Ruchi Kumar, a journalist, and her cat Lola live in a house in the centre of Kabul, Afghanistan, near embassies and the presidential palace.
On 31 May 2017 a terrorist blew up a bomb, inside a lorry, in the centre of Kabul. It was an enormous bomb. It killed 150 people and injured 700. The explosion was felt several miles away, Kumar writes. Kumar’s house was not structurally damaged but she and her cat felt the impact and saw the shaking windows and walls.
Kumar is getting over it and so is her cat. However, she writes that her cat is taking longer to recover from this dramatic and disturbing event.
About 20 minutes after the explosion she found her cat hiding in the bathroom behind the radiator. After an hour of interaction with her cat including hugging and petting she calmed down a bit.
Over the forthcoming week Kumar says that Lola seemed edgy; small sounds would startle her. She followed her around everywhere. Lola was clingy and she howled when left alone. She lost her appetite and lost weight.
Ruchi Kumar eventually realised that she may be suffering from PTSD. Ruchi had spoken to the director of a well-known animal shelter in Kabul called Nowzad who herself had reported the levels of stress and anxiety suffered by the animals in her care when these sort of events take place:
“Like people, animals react to trauma in many different ways. How it presents itself in that animal is individual to them.”
Also, the working dogs of the US military suffer reactions to stress in similar ways. A veterinarian working for the US military says that about 5% of working dogs who have served in Afghanistan and Iraq suffer from “canine PTSD”. The dogs become aggressive, timid and unable to do their jobs.
PTSD in animals is work in progress in terms of understanding it. However, it is dawning on people that animals may react to traumatic events in the same way as humans.
The brain structure of cats and dogs is similar to that of humans and therefore it is not unreasonable to conclude that an animal will suffer similar consequences psychologically.
Kumar refers to other examples of animal suffering from PTSD such as chimpanzees used in biomedical research. She says that a quarter of them displayed symptoms of PTSD for years after they were retired. She refers to a 2013 study of African elephants who had witnessed disruptive events such as poaching, mass culling and relocation leaving some of them suffering from symptoms of PTSD.
I think the key point is that different animals react differently to traumatic event just like humans. But if they do suffer from PTSD they might have symptoms such as pacing, biting themselves, eating their own faeces or weaving their heads back and forth. Other signs of being stressed are over grooming, rocking or hiding. In addition, a cat suffering from PSD may lose interest in eating and/or playing.
The symptoms may last a very long time. For some animals the psychological damage may never leave them. It becomes a life changing event. For example a chimpanzee who was captured after his family was killed and kept in a tiny cage suspended from a ceiling for years suffered from anxiety decades after his rescue. This poor chimpanzee also seems to be engaging in self harm by poking himself with sharp thorns. He clasps himself and rocks.
The typical treatments are drugs: prescription medications such as antidepressants or antianxiety drugs. These should be reinforced by creating a fabulous environment which is calm together with a trusting relationship that gradually chips away at the anxiety which is at the heart of PTSD.
PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) is an anxiety disorder caused by a frightening and distressing event. Sometimes people relive the traumatic event through nightmares. They may feel guilt and be irritable. They may suffer from insomnia and find it difficult to concentrate.
It is not unreasonable to suggest that animals feel the same emotions. It is now agreed that animals have emotions. Humans are learning more about animal emotions and realising that their range of emotions is far more substantial than once realised.
Source: Kumar’s Washington Post article and NHS UK.