One of my cats, a handsome orange tabby guy named Punkin, has feline PTSD. I didn’t know this when we adopted him, or rather when he adopted us. He seemed a bit skittish but pretty normal. Then one day with no provocation, he attacked our American Eskimo dog, Dixie. Shocked, my husband & I hollered his name. He stopped what he was doing, looked around then shook his head & ran off. I realized he looked like I felt when I’ve had a flashback. Thankfully, that attack was a one time incident, but even so, his symptoms aren’t always well managed. He tries, but like a human with PTSD, sometimes trying isn’t enough to keep symptoms at bay.
One day a few years ago, Punkin was running around playing & doing weird kitty energy jag things. Another of our cats, Grace, got in on the fun with him. They ran around & played for a few minutes as they often do. They stopped playing & a minute later, she sneaked up on him. Grace gently bumped into Punkin’s side as if to say “Boo!”. He didn’t see it coming & apparently his fight, flight, freeze or fawn instincts kicked in. Poor Punkin froze. He crouched low & his eyes got HUGE & he wouldn’t move. He was frozen in place. I honestly thought at first he might be having an aneurysm or heart attack. I quickly went to him to decide if we had to go to the emergency vet. I reassured & talked to him for a minute when he finally started to come out of it. He looked like he has when he’s come out of a flashback.
Something unusual happened at that point. He wanted me to hold him & he purred. These are two things that almost never happen with Punkin. When he wanted me to put him down a few minutes later, Grace meekly approached him. She checked on him then gave him a big head bonk. Her apology, I think, although she didn’t mean to upset him. She has been Punkin’s volunteer service cat since she was a kitten, always offering him love, help or anything she can when his PTSD flares up, so naturally she felt terrible for upsetting her buddy.
I’m sharing this because I know many of you who follow my work also love animals. And, like me, you seem to be drawn to those with some sort of special needs. In a cruel world, this means the chances of you adopting an animal with PTSD are fairly good. If this happens, please don’t give up on your skittish or even aggressive furbaby! Animals like this need someone who understands & is patient, who can help them cope with what is happening.
If you wonder if your furbaby has PTSD, there are some signs…
Nightmares are common. If your furbaby twitches dramatically in his sleep, this is often the sign of a nightmare. Gently pet him & talk to him. That can help stop it. If not, wake him up.
Being skittish or jumpy. This is the animal equivalent of hyper-vigilance. Try not to make sudden moves around your furbaby. Keep a calm, quiet environment as much as possible.
Anxiety. Some signs of anxiety are restlessness, lack of or too big of an appetite, being destructive or pottying in unacceptable places. Along with keeping a calm environment at home, try to maintain a consistent schedule. Medication may be helpful too. Talk to your veterinarian about this option if you think it may help.
Flashbacks can be hard to recognize in animals but they do have them. Punkin attacking Dixie was a pretty obvious one, but other signs of flashbacks are sudden abnormal behavior. Our late dog, Bear, also had PTSD, & I believe his former owner caused it by being abusive. The man wore heavy leather gloves for work, & whenever Bear saw me put gloves on, he would attack my hands. If your furbaby has obvious triggers like Bear did, avoid those triggers as much as possible. Also, flashbacks can take a lot out of an animal, so don’t be surprised if your little one takes a long nap after or even drags a bit for a day or two.
If you have PTSD or C-PTSD, you have an advantage for helping your furbaby. You know what helps you when symptoms get bad. Chances are, those same things will help your little one.
If you don’t know how to help, just watch your furbaby. Animals tell humans what they want & need from us. With Punkin, often he wants to be left alone when things get bad. I watch him from a distance during those times. Other times, he obviously wants snuggles, so I give him all the snuggles he wants. Follow your furbaby’s lead to help the most. PTSD in animals is sad of course, but it can be managed, just like it can with people. Love, understanding & patience will go a long way in helping your furbaby life a happy life in spite of the disorder.
This is Punkin with his buddy, Grace.