

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