Dogs and PTSD


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Dogs suffer PTSD-like stress after Japan disaster.

abandoned dogs rescued from Fukushima with non-disaster affected dogs abandoned in 2009 and 2010, before the earthquake." The study, which was discussed in Scientific Reports found that the dogs that lived through the 2011 disaster in Japan had, "stress hormone levels five to ten times higher than the dogs that were simply abandoned or found as strays." In short, this study is implying that dogs who came from a family and were left behind, had more physiological affects than those dogs who were random strays before the disaster in Japan.

 

To sum up the study conducted at Azabu University in Japan, "researchers took in eight dogs from shelters in Kanagawa Prefecture and measured their levels of physical stress by monitoring the stress hormone cortisol in the dogs' urine." Then, "the Azabu University team took in 17 abandoned dogs collected at shelters and rescue centers in Fukushima. These dogs, like the Kanagawa canines, were rehabilitated and had their cortisol levels monitored daily. All dogs were later adopted by new owners."

 

I found the results to this study very interesting, but the more I think about it, maybe not so much. The author of the article, Stephanie Pappas, explains that the disaster affected dogs, ones found after the tragedies in Japan, had much higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol than that of dogs not associated with the horrific events of Japan. The article states that the disaster stricken dogs were, "less aggressive towards strangers, but also less attached to caregivers." I thought this could have to do with these abandoned dogs wanting to be close to people because they came from a family, but maybe they were also worried to become attached to them because it was possible that they could be taken away from them just like the earthquake separated them from their family.  

 

The article also discussed how the Fukushima dogs (disaster dogs) were harder to train in the weeks of the study and that they had similar handicaps in trainability as humans who struggle with learning after a trauma. Another common problem associated with PTSD is that humans have trouble with bonding others after suffering a traumatic event. This research also concludes that these disaster dogs who were having problems with this stress found it difficult to bond with others too.

 

While this study expresses that there might be similar brain chemicals in dogs and humans, it has been said that this study does have some flaws. There are not equal groups (17 vs. 8) and the samples were small to really get a good set of data. I think this study could be expanded a lot more to find out even greater detail about not only PTSD, but also the similarities between dogs and humans. The researchers admit that their study is not very in depth, but maybe more information from other traumatic events could give us insight to more features about animals and PTSD.

 

I do not have a dog of my own, but I have friends who do and I can see the bond that the dog has with the family and what it could mean if the dog was separated from the rest of the group. Have you ever experienced/seen this sort of problem first hand where a family loses a dog and becomes depressed, or maybe seen an abandoned dog who did not want to become attached with others?

 

I feel like dogs are so similar to humans and we could learn a lot about ourselves from "man's best friend." I wonder if there is a similar chemical with dogs and humans that can apply to why dogs might suffer from this disorder. I'm also curious to know how the dogs got along with their new owners. As was mentioned in the article and I pointed out, all the dogs were later adopted. The relationship that these dogs had with their new families could also be eye-opening.

 

I found a relatively similar article that goes along with the dog-human relationship and explains a study of how first responders of 9/11 who had a rescue canine actually suffered from PTSD less than those who did not have a dog with them. Check it out!

3 Comments

Considering that dogs have such keen hearing, I can understand their fear of loud noises and their extreme reactions to long term exposure. I can also understand that dogs get attached to their families and like humans can become devastated after such loss.
I was interested about to read about PTSD in dogs but ended up reading articles on how dogs, like veterans suffer from combat trauma too. Also, dogs can help veterans overcome. According to Smithsonian Magazine, The animals draw out even the most isolated personality, and having to praise the animals helps traumatized veterans overcome emotional numbness. Teaching the dogs service commands develops a patient’s ability to communicate, to be assertive but not aggressive, a distinction some struggle with. The dogs can also assuage the hypervigilance common in vets with PTSD. Some participants report they finally got some sleep knowing that a naturally alert soul was standing watch. It makes me wonder if getting dogs involved with people can help them the way they can help people with PTSD.


How Dogs Can Help Veterans Overcome PTSD

Dogs and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

I found your article very interesting. When you asked whether anyone had experienced seeing "an abandoned dog who did not want to become attached with others," I was reminded of a dog that my family adopted from the Humane Society four years ago. This dog had been found in the backyard of a house that had been not occupied for over four days. The dog had no physical signs of abuse or mistreatment, and seemed as if it had been left behind when the owners moved out of the house. We were told that he had exhibited no signs of aggression while at the Humane Society, and seemed to be fine to live in a family home. Within weeks after adopting him, we found him to be extremely aggressive: growling at strangers, other dogs, and even us. We had to give him back when he bit my dad in the nose when my dad bent down to pet him. When we brought him back, we were told that abandoned dogs can sometimes exhibit aggression as a result of the abandonment.

Looking into this, years later, I found an article from the Humane Society website that discusses separation anxiety in dogs. This article, http://www.humanesociety.org/animals/dogs/tips/separation_anxiety.html talks about the potential causes of separation anxiety. Some of the causes are described as: "A dog accustomed to constant human companionship is left alone for the first time, or a dog suffers a traumatic event (from his viewpoint), such as time at a shelter or boarding kennel, or there is a change in the family's structure, or experiences the loss of a family member or other pet. When a dog is abandoned, this could trigger severe separation anxiety as a result of a traumatic event or change in the family. As a result, the dog can become aggressive and resistant to developing new relationships with humans and/or other dogs. Although the reaction to abandonment varies with every dog, I believe that separation anxiety is a serious problem that is very likely to develop when abandoned. I believe that this is what happened with the dog that we adopted.

This is a really great topic. Many people believe that dogs who have issues like this are bad and that is not the case. I work in a local no-kill dog shelter, and I've seen a lot of dogs come in who have been through horrible situations. For instance there is one dog who was abused and used as a bait dog for months before she came to the shelter. At first she would barely leave her kennel because she felt the safest there. In her kennel is where she knew other dogs would not attack her and her owner couldn't hurt her. Even now after a few months she won't walk sometimes and prefers her kennel. She is also not too friendly with other dogs because of what she went through. She didn't live through an earthquake or anything, but she went through severe trauma. It is sad to see the amount of dogs that have some issues because of trauma they go through being passed around to homes then back to shelters. They are all great dogs, they are just looking for people to love them. Dogs are a lot like people, they want to be loved and they go through some terrible situations. PTSD is a very serious thing and the best thing to do with the dogs who suffer from this are to be patient and give them love. Dogs need a stable home and without this they can suffer greatly and it is seen way too much.

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