The Animal Doctor

Helping Dog With PTSD

DEAR DR. FOX: We rescued our Labrador-mix, Mandy, about a year ago when she was about 5 years old. She was obviously beaten and abused for most of her life, and after a year, we are still unable to loosen her up.

We have never heard her bark, nor will she come or play ball -- ever. She doesn't hear well because she apparently had ear problems that went untreated for years. She will not drink water out of a bowl, but only out of large plastic cups. She stays in our bedroom all day and will come out for a walk only with a treat.

We would never return her and would welcome any thoughts on what we can do to bring her around. She is extremely sweet but backs away from any people and all dogs, no matter how friendly or nice they can be. She will not look anyone in the eye, either, and always looks away and backs off. -- R.K. and B.K., Wellington, Florida

DEAR R.K AND B.K.: Poor Mandy does seem to be a victim of post-traumatic stress disorder, and I applaud your devotion and patience with her. Professional help from a veterinarian specializing in behavioral problems or a referral to a certified animal behavior therapist would probably be your best option to help improve her quality of life.

If there is a safe place, such as a quiet backyard or enclosed area where she can be off-leash and not run away if frightened, I would start from there. Lie on the ground and have her come over to you for a treat with your partner releasing her off the leash some distance away. Repeat and repeat so she gains self-confidence being out in the open and has two people close by whom she trusts.

If possible, find another dog owner with a friendly, easygoing dog with whom Mandy can meet when out walking on the leash. Let them get to know each other and eventually have the "therapy" dog brought in to the enclosed area to meet and hopefully begin to play with Mandy.

Try an elevated water bowl on a stand, which many dogs prefer.

Essential oil of lavender can have a calming effect, so try 2 to 3 drops on a bandanna around her neck two to three times a day. Give her 3 mg of melatonin in the evening. Visit petzlife.com and learn about another supplement, @Eaze, which has natural ingredients that can increase brain serotonin and have a calming effect.

A short treatment trial with medication such as alprazolam prescribed by a veterinarian would be the next step to take if these treatments do not help.

Good luck and keep me posted.

DEAR DR. FOX: I will be on vacation for 18 days, and I want to know how I can make my cat most comfortable during my absence.

I have someone to care for him at least twice a day while I'm away. I worry that he will be lonely as there are no longer any other cats in the house. His littermate passed in June.

I did vacation for a week in February, and all went well. He has plenty of toys. He snuggles with me on the sofa and lies next to me in bed. What more can I do for him while I'm away? Should I worry? -- L.N., Fargo, North Dakota

DEAR L.N.: Be sure the person coming in to care for your cat has your vacation contact information and will stay as long as possible to play, pet and groom your cat. Have the sitter make sure your cat is eating and drinking well and that the litter box is kept clean.

If there is a time in the evening when you normally have the TV or radio on, set up a timer so it goes off at your normal bedtime. Maintaining familiar sounds can help animals feel secure. If you pull the drapes in the evening -- or any other such routines -- be sure they are continued in your absence. Leave two or three T-shirts or other items of clothing that you have been wearing where your cat likes to nap so your scent will be there when you are away.

Have a good vacation!

(Send all mail to animaldocfox@gmail.com or to Dr. Michael Fox in care of Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106. The volume of mail received prohibits personal replies, but questions and comments of general interest will be discussed in future columns.

Visit Dr. Fox's website at DrFoxVet.net.)

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