Can my pet literally be “scared to death?”

brain and heartIn humans, there is a condition known as Takotsubo cardiomyopathy. This is a rare disorder in which the heart stops working after an emotionally traumatic event such as loss of a loved one, a natural disaster, a terrorist attack,  etc…

In wildlife medicine there is a condition known as capture myopathy. This is a condition in which an animal becomes so stressed/frightened that they die after being chased or caught.

I know many of my clients have expressed concerns that their dog is so anxious at times, they fear their dog may have a heart attack. Although, the majority of dogs will not have a heart attack from being anxious, there is in fact a real physiological connection between the mind and the heart. In the conditions mentioned above, there can be a mass release of the fight, flight, freeze, or faint hormones that can have devastating affects on the heart.

Too often, we want a nice clear divide between a “medical” issue and a “behavioral” issue. In reality, there is not always a nice  divide. Behavioral issues can lead to physical issues and physical issues can lead to behavioral issues. For those of us who work in the field of behavior, we are well aware that how an animal perceives things can wreak havoc on the animals physical and psychological wellbeing. We are also aware of the benefits of treating anxiety disorders in dogs who have underlying heart issues,  in hopes of keeping the heart  as healthy as possible for as long as possible while, of course, decreasing the anxiety simply for the welfare of the pet.

For those of you who are intrigued by the similarities between diseases (both physical and emotional) that humans and non human animals share, I would encourage you to read a book called Zoobiguity. One of the authors is a human board certified cardiologist AND psychiatrist.

Published in: on June 2, 2013 at 8:35 pm  Comments (3)  

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3 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. I guess I’ve never really thought about an animal being that scared, but I suppose it would be similar to a person experiencing a panic attack or something. A mental issue causing physical pain?

  2. My tiny Pomeranian (7yrs old) died on Valentine’s day and I believe it was from fright. I was taking her outside to potty that night and didn’t realize that deck was slick. I was carrying her and my feet flew out from under me. When I landed I was on my back still holding her. I set her down behind my head and when I turned to look she was laying on her side dead. I had her to the vet just a couple weeks before and her heart was fine but I truly believe that her little heart just stopped from fear that night. I was so very heart broken.

  3. I watched a neighbor’s labrador die after being taken to a fireworks show. Idiots! She took off running and then collapsed. She was breathing very, very fast and had a blank look to her eyes. Her heart gave out about 20 minutes later. It was horrible!


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