What Do Dogs and People Have in Common?

Most pet owners will agree that animals have feelings and their own personality. But to what extent do these feelings affect their behavior? Laura Braitman, author of Animal Madness, talks about her experience with her loving St. Bernard and dealing with his separation anxiety. It was a few months after she got him that she realized he had major separation anxiety, which led to him eating garbage, acting out, and even taking drastic measures to make sure his owner didn’t leave his side for a minute, like jumping out of a 3rd floor apartment. It was because of this poor, adorable puppy that Braitman decided to do more research into animals’ feelings and mental illnesses. If our pets can have separation anxiety, what other common mental illnesses could they have? Check out these 5 mental illnesses that humans and man’s best friend both suffer from.

Animal mental illness
Animal mental illness

1. Broken heart

There are tons of stories of animals grieving after a loved one dies, like a German shepherd named Teddy who, after losing his best friend (a horse), stopped eating. Teddy stayed in the horse’s stall for 3 days until he eventually died himself. Instances like this can be found in both humans and animals, proving that perhaps you really can die of a broken heart. Take a look at this gif of a dog laying on his owner’s tombstone. If that’s not love, I don’t know what is.

2. Madness

Have you ever seen an animal attack someone for no reason, or horses taking off on their own? Some of these instances may be due to rabies, a problem that we didn’t really understand until almost the early 20th century. But, like with humans, you don’t want to jump to conclusions. You may say “Yeah, this is Spot. He’s just crazy.” Take a closer look at Spot. He might have anxiety or OCD….he might also just be crazy.

3. OCD

Obsessive-compulsive disorders are quite common in both people and animals. Over-grooming is an example of this behavior in both species. Perhaps a woman won’t feel clean until she washes her body 5 times. The same happens in animals. If you have ever seen a dog with raw paws from licking, it may be a sign of OCD (it may also have other causes, like allergies or anxiety). Some rituals are normal and are no cause for worry, but if you think it may be affecting your animals health, you may want to get a second opinion. Sometimes some extra time outside or simple at-home therapies can do wonders.

4. Phobias

A phobia is an irrational fear of something. Some more well-known phobias in humans are agoraphobia (fear of being in public places), arachnophobia (fear of spiders), or acrophobia (fear of heights). Many dogs are afraid of thunder and fireworks, while cats stereotypically have a phobia of water. There are, however, many other kind of phobias, and Braitman tells a story of one. A Vietnam veteran, who after jumping out of planes for years, developed a fear of heights. To help cope with the problems he was facing, he got a service dog to help with his PTSD. This dog, after spending time with the Vietnam veteran, became so linked to his owner that he himself developed a phobia of heights. Even though the dog was supposed to serve the veteran, they ended up helping eachother through their phobias.


Animals have been known to suffer from PTSD after suffering from harsh conditions, many times in their younger years. A clear example of this would be a rescue dog, who may still be afraid of tall men or a certain hair color that reminds them of their turbid past. In these cases, it’s important to be patient and take the time to help them overcome their problems.

It’s important to remember, in both both human and animal cases of these mental disorders, that we need to be understanding, patient, and never jump to conclusions. Just as we would try to help the family pet overcome his fear of the vacuum cleaner, we need to help our friend suffering from depression overcome their problems. The best part, you can do those two at the same time! Social relationships can do wonders for animals, humans included.

See the full TED talk here

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