The Breakdown And Dysfunction Of An Animals Mind
“An animal's eyes have the power to speak a great language.”
We have seen animals taken from the wild to be trained to perform in shows and we have heard the horror stories of them becoming increasingly depressed and lashing out in defense. Parrots in cages tear at their own feathers. Abused dogs cower in terror at their abusive owners. Cats and dogs act out in obsessive-compulsive behavior, licking a patch of fur over and over again until it becomes infected. Animals exhibit night terrors, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), separation anxiety, hoarding, depression and more. Veterinarians are seeing that animal brains operate in many of the same ways that human brains do which means they can break down the same way as well.
We associate the way an animals looks with the way they are feeling. For example: We associate a bird singing with happiness but it may be a distress signal or a warming to another bird. We associate a dolphin’s smile with them being happy and this is why we miss the mark on how animals interact and how they feel.
Just as with human brains, animal brains can have their levels of the neurotransmitter serotonin elevated by antidepressants, reducing symptoms. But again, as with humans, not every animal is a good candidate for every medication. For example, long lanky dogs like greyhounds and whippets can be tricky. They are notorious for having different metabolisms and being hit very hard by drugs.
The ideal period for socialization of a dog comes very early in its life which is at 4 to 8 weeks of age. This is one thing that we missed the boat on with Jake and Maggie. We started them in socialization classes later than that and I feel that if we had to do it over again, we would have gotten them into classes much earlier. They bonded to each other and it was harder for them to get adjusted later. What we did right was acclimate them to working for their food, playing with toys, etc. For example, if you are living in an apartment and have decided to get a herding dog and it is acting up. It might be a good idea to get them enrolled into a herding class.
Dog’s returning from war zones can experience signs of PTSD – jumpiness, anxiety, poor sleep, loss of appetite. This makes sense because whether you are a human or a canine, a bomb exploding or the smell of blood can trigger negative emotions and anxiety to a dog just as it can to a human. Diagnosing PTSD in a dog may be as simple as comparing it to the behavior the animal is exhibiting. The difference between the two is the measure of the condition. Have you ever experienced going to the zoo and seeing an animal pacing or swimming repetitively round and round, back and forth. Gus, a polar bear in New York City’s Central Park Zoo who died in 2013, became famous for his obsessive, repetitive lap swimming. He was taken from his natural habitat and confined for the rest of his life in a man made enclosure for us to enjoy. Very sad.
PTSD is not just for humans and dogs. Elephants can be traumatized by experiencing loss of their family members or being mistreated. The same goes for the poor pitbulls who were rescued from the dog fighting ring operated by NFL Player Michael Vick. Fortunately many of them were adopted to good homes after being put through a rehabilitation that consisted mostly of teaching them to trust the new people they were getting to know. The others will never be able to be around other dogs. They were bred to fight at an early age in their socialization periods and filling that period with terror and pain and that leaves to much of an emotional scar.
Animals age as we do. They have ailments as we do and should be treated in the most humane way. As with us, our animals are our children and we would do whatever it takes to keep them happy, healthy, safe but it can come down to the quality of life and how we handle that is of the utmost importance at the end.
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