Army dogs treated for post-traumatic stress disorder after serving in Afghanistan
Dogs serving with the American army are developing canine
post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), an animal behavioural specialist has
More than five per cent of the 650 currently deployed by U.S. combat forces have PTSD, and of those about half are likely to be retired from service.
Dr. Walter F. Burghardt Jr, chief of behavioural medicine at the Daniel E. Holland Military Working Dog Hospital at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas is among the first to recognise the condition in the dogs.
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Although vets have long diagnosed
behavioural problems in animals, the concept of canine PTSD is only about 18
months old, and is still the subject of debate.
But it has gained popularity among military veterinarians, who have been seeing patterns of troubling behaviour among dogs exposed to explosions, gunfire and other combat-related violence in Iraq and Afghanistan.
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Like humans with the disorder, different dogs show different symptoms. Some become hyper-vigilant. Others avoid buildings or work areas that they had previously been comfortable in.
Some undergo sharp changes in temperament, becoming unusually aggressive with their handlers, or clingy and timid. Most crucially, many stop doing the tasks they were trained to perform.
‘If the dog is trained to find improvised explosives and it looks like it’s working, but isn’t, it’s not just the dog that’s at risk,’ Dr. Burghardt told the New York Times. ‘This is a human health issue as well.’
Suffering: Dogs are showing symptoms of PTSD because of the harrowing events they are witnessing in war zones in Iraq and Afghanistan
The U.S. military is taking a serious interest in canine
PTSD because of the growing importance of working dogs in current conflicts.
Once used primarily as furry sentries, military dogs - most are German shepherds, followed by Belgian Malinois and Labrador retrievers - have branched out into an array of specialised tasks.
They are widely considered the most effective tools for detecting the improvised explosive devices, or I.E.D.’s, frequently used in Afghanistan.
Typically made from fertiliser and chemicals, and containing little or no metal, those buried bombs can be nearly impossible to find with standard mine-sweeping instruments.
In the past three years, I.E.D.’s have become the major cause of casualties in Afghanistan.
Across all the forces, more than 50 military dogs have been killed since 2005.
PTSD is stopping the dogs doing the tasks they were trained to perform
The number of working dogs on active
duty has risen to 2,700, from 1,800 in 2001, and the training school at
Lackland prepares about 500 dogs a year.
Treatment for canine PTSD can be very difficult because the patient cannot explain what is wrong, vets and handlers must make educated guesses about the traumatising events.
Care can be as simple as taking a dog off patrol and giving it lots of exercise, playtime and gentle obedience training. Some dogs are also treated with the same medications used to fight panic attacks in humans.
Dogs that do not recover quickly are returned to their home bases for longer-term treatment. But if they continue to show symptoms after three months, they are usually retired or transferred to different duties, Dr. Burghardt said.
As with humans, there is much debate about treatment, with little research yet to guide vets.
Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2069326/Army-dog-treated-post-traumatic-stress-disorder-serving-Afghanistan.html#ixzz1fSQPWIvw