Can animals come down with PTSD in the wild by themselves? For example, would a gazelle that nearly pulls away from a cheetah at the last second and heard the cheetah's jaws clamping down at air right behind it's tail, show symptoms of stress and anxiety after the event?

And if not, why can we as humans succumb to these kinds of disorders, and not animals in the wild?

  • $\begingroup$ @YviDe I think he is asking if any level of stress can be emotionally conveyed by an animal in the wild. Any signs of depression after the animal has been exposed to a stressful situation will work, because we cannot so simply measure their emotional stability and talk to them to see how depressed they are as we can with humans. $\endgroup$
    – White Fang
    Mar 15, 2016 at 15:08

2 Answers 2


Peter Levine speaks to this in his book, "Waking the Tiger: Healing Trauma". Most animals in the wild which experience a trauma through natural species interactions will go through a sequence of recovery stages.

First, when the trauma or death is considered inevitable, the animal will "faint", losing sensory awareness and consciousness. If the trauma or death is averted, the animal will then partially waken out of that faint, and "shake off" the trauma.

This "shaking off" looks remarkably like an epileptic fit, but when the movements are analyzed, they are a muscle-twitch repeat of the sequence of movements that animal took from the time it realized its hazard to the time it fainted. It is this same muscle-twitch capacity which allows human athletes to practice their skills both mentally and physically, without moving from one spot.

Once the "shaking off" is complete, the animal is able to rise and continue its life activities without any longer-term impacts such as PTSD.

Neurologist Dr. Robert Scaer has an explanation for this lack of PTSD. Lasting trauma is only taken on when the "victim" experiences repeated episodes of the same kind of helplessness and hopelessness. We humans are very good at giving ourselves and other species repeated episodes of helplessness and hopelessness, and animals which interact with us often pay a price in PTSD.


In short, yes. It is not the same disorder we as humans suffer from, as our brains are much more advanced and more of our brain is affected. Species of animals such as elephants and chimpanzees, found to have many social and neurobiological similarities with humans, have been found to suffer from this disorder.

PTSD describes anxiety based responses from witnessing life threatening responses. Animals are used quite often when it comes to studying the effects of certain events on a human's life, and many experiments have proved that they do, indeed, suffer from this disorder.

According to this, experiments have been undertaken to replicate torture, loss of a family member, and incarceration humans are exposed to during wartime.

Most elephants in these experiments have suffered from not just PTSD, but from many different stress disorders in captivity. They have been wrenched from their natural environment in which the communities that made up their lives previously are not there to comfort them.

It may be that wild animals can suffer from PTSD for a while, but most likely not for their full lives. Lone animals may suffer from this a little bit more than, say, an elephant in a herd will, so it is entirely possible that they can experience it.

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Please add some reference, like for "Elephants have been found to suffer from depression..." or "Captive animals...have been found to suffer from PTSD...". $\endgroup$ Mar 15, 2016 at 15:13
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ I just fixed it. $\endgroup$
    – White Fang
    Mar 15, 2016 at 15:31

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