Identify Emotional Trauma in Animals

Does your pet suffer from Emotional Trauma or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder?

This is Part 2 of a multi-series blog post on Emotional Trauma in Animals.

What is Emotional Trauma?

As I previously discussed, trauma is the left over energy, from the naturally occurring fight, flight or freeze response to acute stress or situations. When we are unable to move through the steps of releasing the energy during a “fight or flight” experience, that energy becomes stored in the body and nervous system, thus leaving us with emotional trauma. Emotional trauma can happen from even the smallest of events, such as a minor car accident, injuries, diseases, sudden death of a friend, or a medical procedure.

Below I cover information about identification of trauma symptoms as it relates to humans. In my personal experience most of these apply to animals as well as humans. However, when you are identifying emotional trauma in your animal companions it can and may ‘look’ different.

In animals, you can typically identify PTSD and emotional trauma as a negative behavior pattern, insecurity, anxiety or avoidance to a specific situation or stimuli. In my experience, animals tend to manifest certain behavior patterns triggered by a common ‘thread’ of events or experiences. For example, every time you take your dog for a car ride he shakes uncontrollably, possibly urinates on himself and attempts to bite you. Or, when your horse is first saddled he bucks uncontrollably with no clear physical harm being done.

Some of the most common ways that stressful situations cause trauma in humans are listed below. (Courtesy:

  •  It happened unexpectedly.
  • You were unprepared for it.
  • You felt powerless to prevent it.
  • It happened repeatedly.
  • Someone was intentionally cruel.
  • It happened in childhood.

Here are some emotional and physical human trauma symptoms including PTSD.

Emotional Symptoms include (but are not limited to):

  • Shock or denial
  • Anger, irritability, mood swings
  • Guilt, shame, self-blame
  • Feeling sad or hopeless
  • Confusion, difficulty concentrating
  • Anxiety and fear
  • Withdrawing from others
  • Feeling disconnected or numb

Physical Symptoms include (but are not limited to):

  • Fatigue
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Edgyness and agitation
  • Muscle tension
  • Insomnia or nightmares
  • Being startled easily
  • Racing heartbeat
  • Aches and pains

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is classified as an anxiety disorder that can occur after a traumatic event. There are typically 4 factors that identify PTSD. (Courtesy of:

1. Reliving or re-experiencing the event: You are triggered by something that reminds you of the previous event.

2. Avoidance: Avoiding situations, events or even people that you remind you of the original event.

3. Numbing: Feeling emotionally numb about the event, about current people or events in your life or ‘blocking’ previous memories.

4. Hyper-arousal: Also referred to, feeling “keyed-up”. Being easily startled, always ‘on the lookout’ or ‘on-guard’, fear of safety and irritability.

If you have identified that your animal is exhibiting any of the symptoms of Trauma listed above, or others not mentioned, there is help! We can all help our animals to heal from this just as we humans can heal and overcome trauma. In my next post I will cover some how-to’s of assisting our animals to heal!

Information Resources:, PTSD.VA.GOV

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Copyright 2010-2011 Jessica Baker
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