Strategies to Overcome Dog Bite PTSD


    Sometimes, the injuries that take the longest to heal are psychological in nature. A dog attack can be one of the most traumatic things anyone can endure, leaving dog bite victims with one of the most haunting and problematic mental health issues: post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). While humans regularly fought with animals thousands of years ago, an animal attack today is very rare – and often completely unexpected. This is especially true since dogs can attack without warning, and you might have seen these animals as innocent before the attack. 

    You may be haunted by more than just memories of the attack. Many victims are left with serious scarring across the face and body after a dog attack. Although certain medical procedures can diminish these scars, some leave permanent blemishes. These scars can affect victims’ self-esteem, causing issues like depression, anxiety, and social withdrawal. One look in the mirror can be enough to remind you of the attack and trigger your PTSD.

    The good news is that there is always hope for PTSD victims – and you are certainly not alone in your mental health crisis. Several strategies may help you overcome this crippling mental issue, and a normal, healthy life may be closer than you realize. Many people can help you on this journey, including therapists, doctors, plastic surgeons, and psychotherapists. A personal injury attorney can also help you file an injury claim – giving you the funds you need to cover your medical and mental health expenses.

    How does dog bite PTSD affect dog bite victims?

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    PTSD affects different people in different ways. Sometimes, symptoms appear within a few months of the dog bite. In other cases, symptoms may only appear years after the attack. On a general note, PTSD affects your ability to function in normal life. It may cause issues with your romantic relationships, career, and social circles. Here are some common symptoms of PTSD, as detailed by the Mayo Clinic:

    Intrusive memories

    As a victim of a dog bite who is experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), you may find yourself plagued by intrusive memories. These memories can be distressing and overwhelming, as they intrude upon your thoughts and emotions, often catching you off guard. They may manifest as vivid recollections of the dog bite incident, replaying in your mind like a relentless loop, or as sudden and intense flashbacks that transport you back to the traumatic event as if it were happening all over again. These intrusive memories can be triggered by various cues, such as seeing a dog, hearing a bark, or even encountering a situation that remotely resembles the circumstances of the dog bite.

    The intrusive memories of the dog bite can be incredibly distressing, stirring up a myriad of emotions such as fear, anxiety, anger, or sadness. They may disrupt your daily life, making it difficult to focus on tasks, engage in activities, or interact with others. You may find yourself avoiding situations or triggers that remind you of the dog bite in an attempt to minimize the occurrence of these distressing memories. However, despite your best efforts to avoid them, they may still persist, intruding upon your thoughts and emotions at unexpected times, leaving you feeling helpless and overwhelmed.


    If you are a victim of a dog bite who is experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), you may find yourself engaging in avoidance behavior as a coping mechanism. Avoidance is a common symptom of PTSD, and it can manifest in various ways. You may find yourself avoiding situations, places, or people that remind you of the dog bite incident, or you may avoid talking or even thinking about the event altogether. You may also try to numb your emotions by avoiding any reminders of the dog bite or suppressing your thoughts and feelings related to the traumatic event.

    Avoidance can provide temporary relief from the distressing memories, emotions, and physical sensations associated with the dog bite, but it can also have negative consequences in the long run. Avoidance can reinforce the fear and anxiety associated with the traumatic event, and it can interfere with your ability to process and integrate the experience into your memory and emotions. It can also impact your daily life, as you may find yourself missing out on activities, isolating yourself from loved ones, or experiencing difficulties in work or social settings due to avoidance behaviors.

    Recognizing avoidance as a symptom of PTSD related to the dog bite is an important step toward healing and recovery. It's essential to seek professional help from a qualified mental health professional who can provide you with support and guidance in managing avoidance behaviors.

    Negative changes in thinking and mood

    You may also experience negative emotions about yourself, others, and the world around you. Many dog bite victims blame themselves in an effort to rationalize what has happened. Some feel intense shame and regret, while others lose all hope for their future. You may also be subconsciously suppressing memories of the event in an effort to cope. Other dog bite victims report feelings of numbness, detachment, and a general lack of interest in things that they were previously passionate about. 

    Changes in physical and emotional reactions

    Also known as “arousal symptoms,” these can represent serious changes. You may be easily startled, and you may always be scanning for danger after the attack.

    • Hypervigilance: People with PTSD may be hypervigilant, which means you are constantly on guard and have an exaggerated sense of danger. You may be overly alert to potential threats, including situations involving dogs or other animals. You might have trouble letting your guard down – even when in a relaxed environment like a coffee shop.
    • Substance abuse and recklessness: In an effort to cope, you may engage in self-destructive or dangerous behavior. Some individuals with PTSD may turn to alcohol, drugs, other substances, or even reckless driving as a way to cope with the distressing symptoms. Substance abuse can exacerbate PTSD symptoms and contribute to other negative consequences for the individual's mental and physical health.
    • Sleep disturbances: Many individuals with PTSD experience sleep disturbances, such as insomnia, nightmares, or night sweats. These sleep disruptions can further contribute to feelings of fatigue, irritability, and overall distress.

    PTSD in children

    There is also strong evidence to suggest that PTSD affects children differently after dog bites. These attacks are usually more violent compared to adult attacks, and they may leave victims with worse injuries. This is because a dog bite against an adult typically affects the hands, while a dog bite against a child usually affects the facial area. One study suggests that the rate of PTSD among child dog bite survivors could be up to 50%. The study also found that PTSD is more common among children with serious, deep bite wounds. 

    When children suffer PTSD after dog bites, they may re-enact the attack through play. For example, they may use a toy dog to simulate the attack on a doll. Nightmares are another very common symptom among child PTSD victims after dog bites. 

    Experiencing suicidal thoughts

    Perhaps the worst possible symptom associated with dog bite PTSD is suicidal thoughts. This is more common than many people realize – especially among those who have suffered disfiguring facial scars. These victims may worry that their lives will never be normal again – as they are experiencing both physical and psychological hardships. If you are having these thoughts or you know someone who is, it is important to get help immediately. Simply talking with a therapist can make all the difference. It is also important to remember that most PTSD victims eventually recover – living healthy, normal lives.

    Physical symptoms

    Victims may also encounter physical symptoms that are a result of the traumatic event. The physical symptoms of dog bite PTSD can vary from person to person but may include a range of manifestations.

    You may experience physical symptoms related to the body's stress response, such as muscle tension, headaches, stomachaches, or other physical discomforts. The stress and anxiety associated with the dog bite may also impact your appetite, resulting in changes in eating patterns, weight loss or gain, or digestive issues. It's important to recognize that the physical symptoms you may be experiencing are not just in your head, but are valid responses of your body to the traumatic event.

    Strategies and treatments that work

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    The most obvious option for PTSD victims is trauma counseling. Ideally, victims should begin counseling a few days after the incident. There is a range of techniques within this general category, including:

    Prolonged exposure

    This common technique involves exposing you to the source of your fear until the fear goes away. Obviously, this may mean coming into contact with dogs – and this can be quite scary for some. However, it may also be possible to slowly build up your confidence by engaging in drama therapy and pretending to pet a dog before moving on to the real thing. 

    Cognitive processing therapy

    Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT) is a type of therapy that has been shown to be effective in helping victims of PTSD, including those who have experienced dog bites, with their recovery. CPT is a structured and evidence-based form of cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) that focuses on helping individuals process and reframe their thoughts and beliefs related to the traumatic event. Here's how CPT can assist victims of dog bite PTSD with their recovery:

    1. Challenging and changing negative thoughts: CPT helps you identify and challenge negative or distorted thoughts that may be contributing to your PTSD symptoms. For example, you may have thoughts like "I'm always in danger around dogs" or "It's my fault that the dog bit me." CPT helps you examine these thoughts and replace them with more accurate and balanced thoughts. By changing negative thought patterns, you can reduce anxiety, fear, and other symptoms related to the dog bite trauma.
    2. Processing and integrating the traumatic memories: CPT provides a structured approach to help you process and integrate the traumatic memories related to the dog bite. This may involve talking about the event in a safe and supportive environment, exploring your emotions, and working through any unresolved feelings or questions. Through this process, CPT helps you make sense of the traumatic event and incorporate it into your life narrative in a way that allows for healing and recovery.
    3. Addressing avoidance behaviors: CPT also helps you identify and address avoidance behaviors that may be hindering your recovery. This may include avoiding situations, people, or places that remind you of the dog bite, or avoiding thoughts and feelings related to the traumatic event. CPT provides strategies to gradually confront and process these avoided aspects, helping you reduce avoidance behaviors and their impact on your daily life.
    4. Learning coping skills: CPT equips you with coping skills to manage distressing emotions, physical sensations, and other symptoms associated with dog bite PTSD. These may include relaxation techniques, stress reduction strategies, and emotion regulation skills. CPT also helps you develop problem-solving skills to manage challenges or triggers related to the dog bite, and improve your overall resilience and coping abilities.
    5. Promoting self-compassion and self-care: CPT emphasizes self-compassion and self-care as important components of recovery from dog bite PTSD. It encourages you to be kind to yourself, practice self-compassion, and prioritize self-care activities that promote your physical, emotional, and mental well-being. By nurturing yourself, you can enhance your overall resilience and ability to cope with the challenges of PTSD.

    Cognitive Processing Therapy is typically designed for young children overcoming traumatic experiences and is administered by a trained mental health professional and can be tailored to meet the individual needs of each person. If you have experienced a dog bite and are struggling with PTSD symptoms, consider seeking support from a qualified mental health professional who can guide you through the recovery process using evidence-based therapies such as CPT.

    Eye motion desensitization and reprocessing

    Also known as EMDR, this is a slightly more interesting treatment option that involves bilateral stimulation of your eyes to help release emotions that are blocked by trauma. 

    Of these strategies, CPT and prolonged exposure are the most common. They have helped military veterans and a range of other individuals who have suffered serious traumatic events. A range of other less common techniques may be more helpful for certain people, including more traditional practices like yoga or meditation. You may have to try several different treatment options before you find something that works for you. 

    How to seek justice for injuries

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    The best way to seek justice for injuries from a dog bite attack is to contact a qualified personal injury attorney at your earliest convenience. In Illinois, dog owners and landlords can be held “strictly liable” for the injuries caused by their animals. This means that it is relatively easy to pursue justice and compensation without necessarily proving negligence.

    The legal process might feel daunting, especially if you struggle with serious psychological issues. You might fear that filing an injury claim will cause you to “relive” the traumatic dog attack – making your symptoms even worse. While these fears are valid, it is important to realize that your attorney can handle most of the legal process while you focus on healing. 

    Most injury claims are settled out of court, which means that you probably will not need to go to trial to receive compensation. Your requirements should be relatively minimal, and you can pursue justice while simultaneously getting the treatment you need for your PTSD. 

    Where can I find a qualified, experienced personal injury attorney in Chicago?

    If you or a family member have been searching for a qualified, experienced dog bite attorney in Chicago, contact the law firm of Palermo Law Group. We know how traumatic dog attacks can be, and we are ready to help you fight for justice in the most efficient way possible. Mental health treatment can be very expensive, and there is no reason why improving your quality of life after an attack should come out of your own pocket. If a negligent dog owner was responsible for your attack, you have every right to file a claim and pursue compensation. This compensation can help you pay for your medical expenses, missed wages, emotional distress, and much more. 

    We understand that talking about this incident can be very distressing, and we will approach your first consultation with care and consideration. Reach out today and take your first steps toward justice, compensation, and closure. Remember, you may lose the opportunity to sue if you wait too long – and internet research only gets you so far.



    Mario Palermo is the Founder and Lead Attorney at Palermo Law Group in Oak Brook, Illinois. For the past 26 years, he has worked tirelessly to help injury victims and their families in their times of need. He is a seasoned authority on civil litigation, and also a member of the Million Dollar Advocates Forum, a prestigious group of trial lawyers who have won million and multi-million dollar verdicts and settlements. Mr. Palermo has been named a “Leading Lawyer” by his peers in 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020, 2021 and 2022.

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