Anxiety and trauma in animals – Healing the body/mind connection
Healing anxiety and trauma in pets is easier than you might think. For effective healing, you need to understand how trauma gets patterned into the body/mind system. All trauma is experienced by the whole being. It is experienced through all of the sensory modalities – touch, sound, feeling, smell/taste, and cognition. Cognition, the sixth sense, is really important when it comes to understanding trauma, and how trauma affects animals and people long term with Post Traumatic Stress. The role the mind plays in the effective healing of PTSD cannot be ignored.
I see a lot of animals, a lot of pets with Post Traumatic Stress issues. Just about every rescue animal has PTSD to some extent, and many have severe, ongoing PTSD that affects their quality of life deeply.
How does PTSD affect animals? What are signs of PTSD you might see?
These are very good questions. Before we dig into this a little, let’s look at how trauma affects the body/mind. When there is a stimulus that triggers a fight/flight response, the animal’s body and mind has a lot of things happen in a short space of time.
From a mental-emotional perspective, there is nearly always a fear response. This is a deep survival instinct in play. It’s important to have healthy fear so as to be able to avoid dangerous situations that may cause injury or death. At the same time, the mind kicks into high alert, into a higher state of arousal.
Their senses become more alert, more sensitive. This is good when you need to be alert for danger and escape danger. It becomes a problem when you can’t move away from the fight/flight-provoking stimulus. Then the mind freaks out more and more, making the fight/flight response stronger and stronger.
From a physical perspective, there is a massive release of adrenaline and other hormones. Blood flow is diverted from the gut to the muscles. Physical tension increases, as the animal needs to be ready to flee or fight at any moment.
In the wild, the animal would be killed, win the fight, or safely flee the situation. What animals then do is literally shake off the event. They physically, vigorously shake their body, and then they relax. They regulate back to a healthy state of relaxation. Rest and digest mode kicks in. Fight/flight mode is de-activated!
In general, wild animals don’t seem to suffer PTSD like humans and domestic animals do. I believe this is because they can example the danger, they can move away from the fearful thing, they have freedom, no walls, no fences, no leads.
Domestic animals that have PTSD have not been able to move away from stimuli that they perceive as dangerous or fearful. Abused animals also cannot escape from their abuser. These animals are often impacted again and again with a situation or experiences that they perceive as dangerous or fearful (or worse still, they also experience physical pain and trauma).
What happens then is that the mental emotional distress becomes more and more severe with each event. The arousal levels (physical, mental, and emotional) become higher and higher – not only when faced with the fearful stimulus, but the resting arousal state moves higher and higher.
The mind becomes hypervigilant. The body follows the mind’s impact, so the body is in a constant state of arousal. Even at rest, without any fearful stimuli, these animals will have a chronic, low grade fight/flight response active in their body/mind system. They also have a hair trigger to trip into extreme fight/flight (arousal) with any fearful stimuli they are faced with.
Pets with PTSD are stuck with an embedded, continually active fight/flight response.
This pattern of arousal, fear, emotional mental distress, and WORRY about when the next fearful thing will happen is the core problem. In addition to this, most of these animals have lost their ability to regulate from arousal to a healthy state of relaxation. Their off switch is broken.
These pets are wired, hypervigilant, tense, jumpy, never switch off, often are reactive, may be aggressive, often carry a lot of soft tissue pain, are difficult to train, may be destructive (my bed exploded, it did!), show many signs of anxiety, and may become obsessed with toys etc.
You can’t medicate Post Traumatic Stress and get a full cure, in my opinion. Yes, prescription medications can help, and in some cases they are an absolute lifesaver. I’ve also seen dogs with PTSD issues not respond to them at all. I think medications like this, that change the brain chemistry, certainly have their place. BUT I strongly believe that you need to engage with the body hands-on to get the best possible results.
I have seen beautiful healing from trauma and anxiety using skillful loving touch with the Whole Energy Body Balance method. There are particular bodywork skills that cause a body level relaxation response in your animal as you work with them. I have helped a lot of dogs with severe anxiety and PTSD with this work, and my students have seen great results too. If you have an anxious or traumatized dog, the WEBB work can help you help them heal, to learn how to regulate to healthy relaxation
Healing Anxiety and Trauma in Pets with WEBB Bodywork
- WEBB Bodywork releases physical patterns of pain, tension and trauma from the body. Every stressful or fearful event evokes a pattern of tension or a posture in the animal – think of a dog cringing in fear as an abusive human hits them, for instance. These patterns become physically embedded into or imprinted onto the neuro-fascial network (the connective tissues in the body). Physically releasing these patterns with bodywork, has a profoundly healing effect not only physically, but mentally emotionally.
- WEBB Bodywork causes a deep, body level relaxation response. The value of this is that you can train your anxious or traumatized pet how to relax again. Every time you trigger a relaxation response with bodywork, your animal building neural pathways for relaxation. It can take weeks or months for the mind to catch up, to finally let go and realise that it’s safe and comfortable to relax, but eventually these animals are so much happier! This overcomes the mental emotional distress and patterns of worrying, which worsens the background fight/flight activation.
- WEBB Bodywork build more trust and connection between you and your animals. This helps your animals relax more. The stronger the connection with you, the human, the safer they will feel.
Here’s how one of our students helped her daughter’s severely traumatized, anxious dog with WEBB: “Jager is a 3yr old mix breed from Alice Springs who had an extremely tough start to life. When he came to me he had a lot of serious medical issues and behavioural issues also. After lots of medical treatment and finally getting on top of his issues he was then suffering severe anxiety and was in a constant state of arousal which then triggered more health issues. I tried all the behavioural drugs to no avail things were looking hopeless that’s when I saw the Healing Vet on Facebook and I instantly did the masterclass and then the online training. I started working with Jager and discovered he didn’t like being touched but with persistence he came round then the changes started to happen slowly he relaxed and his arousal was less every day. Within a couple of weeks he was constantly calm no arousal and was happy and content. I was amazed at how quickly this helped him and now he lives a full happy life. If it wasn’t for WEBB I don’t know where he would be today it’s changed his life and mine.” Gina Squire
If you want to learn about how to help your dogs, cats or other animals with WEBB, please book a free discovery call with Dr Edward at this link. We will give you a 60% discount if you book a call!