Dogs and psychosis
Dogs and psychosis
The dictionary defines psychosis as:
“…a mental disorder characterized by symptoms, such as delusions or hallucinations, that indicate impaired contact with reality.”
Psychologists and psychiatrists can debate indefinitely where to draw the line between neurotic and psychotic behavior, and it is no doubt difficult to discern symptomatic differences at this common intersection; but when one focuses on the outer extremes of each condition, the differences become apparent, even in dogs.
A neurotic dog may exhibit chronic anxiety, fear, hyperactivity, obsessive behavior, and inappropriate responses to stimuli. However, truly psychotic dogs are upset. Their behavior is sharp and unpredictable. It ranges from manic highs to deep depression and tends to be dangerous and destructive to the dog as well as other animals and people the dog comes into contact with.
Many of these behavioral characteristics are sometimes exhibited by non-psychotic dogs who are “having a bad day”. Others may be troubled by some debilitating illness that temporarily affects their behavior. When the distress is gone, the behavior returns to normal. The difference between these dogs and truly psychotic animals is that psychotic animals seem to be completely unaware of the nature of their destructive behavior. A psychotic dog is not misbehaving; he is simply unable to control his actions.
Dogs suffering from psychosis often have periods of intense rage for no apparent reason. They injure themselves, attack inanimate objects, and attack anyone unfortunate enough to be in their aggressive path. They often do not respond to external stimuli. Their moods quickly change from manic to depressed. Some psychotic dogs will not eat to the point where they will actually starve to death.
A dog’s erratic behavior is more likely to be diagnosed as psychotic if one or more of the following conditions are present in the dog’s history: accidental drug overdose, prolonged corticosteroid drug therapy, distemper before three months of age, serious parasitic infection before six months of age , diabetes, a history of severe beatings, spinal or head injury, and extreme psychological trauma.
The pattern of onset of psychosis in dogs corresponds fairly well to the onset of psychotic illness in humans. Some dogs have a genetic disorder that manifests itself in destructive behavior at an early age. Others lead normal lives until, at a certain age, severe psychotic behavior occurs.
The mental health of dogs is of interest and concern to veterinarians. Some specialize in the evaluation and treatment of these mental illnesses, but canine psychoses do not enjoy the same level of scientific research that is invested in the study of human psychiatric problems. Most owners, although willing to invest significant sums of money to treat physical ailments with proven hope of cure, are unwilling to incur similar costs for speculative treatment of their dog’s mental illness. Truly psychotic people receive professional psychiatric care, if necessary, in a sheltered residential facility. Dogs that exhibit severe psychotic behavior are euthanized.