Animal Emotions

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PTSD in War Dogs Finally Getting the Attention It Deserves

Our best friends suffer along with their human companions

Stories abound about the sad fate of numerous human veterans of war who return home suffering from PTSD. In a recent essay I wrote about the likelihood of PTSD in wild animals and also about PTSD in captive animals who have been abused by humans. Now, we're learning more about how war dogs, like their human companions, suffer the experience of living through violent combat.

A recent article in the New York Times notes that it's estimated that "more than 5 percent of the approximately 650 military dogs deployed by American combat forces are developing canine PTSD. Of those, about half are likely to be retired from service ..." The Times story also notes, "If anyone needed evidence of the frontline role played by dogs in war these days, here is the latest: the four-legged, wet-nosed troops used to sniff out mines, track down enemy fighters and clear buildings are struggling with the mental strains of combat nearly as much as their human counterparts."

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Various treatments are used, including drugs that work on humans and also a process called desensitization. One success story about Gina made the news but it's too early to know about the fate of other dogs who selflessly serve. I'm thrilled these amazing dogs are finally getting the treatment they fully deserve, whether they can go back to combat or not. 

Marc Bekoff, Ph.D., is Professor Emeritus of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Colorado, Boulder.

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