As I’ve mentioned a few times, I have a wonderful kitty by the name of Punkin who has feline PTSD. Here is his picture.. is he not incredibly handsome!?
A few months after adopting him in 2014, one morning out of the blue, he attacked our little American Eskimo dog, Dixie. She wasn’t even looking at him when he suddenly jumped her. My husband & I both hollered Punkin’s name, which got his attention fast. He looked almost as if he woke up. He looked at us & Dixie, then ran off & hid. We checked on Dixie & thankfully she was fine, just very shaken up. While consoling her, my husband & I talked about what happened, & I told him that the way Punkin looked reminded me of how I felt after a flashback. I knew animals could be traumatized of course, but I was unsure if it could develop into PTSD. I did some research & learned it absolutely can. Since I have C-PTSD, I felt somewhat equipped to deal with the situation. It’s been quite the learning experience to say the least! But, my husband & I have learned & I wanted to share it for you other cat parents out there in case you too have a traumatized furbaby on your hands.
In all fairness, I’m not positive how the symptoms show up in other animals, but I believe they’re rather similar. Our late dog, Bear, had been abused & once in a while he acted quite a bit like Punkin does. I believe he had a milder case of PTSD than Punkin has. That leads me to believe the symptoms are probably quite similar among animals, not just among cats.
PTSD symptoms in cats are quite similar to humans. They have an extremely sensitive startle reflex, so they sometimes react inappropriately to situations. If they get scared, fight or flight instincts may take over. Punkin tends to freeze- his pupils dilate & he won’t move. They can be very anxious too, which means they may be skittish, hide or potty outside the litter box. Separation anxiety can happen too. They’re hyper vigilant, always extremely aware of their surroundings. Getting angry easily can be another symptom. as can being depressed. Signs of depression can mean losing interest in things they normally enjoy such as food, playing or snuggles, They may have nightmares, which you can see by how they sleep. Most cats twitch a bit in their sleep, but a cat with PTSD will do so more often & violently. Another big clue is they avoid things that can be similar to the traumatic event. I believe due to how Punkin attacked Dixie his trauma was related to a dog. She was the only animal or person in our home he ever attacked. And yes, they can have flashbacks. If you haven’t seen someone have a flashback or if you don’t have them, it can be hard to identify. When Punkin has had them, he doesn’t look quite like himself. His eyes get huge & you see fear written all over his face. He also acts completely out of character, like when he attacked Dixie, then suddenly stops. The first time it happened, he hid for quite a while, but after that, he returns to normal in a few hours. They also make him very tired.
There are some ways to cope with feline PTSD that I have found to be pretty successful.
I talk to Punkin. I tell him I understand what he’s going through, & it stinks. It’ll be ok, though, there is no one or nothing here that will hurt him. He’s safe & surrounded by other cats & people who adore him.
I also follow his lead. Punkin is very loving, but not particularly snuggly. Sometimes when the PTSD flares up, he wants to be left alone & other times he wants me to hold him. I do whichever he wants.
When Punkin has bad days, I do my best to remain completely calm in his presence. Cats pick up on the energy of their humans, so if I’m calm, he’ll be calmer. I don’t tell him “calm down”. Instead, my energy says everything is fine, & there is nothing to be upset about.
Catnip is a life saver! I started giving it to him to try to help his anxiety levels. It didn’t take him long to learn that it helps, so he goes to it often & voluntarily when his symptoms flare up. I got some very soft, fuzzy socks from the dollar store for this purpose. I put some catnip in a small rag, tie it up, & put it in the sock. Punkin also likes jingle bells so I have some with bells inside, some without. He picks whatever he likes as he needs his ‘nip. Since it doesn’t work for dogs, I used to give Bear valerian root pills. The smell is very strong & it tastes pretty yukky, so it wasn’t easy to get him to take it at first. It didn’t take him long to realize that it helped though, so he began going to where I stored it to let me know when he needed some valerian.
Some pet parents also get tranquilizers for their pet from the vet or use other calming aids that are readily available.
If you too have a pet with PTSD, following these steps really can help. I’m happy to say that Bear turned into a very loving, gentle dog from an aggressive one & Punkin’s symptoms are managed very well. He rarely has flashbacks anymore, & his anxiety levels are much lower in general.
12 responses to “Feline PTSD”
Maybe I shouldn’t be, but I’m amazed that animals can have flashbacks and PTSD just like we can. I know that they can feel pain and suffer from abuse. But until I started reading your posts I didn’t know that they could have flashbacks. Poor things.
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I was amazed too.. it truly never crossed my mind. I always heard/read that animals weren’t as complex in their thinking as people & we shouldn’t put human emotions on animals since they’re “just animals.” After being a furkid mom since 1990, I learned better. They are very human in their thinking. Dogs not quite as much as cats but still, they all share the bulk of our thinking. That tells me they also can share our mental health problems like PTSD. Then seeing Punkin in action? I have zero doubts. He seriously looks like a different cat when flashbacks happen. It’s just bizarre.
Actually Chester too.. since that wicked ear infection he had in Sept., he’s changed a LOT. He used to be hubby’s cat. He’s why Chester is here, after all. Since I had to medicate & help him when he got sick though? Chester is all mine. Valentine annoyed me yesterday. Not bad but still. I told Chester “Sic her for me, Buddy..” He did! Smacked the tar out of her! I never would’ve said that if I thought he’d do it! Lesson learned.. I won’t say that again. Poor Val was shaken up. Zippy was nearby & looked at them then me like, “What was that?!”
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I was amazed to realize that animals can get PTSD, too! I learned this in 2007, when my husband and I adopted an Australian Red Heeler from a no kill animal rescue organization.
The woman who ran the rescue told us that Lady had been found abandoned, at a house where her owners had apparently moved away and left her. She said that was six months prior and that during those six months, Lady had been adopted and brought back “many, many times” because of her behavior issues. The rescue people were boarding her at a kennel, because her behavior was too bad for the animal foster homes.
Sounds like the perfect dog, right? Lol. We took her home that day, and soon we saw exactly what everyone else had been unable to live with. Lady had severe PTSD, complete with a huge startle reflex, which sent her into insanely scary flashbacks that literally had her jumping over 6 feet high and running all over the furniture and running up the walls, all the while growling and snarling like a rabid beast!
But when she wasn’t freaking out, she was super sweet and very clingy. Of course, she was not potty trained. And every time she drifted off to sleep, for even a few minutes, she had terrible nightmares and cried so pitifully in her sleep.
Well, my husband and I are Mr and Mrs PTSD, you know? We both have been diagnosed with PTSD, his from combat, mine from domestic wars. Which means that Lady had finally found the perfect home. We helped her get over the worst of her issues, and she in turn helped us. We gave her a great life for over 8 years, until she died in my arms on March 10, 2015. Oh, I miss her.
Now, we have two fur babies that we found abandoned and starving on the streets. One is a feisty little poodle I named Scrappy. He was skin and bone, on the brink of death, when we found him. We also have a big yellow lab boxer mystery mix, that I picked up off the street in 2015. When we took her to the vet and he guessed her age, if he was right, she was probably born a few days after Lady died. We call her Baby.
My husband believes that Baby is Lady, reincarnated. I don’t really believe in such a thing, but the things she does that Lady used to do, makes me wonder! Although I did ask Baby, if she is Lady, why did she come back as a dog that sheds So Much?! Oh my goodness. But we love her, so we live with it. She reminds me of how God loves me, despite my messes!
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Oops, typo… we found our big dog, Baby, in 2016, not 2015. She was just over a year old, according to our vet. And Lady had died just a little over a year before.
That is just wonderful you two adopted Lady! She must have been such a handful at first! Poor girl! That just breaks my heart for her! Thank God for sending you two to her & you understood her!
Your other furbabies sound very blessed to have found you two as well!
Funny sometimes when we get another, how he or she is so similar to a deceased one, isn’t it? Zippy reminds me of my first cat, Magic sometimes. And Punkin here reminds me a lot of my Granddad’s cat, Vincent. He even gets the same look on his face sometimes. 🙂
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Woo hoo, your post inspired me to turn my comment into a post. With a link back here, of course. 🐩 🐕 😀
Yay! I’ll check out your post! I really think people need to be more aware that this can happen to animals & how to cope with pets with PTSD. It absolutely can be managed, it just takes lots of patience, love & time.
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I love this article. So many great ideas. My heart goes out to Punkin. So great that he has someone who understands and has helped and is still helping him cope so well.
I don’t know a whole lot about it but I understand CBD oil is helping humans with PTSD and there is a version of it for pets. I’d love to know if it helps with PTSD in pets.
And yes, Punkin is gorgeous. )
Thank you! Punkin has taught me plenty on how to help him. My own experiences help, too.
I’ve heard that about CBD oil too. I’m debating trying it for him. He gets spooked so easily, giving it to him may ruin the benefits, yanno? We’re sticking with catnip for now, but CBD is still an option. I’d imagine it is very helpful though, for those who aren’t as easily spooked.
Thank you! Punkin is gorgeous. He knows it too…lol
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Yes, he IS quite handsome!
Poor guy. How wonderful that he’s with you now.
Thank you! He is well aware of that fact too.. lol
It’s wonderful for me, too. He’s really an amazing little man cat. He helps me when my C-PTSD flares up too. We understand each other very well. It can be funny sometimes too- if there’s a sudden, loud noise & we both get startled, we tend to jump then look at each other like, “Sucks, doesn’t it?!” lol
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