Friday, October 10, 2008
Our Animal friends in the face of panic, negative emotions/behaviors, disasters and irrational fears that occur within a perceived or real emergency have been misunderstood for ions of time. Mary T. Bowen, MRET says, some animals have even suffered permanent psychological damage which have been traumatized in the course of training, competing, and by general mismanagement. Animal stress relief using blinking, breathing, tapping and eye movement the handler is able to work with their animal to let go of traumatic experiences that have continued to plague their four legged companion such as but not limited to… a traumatic birth, being born to early or late, having to be yanked out of Mom, separation anxiety, seeing the death of companion, natural disasters and being hurt while being transported, etc.
Under stress, an animal’s fight or flight mechanism kicks in, which is the brain’s director called the hypothalamus. When an animal’s fight or flight kicks in, the body produces adrenaline which creates stress on the heart. Although the emergency measure of the stress response is undoubtedly both vital and valuable, it can also be disruptive and physically damaging. In most modern situations, animals rarely encounter emergencies that require physical effort, yet biology still provides for the ability to respond as if a life threatening emergency were eminent. Thus animals may find their stress response activated in situations where physical action is inappropriate. This activation takes a toll on both the animal’s body and mind.
Stress is the body’s natural response to threat, whether that threat is mental or a physical accident or a disease. These perceived threats to the body might be a sudden change in the weather, a new horse in the field that might cause a fight, some change to management regime or maybe the loss of a companion. The body releases natural steroids in response to threatening situations. Other chemicals begin to prepare the body for taking evasive action i.e. running away quickly.
Stress is actually a natural state of the body. If we or our animals did not get worried or stressed about things to some degree we would be much more likely to get into trouble in difficult or dangerous situations. The problem comes, however, when stress continues for long periods of time without us being able to get away from what is causing it. Then the natural chemicals in the body that are supposed to protect the body actually start having negative effects. The body steroid hormones start weakening the immune system. Body chemicals make us ‘revved up’ in order to escape the stress and cannot do so. By products of all this chemical activity called ‘free radicals’ begin damaging the cells and activate the aging process. It is a bit like ‘revving up’ an engine for a long period without going anywhere. Of course it is not good for the engine after a while. Recent studies show that short periods of stress are actually good for the body because the healing process of the body afterwards gives it a lift. An occasional challenge requiring acute thinking processes slows brain cell degeneration and increases brain function.
Bowen has witnessed the behavior in animals which have undergone shock, whether of human or natural cause, and she believes the patterns/behavior indicates that animals have responses to traumatic experiences parallel to responses of people with Combat Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
According the National Center for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is an anxiety disorder that can occur after you have been through a traumatic event. A traumatic event is something horrible and scary that you see or that happens to you or your animals. During this type of event, you think that your life or others' lives are in danger. You may feel afraid or feel that you have no control over what is happening the same for animals.
Anyone who has gone through a life-threatening event can develop PTSD. These events can include:
• Combat or military exposure
• Child sexual or physical abuse
• Terrorist attacks
• Sexual or physical assault
• Serious accidents, such as a car wreck.
• Natural disasters, such as a fire, tornado, hurricane, flood, or earthquake.
After the event, you may feel scared, confused, or angry. If these feelings don't go away or they get worse, you may have PTSD. These symptoms may disrupt your life, making it hard to continue with your daily activities.
Animals experience separation anxiety as humans do, as in loading in a trailer or leaving their Mother. A trailer creates the feelings of anxiety from slipping on the floors, falling and afraid of not being able to get up, fear of the trailer ramp, leaving their companions, being penned up while Mom is taken away, to feeling alone and abandoned, etc…
The Animal is “God’s gift to mankind”. Given the animal’s virtues of strength and speed, their incredible beauty and grace, and their patient, enduring natures, it’s hardly surprising that for many of us they hold a magnetic attraction.
When we impose a positive emotion over a negative one, one must fall away and it usually is the negative one! Relaxation rules! Positive experiences turn on the pleasure centers in the brain and reduce areas that sense pain. The brain is elastic and can be programmed with stress management techniques. What a good deal—tune into the positive emotions to help counteract the negative ones!
So what does all this mean for animals? An animal confined for prolonged periods may become withdrawn, or angry. This monotony can stress the animal and damage its health. When animals lose a companion and are then left by themselves, their health can begin to decline. If a horse is constantly worried about a heavy competition schedule and non-stop traveling, it may become ill relatively easily. Animals also like to be fed at regular times during the day and get stressed out if regimes are inconsistent. A constant state of anxiety is created when an animal never knows when its feed is coming.
How do we prevent the longer type of stress causing damage to our animals? The key is, of course, good management and an understanding of how an animals mind works. For many people this is not natural. It is worth reading up on how animals behave in the wild and in domestication and trying to fit in more with what an animal is happy with. Negative experiences have a powerful affect on an animal for their entire life. When an animal has been stressed for prolonged periods of time sometimes extra help is needed.
Any stressful situation immediately affects the animal’s endocrine system. Stress hormones, epinephrine and norepinephrine, are released via the sympathetic nervous system. These hormones initiate the “fight or flight” response and can cause an increase in blood pressure, and in heart and respiration rates. Extreme or chronic stress initiates the release of Corticotropic Releasing Factor which causes the release of the glucocorticoid cortisol. Cortisol helps the horse relieve stress by initially increasing glucose metabolism and providing additional energy for “flight.” While this effect of cortisol is beneficial at the onset of a stressful situation, cortisol ultimately decreases the uptake of glucose into the cell and may have a negative impact on energy metabolism. Increased episodes of stress (chronic exposure) and the release of cortisol will have a negative impact on immunity, digestion, behavior, reproduction and the cardiovascular system. Increased gastric ulcers, colic, and diarrhea are also secondary reactions to due to stress.