The jury is still out as to whether dogs can actually get post-traumatic stress disorder. Even dogs that have been serving in the military in Afghanistan and have seen a lot of devastation and violence may or may not have symptoms of PTSD. It’s a new concept and one that is under debate by veterinarians across the world.

It’s all in the labeling
Sometimes we just get a little too caught up in labeling certain types of conditions instead of calling them as they really are. It’s certain that a lot of military dogs that have come back from active duty do show signs of stress and aren’t able to carry on with their regular lifestyle as they did before. Is this post-traumatic stress disorder? Maybe the question should be “is it important whether this is post-traumatic stress disorder or not?” Either way, labels or not, the dog is being affected by the trauma he’s been through and may need a bit of extra understanding and love upon his return.

Dogs in shelters
There are some dogs that can handle a shelter environment while others seem to have a very hard time dealing with the caged experience. When you think about it, it’s the same with people. Some individuals don’t mind going into the hospital and actually enjoy the extra care they get when they’re in there. Others feel like they are in a type of cage and are counting the days, hours and minutes until they can get released.

With dogs that have had a difficult time adjusting to some type of traumatic experience, there can definitely be a lot of stress and hard times to follow. Anyone who has spent any amount of time around dogs in shelters or has witnessed rescues from the streets or puppy mills will know what an overly stressed and depressed dog looks like. It’s a little hard to argue those symptoms.

In humans, PTSD is characterized by flashbacks of incidents and it’s really impossible to say whether a dog even has the capability to have a flashback or not. This is where the labeling part of the disorder comes into play. There may have to be a different name given to the symptoms of stress that can be seen in dogs.

Dogs that are exhibiting severe stress problems need to be handled appropriately. They will be dealing with a lot of trust issues and won’t really know what will happen the next time he turns a corner. It can take some time for the dog to develop a new sense of trust and you may want to look at anti-anxiety medication for a short time to help him over the rough patch.

Whether you want to call it PTSD or not, there are a lot of dogs that show signs and symptoms of anxiety and stress after they have been through a traumatic situation. Fortunately, most dogs can learn to cope with their immediate surroundings with some help from a caring owner and a lot of understanding.

Susan Wright is an experienced veterinarian, dog fence expert, and freelance writer.