Thoughts for Thursday – After the Fire: Do Animals Suffer from PTSD?

Sophie has Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome. Yes, Sophie is a cat—a cat who was evacuated during the recent fire that surrounded our community last month and did so much damage here and in neighboring communities. I evacuated with Lily and Sophie to my mother’s twenty miles away for two days. All seemed to go well, although I knew that Sophie was not a happy traveler or a happy camper.

Since her rescue thirteen years ago, when she was ten-weeks old, she has lived in safety and comfort here in our home. She has had her issues over the years with fear and distrust, but she has come a long way. Consequently, we didn’t realize how much the evacuation experience upset her until we noticed fur missing from her hind-quarters. At first, we thought she’d caught herself up in a situation inside the house and scraped the fur off. It’s as if that area of her mottled fur is clean shaven. Upon some Internet research, however, I discovered it could be something else—so off to the vet we went.

The diagnosis was anxiety and the questions the veterinarian asked me surprised me. Rather than diet and activity norms for Sophie, she asked about our evacuation experience with the cats. (In Ojai, it isn’t “Did you evacuate?” It’s “Where did you evacuate to or what was your evacuation like?”) And the vet came to the conclusion that she did because she found a second spot where Sophie has been licking the fur out on the inside of her other back leg.

We also had a blood test to make sure her thyroid was healthy. The vet said that if the missing patches of fur was on the inside and outside of the same leg, she’d consider pain in the joint–arthritis, perhaps. She also looked for fleas–something our cats haven’t had to deal with since everyone stays inside. And she did prescribe a flea remedy just in case Sophie picked some up from my mother’s cat (who is an inside/outside kitty).

The remedy for poor Sophie’s malady? More play-time with her.

Have you ever had a mysterious health or medical experience with your cats? In our household, Sophie is the one who vomited a lot of blood one December morning a few years ago. Our investigation led us to the realization that Sophie was eating the metallic bows from the packages under our Christmas tree. We no longer use bows on packages.

Once we came home to find blood on our Himalayan cat, Katy. We rushed her to the vet and he said it looked like one of our male cats had tried to breed her. That was a shocking diagnosis. All of our cats are spayed/neutered and we’d never seen any sort of mis-behavior among them. That injury is still a mystery and the cats aren’t talking.

Here at our house, we’re trying to keep things calm for Sophie. We’re playing with her more, watching her more closely, and we hope there will be no more evacuations. The ride to the veterinarian is traumatic enough for her.

Many cats suffer from PTSD. In fact, Sophie probably had a case of it when she came to us at 10-weeks old. To this day, we cannot pick her up. But she has come a long way from the frightened-of-everything little tortie we brought home that day. To learn more about Feline PTSD, here’s a great source: There’s even a book out on the topic by Knox and Sarah Neeley. It’s “Urban Tails: Inside the World of Alley Cats.”

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