As with any violent event, dog attacks can be extremely stressful. They can leave you with lasting injuries, requiring painful recovery and rehabilitation. But they can also cause you to question your safety.
Are those dogs walking in the park safe to come near? Is that unleashed pet going to cause another nightmare? Here’s how even a single bite can cause lasting psychological damage.
What is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder?
PTSD is a cluster of symptoms that tend to occur in response to extreme environmental trauma. While everyone reacts differently to stressful events, those who suffer from clinical PTSD experience several characteristic symptoms.
The diagnostic and statistical manual of psychology separates these into four categories:
- Intrusive thoughts, including memories or uncontrollable “flashbacks.”
- Changes in memory, mental ability, or mood. These changes can include memory deficits or extremely powerful memories of an initial event. Symptoms of depression or anxiety also occur.
- Avoidance of situations, sights, sounds, or smells that remind one of an initial trigger.
- Enhanced reactivity. This can include outbursts of anger or signs of general nervous system arousal, such as startling easily.
Virtually any highly stressful event can cause symptoms of traumatic stress, but common sufferers include assault victims, soldiers or marines returning from combat, and car accident victims.
Of course, not everyone who experiences these events develops a psychological illness. Genetic factors, personal traits, environmental triggers, and previous trauma can all influence your chances of developing PTSD.
If you’ve suffered a bite or another extreme event, you shouldn’t try to diagnose yourself with PTSD. Only a licensed clinical psychologist can diagnose you with a disorder, and psychologists are specially trained to gather facts and signs before making their decision.
How Can a Dog Bite Cause PTSD?
Dogs are cute, friendly, and fun, and many millions of Americans eagerly share their homes with them. But this constant proximity means that, statistically, injuries and deaths are bound to happen. U.S. hospitals report around 4.5 million dog bites each year. Dog bites, therefore, cause far more injury, trauma, and stress than other large-animal-related incidents average citizens are likely to encounter.
Your psychological reaction to a bite may depend on your relationship with the responsible animal. Family pets very rarely attack family members, as they usually form close bonds with their human “pack.” They may, however, attack children, whom they may see as competitors, and certain animals may bite their human owners from anxiety.
Family Pet Incidents
When family pet bites do occur, they tend to cause persistent anxiety in the home, and some victims may feel that they constantly risk serious injury. Even when the offending animal is rehomed or, in severe cases, put down, victims often blame themselves or avoid going where they may find other dogs.
A severe injury can result in unwanted lifestyle changes, affecting a victim’s sense of general security in the world. If something so serious could happen so quickly, they may think, what other risks am I exposed to every day? Victims who regularly have such thoughts may find themselves living increasingly isolated lives.
A major research study by the National Canine Research Council found that most serious bites are caused by a familiar dog. This included pets owned by friends or family members. 85% of hospitalizations happened after a pet bit its owner.
The researchers, however, cautiously emphasized the difference between family animals and animals who lived in the same residence as a family. Those without consistent human contact, and who spent most of their lives outdoors, were significantly more likely to bite than a beloved family pet.
Stray and Unfamiliar Animal Incidents
Though stray dogs cause under a quarter of recorded bites, this figure may be somewhat misleading. Most people spend much more time with family and friends’ pets than in places where stray animals are likely to be. Untrained strays or unleashed pets, therefore, may be disproportionately likely to bite.
Victims of stray or unfamiliar animals may develop more post-traumatic avoidance than victims of family pets. After such a seemingly random event, the outside world can seem full of untrained dogs and other serious dangers.
How Does a Dog Attack Affect Your Life?
Depending on where your bite occurred, as well as other factors, like whether you suffered deep puncture or tear wounds, a single attack can require months to years of healing and rehabilitation.
Some attacks are severe enough to cause permanent disability or disfigurement, which can place a considerable financial strain on your family life. You may lose your capacity to perform meaningful work, and you may feel unable to care for your family.
If your injury is less severe but you require physical therapy, you may need to devote much of your time to rehabilitation. This too can affect your work and family, affording you less time to make ends meet.
The physical, financial, and logistical impacts of an unexpected attack can worsen your emotional reaction. This is natural, as general stress and post-traumatic stress are intimately linked. You might, for example, have trouble sleeping or experience nightmares more frequently if you can’t pay your bills. This life-stress-PTSD interaction can create a vicious cycle of worsening symptoms.
Are Children at Greater Risk of Trauma?
Dog bites often cause greater psychological trauma to children. Children are smaller than adults, and dogs are larger relative to them. But this isn’t the only reason they suffer disproportionately.
Young children lack the ability to rationalize and compartmentalize their feelings, so they tend to generalize their fear and anxiety more readily than adults.
Children develop lifelong responses to stressors from an early age. Serious traumatic events can create lasting fears and aversions, and such aversions don’t always follow rational rules. Where an adult, for example, might learn to avoid inner city parks, a child might fear any activity in which a caretaker is more than an arm’s length away.
Are Some Breeds More Likely To Cause Injury and Trauma Than Others?
Most people consider certain breeds to be more dangerous than others. Rottweilers, Dobermans, pit bull terriers, and German shepherds indeed cause far more serious injuries than their representation in the population would suggest. But there is little research to say that these breeds are more likely to cause symptoms of PTSD.
Bites from other, more innocuous-looking breeds, might be equally or more likely to cause trauma, as they are unexpected. Certain breeds, such as collies or poodles, don’t carry fearsome reputations, but they still cause many injuries and hospitalizations per year.
A breed’s size is currently the only quality that correlates with an increased likelihood of causing psychological trauma. Larger animals have more powerful jaws and can therefore inflict greater damage. Severer injuries cause more pain and suffering, so they create more trauma.
What Should You Do if You’ve Suffered a Dog Attack?
If you’ve been injured by a pet or stray canine, your condition may be the result of someone else’s negligence. If the owner of the animal that hurt you failed in their responsibility to control, train, or leash their pet, you are entitled to compensation.
At Jason Stone Injury Lawyers, we’re here to help you recover and get your life back. We don’t charge upfront fees, and we won’t see a dollar until we settle your case. Call today for a consultation. There’s no obligation, just information.