PTSD In Dogs And How To Manage It Naturally - Dogs Naturally (2023)

We’ve all heard of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in humans. But do dogs get PTSD too?

What Is PTSD In Dogs?

PTSD occurs in people who’ve experienced or witnessed a traumatic event. It can be a natural disaster, a serious accident, a terrorist act, war or combat. They could deal with threats of death, sexual violence or serious injury. PTSD is a psychiatric disorder as there’s often no physical injury. It can involve vivid flashbacks, nightmares and intense distress when reminded of the trauma.

Dogs go through traumatic experiences even though their means of recall is different from humans. And their way of expressing it is different. But the trauma and fear is real.

What Causes PTSD In Dogs?

PTSD in dogs is generally caused by traumatic experiences a dog has during her lifetime. The more stressful an experience is, the greater the chances for a dog to develop PTSD. Often, a dog can become fearful as a result of the high dose of stress she went through. The factors that put a dog in a hard-to-bear stressful situation can vary from one dog to another.

A dog who suffers from PTSD may need a little or a lot of help. Fear can transform into aggressive behavior, typically out of a protective or defensive reaction. This is why it’s worth learning how to handle PTSD to make things easier for you and your dog.

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What Are Traumatic Experiences For Dogs?

Just like people, different experiences affect dogs differently. Some dogs are highly affected by a thunderstorm while others will sleep right through it. Here are some experiences that can have a profound effect on your dog.

  • Changes in the weather, like a thunderstorm, flood or hurricane.
  • Accidents around the house, car crashes and emotional trauma are others.
  • Bad interactions with other people or animals can turn a normal dog into a stressed-out dog.
  • The loss of her family or caretaker through death or abandonment.
  • Military combat (dogs serve too).
  • Physical and emotional abuse.
  • Abandoned by her family in the wilderness.

Can Dogs Get PTSD From Fireworks?

Thunder and fireworks are some of the most common causes of fear that lead to trauma, anxiety … and PTSD. Not only is it the loud sound, but the sudden nature can cause fear and stress in your dog.

Symptoms Of PTSD In Dogs

In humans, PTSD manifests through a series of thoughts, memories or dreams. This is because the problem is one that manifests at a cerebral level. The same happens in dogs … only our companions cannot explain what’s happening to them.

A dog suffering from PTSD-like symptoms will show changes in her behavior. Usually, these changes are of a negative nature, as they’re fueled by stress and discomfort. PTSD can even lead to aggressiveness triggered by fear and stress.

A dog suffering from PTSD may become less trustful when around new people. She might become shy, preferring to hide instead of seeking human company. Such a dog may also be vigilant in an excessive manner. Any changes in her surroundings might make her raise her guard.

How Do I Know If My Dog Has PTSD?

A dog with PTSD will have symptoms similar to those in humans. They include:

  • Chronic anxiety, panic, separation anxiety and fear of being alone.
  • Anorexia.
  • Reluctance to eliminate.
  • Pacing, restlessness or not sleeping.
  • Hesitation when visiting certain places (can happen even in familiar places).
  • Barking often and for no obvious reason.
  • Fear urination when greeted by a stranger.
  • Hiding at the smallest sign of disturbance, even when nothing appears to be wrong.
  • Becoming highly vigilant and constantly watching what is happening around her.
  • Trembling or shaking, even if it isn’t cold or there’s no sign of immediate danger.
  • Becoming shy around people and trying to avoid human contact.
  • Aggression (to the point of becoming dangerous to everybody).
  • Unpredictable or unusual reactions to stress-generating factors.

Understanding A Dog With PTSD

An overly stressed dog will usually be highly sensitive to external factors. Once PTSD develops, even the smallest amount of stress can cause a reaction. This can put your dog in a fragile state.

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The most important thing you need to do is be calm and patient with your dog. Remember to adopt a calm state of mind and behavior in her presence. You need to inspire confidence and reassure her at all times. Use your body language and state of mind to let her know that nothing bad will happen.

Don’t get mad, upset or irritated with your dog. Don’t raise your voice at her. Try to avoid quick, jerky movements. Instead, create a calm and soothing environment around your dog. This will allow a faster recovery.

Bear in mind that the recovery process can be slow and it may take a while. Embrace your inner patience.

RELATED: How your own health and stress level impacts your dog

Signs A Dog Is Having A PTSD Episode

When you know your dog suffers PTSD you need to be aware of her behavior around others. Dogs communicate a lot through body language. She will exhibit signs that tell you he is in distress. The ability to read your dog’s body language will give you the power to take proper precautions. This will lower your dog’s distress and keep everyone else safe.

Here are the signs you should look for:

  • The dog pulls her ears back.
  • Her tail is low, between her legs.
  • Dilated pupils.
  • The position of her body is low, near the ground.
  • She will begin to breathe at a rapid pace.
  • She may be panting and drooling.

RELATED: Read how CBD oil can help your dog with anxiety

How Do I React To My Dog If She Has PTSD?

Dogs don’t maintain memories as humans do so your dog can move forward with a little help from you. You can help your dog with PTSD by being positive and happy. You don’t want to coddle a dog when a situation that causes fear arises. That will reinforce her fear. Instead, don’t feel bad for her, and show her you’re cheerful. Teach her to associate the situation with good things like a cuddle, playtime, kind words or a treat.

How To Help A Dog With PTSD

Seeing your dog in a traumatized state can be very tough. But you have a chance to make things better, even in the most severe cases. The process will take time and effort, but it is possible to get positive results.

It’s very rewarding to see a traumatized dog regain her self-confidence and desire to live and play. Here are some things you can do to help your dog.

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1. Create A Safe Space

Dedicate an area of your house to your dog and make it as safe as possible. If it’s more convenient for you, you can even create several safe spaces for your dog around the house.

Use a dog bed, mat, blanket … anything that’s soft and comfortable to make a little nest. Place it in an area that’s cozy and protected … not in the middle of a room. While your dog relaxes and rests there, make sure nothing bad happens or startles her. Her nest should be a place that feels safe to her.

Supervise your dog while she spends time in these safe areas. The idea is to teach your dog to associate these places with security and calmness. This way she can take a break from feeling scared and stressed all the time.

2. Come Up With A Daily Routine

A routine is good for all dogs, not just those suffering from PTSD. It helps them get organized and know what to expect at each moment of the day.

Your dog’s routine should include daily walks, mealtimes, playtime, and other activities. Make sure that your dog takes part in activities at the same hour each day. This way, she’ll know what to expect and when to expect it.

When you remove the element of surprise and help your dog predict what will happen next, it can work to keep her calm. This way, she won’t get scared because she’s used to the activity.

3. Choose Diet Over Medication

When a dog has anxiety, veterinarians may prescribe beta blockers to slow your dog’s heart rate. Or they might offer antidepressants like Prozac. Instead, you need to add food to your dog’s diet that are naturally calming. Give your PTSD dog foods like fish, garlic, nuts and seeds. Add potassium rich foods like bananas and magnesium rich foods like leafy greens, broccoli and green beans. You also want to make sure your dog has omega-3 fatty acids in her diet for inflammation, heart and brain health.

RELATED: EPA and DHA support brain health in your dog: learn about sources of these essential fatty acids.

4. Offer Support, But Allow Her To Choose

As dog owners, we’re tempted to think we know what’s best for our dogs. But, when dealing with a dog suffering from PTSD, things change. To increase the quality of life for your dog and lower her levels of stress, you need to let her choose what feels right.

What does that mean? Allow your dog to choose where to go on walks, instead of pulling her after you. If your dog’s nervous about a car ride, don’t insist on it. Try your best to avoid any stressful situations. Look for distress signs in your dog at all times and allow her to do things the way she finds it comfortable.

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5. Adopt A Positive State Of Mind And A Calm Attitude

Dogs are very receptive to the way we are on a daily basis. If you’re upset or worried, your dog will sense it and will reflect your mood and state of mind.

Instead, be calm and reassuring. If your dog senses your confidence, she’ll feel much better in your company. She’ll feel safe and will stop being so vigilant, trying to be ready for whatever may happen. When you’re happy, she’s happy.

6. Use Natural Calming Remedies

It’s possible to calm down a nervous or anxious dog with safe and natural remedies. CBD oil, homeopathic remedies, Bach Flower Essences and essential oils are some of the options. There are even body calming therapies that might help, like a Thundershirt, T-Touch Wrap or weighted blanket. These will remove stress without having to give your dog drugs. Hands-on work like massage can also be soothing for some dogs.

RELATED: Make a hands-on connection with your dog through bodywork…

Can A Dog Help Someone With PTSD?

Let’s look at human trauma and PTSD and how dogs can help. Just being in the company of a dog can lift your mood or help you feel less stressed. Dogs are ideal as personal support animals who can assist someone like a military veteran suffering from PTSD. Dogs can be trained to do room searches and turn on lights. They detect anxiety and distress in their handlers. And these dogs are able to alert help or interrupt panic attacks during the day. They even learn to nibble at a veteran’s feet when they become agitated in their sleep.

Try these natural stress relievers for your dog with anxiety and fear. With patience and understanding and you by her side, you can help your dog work through PTSD.

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How can I ease my dogs PTSD? ›

“Behavioral management might include desensitization therapy, in which a dog is exposed to low levels of stress, and then this level is gradually increased to build tolerance for that stimulus, playtime with a well-socialized dog, increased exercise, and mental stimulation.

How does a dog with PTSD Act? ›

Symptoms of PTSD in dogs can include: panic, panting, fearfulness, being timid and clinging to their owners, aggressive reactions in dogs that were never aggressive before, depression, and hyper-vigilance (especially for working dogs and guard breeds).

How long does it take a dog to get over PTSD? ›

Acute post traumatic stress disorder is the most common form of PTSD seen in dogs. Acute reactions begin occurring directly after the traumatizing incident or incidents and generally subside within three months.

What is the best dog for PTSD? ›

The best service dog breeds for PTSD are often considered dogs that are intelligent and even-tempered. For example, German shepherds, Labrador retrievers, and golden retrievers are commonly used as service dogs. These dog breeds are often well-behaved and intelligent.

How do I make my traumatized dog happy? ›

Here's how to help your dog heal from trauma, according to experts.
  1. Keep Your Pup Safe. Carl Court/Getty Images News/Getty Images. ...
  2. Set Up A Comforting Spot. ...
  3. Be Patient. ...
  4. Use Food To Bond. ...
  5. Let Them Keep Some Control. ...
  6. Get On Their Level. ...
  7. Ask For Help.
17 Jun 2019

Can PTSD in dogs be cured? ›

In some cases, dogs seem to return to normal, but in others, the problem need to be managed throughout the animal's life. According to Dr. Nicholas H. Dodman, director of the animal behavior clinic at the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University, PTSD can go on for years and is never truly cured.

Do dogs remember past trauma? ›

Dogs get flashbacks, often from environmental triggers that remind them of a traumatic event. Dogs with PTSD are affected differently by these flashbacks.

What tasks do PTSD dogs do? ›

Some trained tasks include picking up on cues veterans display when experiencing distress or anxiety and consequently nudging, pawing or licking them to encourage the veteran to focus on the dog.

How can you help an animal with PTSD? ›

Treating Emotional Trauma in Pets

Treatment generally centers on desensitization and counter-conditioning. Desensitization is the process of exposing the animal in a safe, non-threatening environment to a low level of the feared stimulus. “Exposure increases very gradually over time,” McMillan explains.

What are the signs of a Traumatised dog? ›

Here are some symptoms we can look for that MIGHT indicate trauma in a dog: Anorexia, won't eliminate, pacing, inability to sleep, hyper-vigilance, extreme fear, being easily startled, outbursts of aggression or rage that have no predictable pattern, and refusal to play.

Does CBD help dogs with PTSD? ›

We know CBD has been shown to help with anxiety and fear based emotions, as well as negative memories, which may benefit dogs with PTSD. With the proper support and supplements, like calming CBD oil for dogs, we can help our dogs live their best life.

Can you pet a PTSD dog? ›

Don't approach or pet a service dog.

They're trained to stay attuned to the needs of their human, so petting or playing with them can distract them from their job. If you're interested in learning more, make sure to address the person first and always ask for permission before interacting with their service animal.

What is the best dog anxiety? ›

We tried some of the most-recommended dog anxiety products to see if they really worked.
  • Purina Pro Plan Veterinary Supplements Calming Care. ...
  • ThunderShirt Dog Anxiety Jacket. ...
  • DogTV. ...
  • Hyper Pet Licking Mat for Cats & Dogs. ...
  • Spotify's My Dog's Favorite Podcast. ...
  • Best Friends by Sheri Calming Donut Dog Bed. ...
  • Snuggle Puppy.
18 Feb 2022

What do vets recommend for dog anxiety? ›

Clomipramine is the first FDA-approved treatment for separation anxiety in dogs. It can also be prescribed for other types of anxiety. It is a tricyclic antidepressant medication that works in the same way as amitriptyline.

How do you lift a dog's mood? ›

How to boost your dog's mood
  1. Keep your voice upbeat. Just like us, dogs want to be praised and rewarded for good behaviour. ...
  2. Use different strokes... Pay close attention to how you're petting and snuggling with your furry friend, says DePorter. ...
  3. DIY a puzzle toy. ...
  4. Get bowser moving.
23 Jun 2021

How do you tire out a dog mentally? ›

How to Tire Out a Crazy Puppy Who's Too Young to Go Outside
  1. Find a Puppy Socialization Program.
  2. Have a Puppy Meet Up.
  3. Play Fetch on an Incline.
  4. Pick Up a Few Brain Stimulating Toys.
  5. Play Some Puppy Mind Games.
  6. Take Daily Trips to the Dog Park.
  7. Go to the Beach.
  8. Get In Some All Day Play.
3 Apr 2018

How long will a dog remember you? ›

A dog can remember someone his entire life.

It's safe to say that your dog will not forget you after two weeks, a month, or even if you are gone for many years.

Why do dogs lick you? ›

Licking is a natural and instinctive behaviour to dogs. For them it's a way of grooming, bonding, and expressing themselves. Your dog may lick you to say they love you, to get your attention, to help soothe themselves if they're stressed, to show empathy or because you taste good to them!

What do dogs think about all day? ›

In general, Bray says dogs probably think about all the staples in their lives, from food and play to other dogs and their pet parents. Like humans, how much time they spend pondering a specific focus “depends on the dog and their individual preferences and experiences,” she notes.

What is a PTSD dog called? ›

Psychiatric service dogs are the main type of service dog for PTSD. It's important to remember that psychiatric service dogs are different than emotional support dogs or therapy dogs. Like other service dogs, they go through extensive training and aren't considered pets under the legal definition.

What is a PTSD alert dog? ›

Mental health service dogs or psychiatric service dogs are task-trained to assist those with post-traumatic stress disorder, panic disorders, anxiety disorders, major depression, autism spectrum disorders, etc.

What items help with PTSD? ›

Hopefully, one of these would be a welcome gift for others with similar needs.
  • Noise-canceling headphones. A common difficulty with PTSD is having triggers, some of which can be auditory. ...
  • Meditation app subscription. ...
  • Essential oils and diffusers. ...
  • Workbook. ...
  • Weighted blanket. ...
  • Calming tea. ...
  • A special invite. ...
  • Smart devices.
6 Dec 2019

Can Benadryl calm a dog? ›

One of the side effects of Benadryl is drowsiness, which helps to calm anxious dogs. The Merck Veterinary Manual states that diphenhydramine may relieve symptoms of mild-to-moderate anxiety in pets associated with travel. It also may help relieve motion sickness.

What is the best calming CBD for dogs? ›

What CBD is Best for Dogs with Anxiety?
  • Honest Paws CBD Oil Calm – Best for overall health.
  • Honest Paws CBD Oil Well – Best for calming full spectrum hemp oil.
  • Holistapet – Best for dogs and cars.
  • CBDfx – Best for a non-THC option.
  • Cbdmd – Best for added CBD benefits.
  • The Anxious Pet – Best for a money-back guarantee.
6 days ago

How fast does CBD oil work for anxiety in dogs? ›

For anxiety problems, CBD oil typically can start to calm your dog within 30-60 minutes. For more chronic issues such as joint pain and mobility, it may take 2 – 4 weeks for optimal results, especially as you experiment with how high of a dose your dog needs in order to get relief from his symptoms.

Do dogs remember people? ›

Dogs also have associated memory which mean they can in fact remember people based on their experiences associated with them. Your dog may have a memory of you leaving the house and due to the strong positive association with you mean they'll celebrate when you get home.

Do dogs remember experiences? ›

Dogs—like great apes and humans—may possess "episodic memory" Dogs, like humans, may be able to consciously recall personal experiences and events.

What can you do for a neurotic dog? ›

The first step to take, if possible, is removing her from the situation that's causing the fearful response. With a trained dog, you may be able to distract her by issuing an obedience command such as sit, lie down or stay. Offering a treat can also work as a distraction to calm a fearful pet.

Do traumatized dogs recover? ›

The good news is that it is possible to help your dog recover to some degree from past trauma. Your dog will probably always be a little more nervous than other dogs, but with time and patience, you can give them a much better quality of life.

Do dogs get over PTSD? ›

Dodman, the director of the animal behavior clinic at the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University, says that PTSD in dogs can be managed but never fully cured because “dogs never forget”.

How do you tell if a dog is traumatized? ›

Here are some symptoms we can look for that MIGHT indicate trauma in a dog: Anorexia, won't eliminate, pacing, inability to sleep, hyper-vigilance, extreme fear, being easily startled, outbursts of aggression or rage that have no predictable pattern, and refusal to play.

Are dogs traumatized by death? ›

In such circumstances, some pet carers find that they experience flashbacks, intrusive thoughts, nightmares and other symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) for a long time after the loss of their companion.

How long do dogs remember trauma? ›

"Dogs forget an event within two minutes," reported National Geographic, citing a 2014 study performed on various animals from rats to bees. Other animals have long-term memories, such as dolphins, but dogs don't seem to have a long-term memory that lasts much beyond those two minutes.

How can I relax my dog without punishment? ›

Disciplinary methods that are considered to be positive and beneficial are:
  1. Time-outs.
  2. Using your voice to put a stop to unwanted behavior, rather than hitting your dog.
  3. Taking their toys away.
  4. Avoiding giving your dog attention when they misbehave.
22 Jun 2017

How do I give my dog a purpose? ›

Give Your Dog a Job to Do

Engage your dog in a game of Frisbee. Get him involved in a sport like agility or Flyball. Take him for a long walk, hike, or swim. Find jobs that fulfill your dog's breed.

What warning signs do dogs show when they feel threatened? ›

Other signs to watch for are a quickly wagging tail, raised ears, direct eye contact, and rigid posture. No matter the situation, the best action to take is to leave the dog alone by avoiding eye contact and moving slowly away.


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