Can Dogs Suffer From PTSD?

You love your dog and don’t want them to suffer from anxiety, but if they have PTSD, the sooner you spot the signs, the faster you can help them.

Jun 9, 2024By Lisa Szymanski
can dogs suffer from ptsd

When you think of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), war heroes and surviving major accidents come to mind. We know that people are affected by these disasters, but so are our pets. It doesn’t matter whether your dog is incredibly brave or generally anxious. Trauma can come along and change everything about their personality and behavior. Dogs can suffer from PTSD and require time to overcome it. If you’re dealing with an anxious and fearful dog, let’s learn more about post-traumatic stress and how to manage it with your fur friends.

What is PTSD in Dogs?

anxious white shepherd hiding under bed
Dogs can develop PTSD after experiencing something traumatic.

Anxiety, nightmares, and a constant sense of terror are only a handful of the symptoms associated with trauma. Despite people and pets sharing this disorder, symptoms look slightly different in our fur companions. Their personalities change, and they might do things like chew the furniture, bark constantly, or shake with fear. For example, a dog that has suffered neglect and abuse may cower and keep their tail tucked between their legs when approached. Other incidents that can lead to PTSD in pets include severe thunderstorms, animal attacks, and even the loss of their owners. Many traumatic events that affect people have the same effects on our precious pets.

Signs of PTSD in Dogs

brown dog destroying a sofa
An anxious and stressed dog can become destructive by tearing furniture.

Much like humans, dogs have memories of negative events that manifest mentally and physically. They can’t describe what they think and feel, and the most obvious sign of stress and anxiety is a behavior change. So what are the signs that your fur companion has PTSD? Dogs affected by trauma may have separation anxiety, become restless, be reluctant to eat and suffer from weight loss. They bark excessively, start eliminating in the house, tremble without being in immediate danger, or become hyper-vigilant. Some dogs will hide at the slightest noise or move away from human touch. Other symptoms include urinating when meeting new people, aggression, and unpredictable behaviors such as growling and lunging.

Is PTSD the Same as Separation Anxiety in Dogs?

labrador retriever looking through window
Dogs with separation anxiety develop an insecure attachment to their owners.

PTSD in pets differs from separation anxiety. While the latter can result from trauma associated with PTSD, they are distinct disorders. Anxious dogs that are separated from their family are nervous, depressed, destructive, and fearful. They’re generally well-behaved in the presence of their owners, but once they’re left alone, these dogs struggle to cope. Dogs that suffer from trauma show symptoms when they’re exposed to stimuli or environments that trigger a traumatic memory. Much like us, dogs with PTSD can have good days and bad days. They can go from being quiet to hiding in fear. In these circumstances, give them space to relax and speak to them in a calm and gentle tone.

Are Certain Dog Breeds More Susceptible to PTSD?

service dog ptsd
Dogs in the military are at high risk of PTSD.

Most combat or military dogs suffer from this condition because of exposure to stressful environments. These include German shepherds, Rottweilers, and the Belgian Malinois. Some dog breeds are more susceptible to developing high anxiety based on their traits, such as shyness and dependency. These breeds range from Spaniels to Yorkies. At the end of the day, no dog breed is immune to PTSD, and symptoms can occur after a traumatic encounter.

The only way to determine whether dogs are affected by PTSD is to have them examined by a veterinarian. A vet will assess their physical condition to rule out any infections or hormonal problems that could be responsible for behavioral changes. They’ll also ask about your dog’s history before they diagnose them with post-traumatic stress disorder.

Can Dogs Recover From PTSD?

black service dog leaning on a mans leg
Traumatized dogs can recover, but it takes time and patience.

It’s incredibly challenging to deal with trauma in dogs because of the amount of patience, time, and dedication it takes to help them through it. Most dogs with acute PTSD show improvements in their demeanor and behavior after 3 months of regular therapy. For other dogs that have more severe and prolonged symptoms, vets may recommend medication to ease anxiety and restore their quality of life.

Pets can recover from PTSD with gentle encouragement and the support of desensitization therapy. This practice works by reducing their sensitivity to stressful stimuli responsible for symptoms such as nervousness, aggression, and withdrawal. For example, a dog that is scared of loud noises will be introduced to different sounds in a safe and controlled environment. The therapist will pay close attention to the dog’s overall discomfort to avoid pushing them too far and causing distress. I don’t recommend trying to desensitize your dog without the assistance of a certified therapist or experienced vet. Professionals reduce the risk of taking your pet beyond their threshold, which would do more harm than good.

How to Help Your Dog with Stress and Anxiety

man hugging his dog
Be kind and create a safe home for dogs with PTSD.

The best way to help your dog through a traumatic experience is to provide them with a calm environment where they feel safe. You can build your dog’s confidence with regular socialization and exercise through walks, runs, and lots of playtime. The dog park is a good option for social pets, but you’ll need to keep an eye on them and intervene if they’re overwhelmed. Get them to focus on learning new tricks because it redirects their energy and helps them overcome shyness.

Structure is another important part of helping pets with stress and anxiety. Try to stick to a daily routine, which is not only good for your dog, but for you too. What we do know is that dogs can suffer from PTSD, but with patience, love, and working with your vet, they can manage it. Handling post-traumatic stress disorder in dogs can be challenging, but as a pet parent, putting in the time and effort can reap incredible rewards.

Lisa Szymanski
By Lisa Szymanski

Lisa is a wildlife enthusiast who enjoys hiking and gardening and has four years of experience volunteering at pet shelters. She is the proud mom of two dogs, a Pitbull named Ragnar, a Boerboel named Blueberry, and four feisty chickens, or as she calls them, the "queens of the yard," Goldie, Gray, Peaches, and Brownie.