Animal attacks of all types can be physically devastating to the victim. The physical damage suffered can be severe, ranging from bruising and lacerations, to disfigurement or loss of limbs or appendages. The damage to the victim, however, does not always end just because the physical wounds have healed. Many victims of animal attacks- particularly dog bites- continue to suffer emotional trauma for months or even years following the attack.
Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a common consequence of a dog bite in children and adults. PTSD is a mental health problem that can arise after the victim experiences a traumatic event. Being assaulted by another person or even an animal can trigger PTSD and its associated mental anguish. PTSD symptoms generally fall into one of three categories. Victims may re-live the event over and over again through a serious of flashbacks. These can occur in the victim’s dreams, which contributes to sleeplessness or a fear of falling asleep which, in turn, increases feelings of anxiety during waking hours. Other signs of PTSD fall into the avoidance category. Avoidance symptoms manifest in non-interest in daily activities and avoiding people or places that remind the victim of the traumatizing event. Finally, arousal symptoms cause the victim to have difficulty concentrating and/or sleeping, resulting in further anxiety. Victims suffering from this class of indications often react become overaggressive in reacting to common situations.
Victims suffering from PTSD following a dog attack often have severe anxiety associated with the event and may be unable to be around animals of any kind. Even animal lovers have been forced to give up their own pets due to the emotional trauma suffered after the attack. The anxiety the victim experiences, however, is not limited to animals. Research shows that victims of animal attacks often exhibit symptoms of PTSD in every aspect of their lives and lead the victim to avoid activities they once enjoyed, as well as with other people, for extended periods of time. This leads to a greatly diminished quality of life.
While dog attacks are not limited to any specific age group, children are the most common victims of animal attacks. The Center for Disease Control and the American Veterinarian Association report that most dog bites happen to children ages 5-7, and most of those are attacks to the face and neck. Children are at particular risk for developing PTSD following an animal attack; not only is the event horrifying to child due to the often large amounts of blood and the physical pain, but also almost half of child dog bites are inflicted by a trusted family pet. In most instances, the family pet has to be put down, causing the child to face the additional emotional trauma of losing his/her best friend. Additionally, children are much more observant than we tend to believe. As such, children can see the change in their parents’ faces or mannerisms and feel the tension and guilt felt by his/her parents whenever the attack is mentioned. This causes the child to stop talking about the event completely, choosing instead to keep his/her emotions hidden away.
If you or someone you know has been attacked by an animal, please keep the following PTSD symptoms in mind so that you can seek the appropriate medical care.