The physical and emotional impacts of trauma

Recently, I have seen several dogs who have had life-changing injuries or illnesses and it has made me think about how we care for them compared to significant injuries or illnesses in humans.

The initial diagnosis, surgery, and treatment are often similar to human medicine. However, humans will frequently spend a long time in a hospital or a rehabilitation unit and are given a great deal of support when they go home. On the other hand, our four-legged friends might be discharged after a week’s hospitalisation with nothing more than pain relief and a follow-up appointment. So what can be done to help?

Physical therapies

Often it is the physical aspect of recovery that has the most (if not all) emphasis. So how can we help speed up physical recovery and return them to the maximum function that their injuries will allow?  Depending on the injury/illness they may benefit from:

  • Physiotherapy
  • Hydrotherapy
  • Chiropractic treatment
Amy Taylor
Amy Taylor Level 5 Hydrotherapist

These therapies can (amongst other things):

  • Help build up muscle mass
  • Gradually allow an increased range of movement of an affected joint
  • Alleviate pain or muscular tension

Physical therapy can really make a huge difference to both the speed and degree of recovery achieved.

Environmental adjustments

Another very important (but often overlooked) aspect is assessing and implementing any changes in their home environment that could help them.  Often animals with injuries really struggle on slippery floors so placing rugs at certain points in the house can help them move around the home and gain some independence. For some dogs a harness can be beneficial – it can allow an owner to take some of the dog’s weight allowing them to move around semi-independently when mobility is poor. Boots or paw coverings may be needed when they go outside especially if their disability results in paw scuffing or dragging. Ramps can be useful for steps into or out of the home or garden and for access to the car.

Complementary therapies

As well as conventional treatment:

  • Acupuncture
  • Herbs
  • Supplements
  • Homeopathy

used alongside conventional medications and therapies can also make a big difference.

Acupuncture (the insertion of fine needles at various points over the body) can provide both pain relief and release of muscular tension as well as neurological stimulation.

Homeopathic remedies such as Arnica, Hypericum, Ledum, and Calendula (there are many others) can help recovery post-surgery/ injury depending on the individual case.

There are also many herbs and supplements that can support recovery. Some herbs can interact with medications so if you are unsure it is best to seek the advice of a holistic vet.

Certain types of laser or infra-red therapy can also be useful depending on the injury/illness.

Emotional impacts

This is by far the most overlooked aspect of recovery from injury/ illness in veterinary medicine. In human medicine we recognise that the emotional impact of these life changing injuries is huge and are able to provide trauma counselling to help with this aspect of recovery. It is well recognised that emotional health can have a significant effect on physical recovery.

Once our four-legged friends come home from their hospitalisation they are often traumatised not just by the initial injury, but by the surgery or treatment and being apart from their family. They can’t move around as easily as they once did, which can cause a loss of confidence and result in behavioural problems. Unlike humans, they are unable to vocalise this so it presents itself in other ways such as:

  • Being clingy
  • Restlessness
  • Having separation anxiety
  • The development of fears that they didn’t have before

These behaviours can sometimes be a sign that they might be in discomfort or they may be a side effect of medication, but once these have been ruled out we are left with emotional trauma as being one possible cause.

So, how can we help the emotional recovery of these pets? Providing stability and physical support will often help them to regain some of the confidence that they have lost. It can be a slow process but in time they (and us) come to terms with their trauma and physical disabilities. I often use homeopathy to help them recover from the emotional trauma that they have. Aconite and Arnica are often good remedies for shock. Nat mur and Ignatia can also help with emotional problems (depending on the individual case). Essential oils and herbs such as Passiflora, Valerian, and Skullcap can help with anxiety.

One very important thing that we must not forget is the impact on us humans. An accident or illness resulting in a permanently disabled pet is also extremely traumatic for us. Pets pick up on our emotions so we must also remember to look after ourselves!

Dr Susan Andresier BVetMed MFHom(vet) MRCVS

Susan qualified from the Royal Veterinary College in 2002 and worked in general small animal practice for 10 years. She trained in acupuncture with the Association of British Veterinary Acupuncturists (ABVA) in 2007 and began using acupuncture alongside conventional medicines/therapies.

In 2012 Susan founded Acupaws, a holistic medicine referral service in the south of England. In addition to running her own practice she has completed extensive training in both veterinary herbal medicine and veterinary homeopathy. She has completed five years of study at the Bristol School of Homeopathy and gained the qualification of MFHom(vet). As well as treating her patients Susan enjoys teaching and writing holistic articles.

Susan is the current chairperson of ABVA and is also an active member of the British Association of Homeopathic Veterinary Surgeons (BAHVS).