Causes of dog hallucinations may vary based on several factors such as the type of hallucinations experienced and the context in which they occur. If you believe your dog is hallucinating, you may wonder whether dogs have hallucinations as it may happen in people, and if so, what causes dog hallucinations and what you can do about it. Hallucinations are simply experiences involving the apparent perception of something that is not present. Dogs may at times seem as if they are seeing things that we don’t see, but in several cases, what appears to be a dog hallucination, in reality is something else.
Types of Hallucinations
There are different types of hallucinations that can affect dogs and these are based on the dog’s senses involved. The most common type of hallucination reported by dog owners includes hallucinations of the visual type. Visual hallucinations in dogs make affected dogs appear as if they are seeing things that in reality are not there.
No, we’re not talking abut paranormal activity, such as dogs seeing ghosts but more concrete things such as dogs seeing “flies” (Fly Catchers Syndrome, also known as Star Gazing Syndrome), dogs startling for no apparent reason, dogs staring fixedly at objects or dogs chasing imaginary shadows or avoiding imaginary objects.
Another type of hallucinations are those of the auditory type. Affected dogs act as if they are hearing things that in reality are not there. This type of hallucination is difficult to verify because dogs have a superior sense of hearing than humans and therefore hear things that are not within human hearing range.
In many instances, real hallucinations in dogs are difficult to verify in dogs. The only way would be to have an EEG (electroencephalogram) done so to check for motor activity in the visual cortex, explains veterinarian Dr. Gary.
“Because animals cannot directly report delusional and hallucinatory behaviors, a diagnosis of a psychotic condition in animals is difficult to confirm and must be presumed. “~ Dr. Vint Virga, veterinary behaviorist
Causes of Dog Hallucinations
What appear to be hallucinations in dogs can simply be expressions of something going on physically or mentally. If your general veterinarian is having a hard time finding a diagnosis, a referral to a board- certified veterinary neurologist may turn more insightful. The veterinary neurologist may suggest an MRI and cerebrospinal fluid analysis. Following are some potential causes of dog hallucinations or what seem to be allucinations.
Focal seizures are often a condition confused for a dog having hallucinations. In this case, it is possible that a part of the dog’s brain which processes vision suffers from damage, causing affected dogs to appear as if they are”seeing things.” Recording the dog’s behavior during an episode and showing it to the vet may help the vet come to a diagnosis. If these episodes escalate, anti-convulsive drugs such as phenobarbital may ameliorate the situation.
In some cases, other types of issues in the brain may cause behavior changes such as a tumor and a condition known as meningioencelphalitits.
Diseases of the liver can sometimes cause a dog to have hallucinations. In particular, liver problems that cause hepatic encephalopathy can be a trigger for some unusual behavior in dogs. Among these behaviors are sitting and staring in a corner. When hepatic encephalopathy takes place, the poorly functioning liver may allow ammonia levels to rise in the dog’s bloodstream causing intoxication of the brain and therefore changes in the dog’s mentation (mental status). A bile acids test is something that might be worth checking in an affected dog.
Exposure to Toxins
Exposure to drugs and toxins may at times cause behavior changes that are confused for dog hallucinations. Potential culprits may include exposure to mental health medications used in humans such as antidepressants, anti-anxiety, meds or exposure to ketamine, toxic mushrooms ( Psilocybe, Panaeolus, Conocybe and Gymnopilus species) or even marijuana. Sometimes ingestion of mold can cause significant behavior changes that may be confused with hallucinations.
Skin Crawling Sensation
Dog reactions to flea products may also cause dogs to act oddly at times. As the fleas crawl about and perish, they may cause affected dogs to act weird. Any “skin crawling” feelings on the dog as caused by bugs, insect bites and allergies may cause unusual reactions. Dogs who stare at walls or in the space may do so as they focus on the crawling sensation.
At times, dogs who seem to be victims of auditory hallucinations are just reacting to sounds produced by critters in the attic or basement. With their strong sense of hearing, consider that dogs are capable of hearing in the ultrasonic range, which the human ear cannot.
Another possibility for dog hallucinations is the presence of vitreous floaters, basically small pieces of retina that end up detaching and floating around in the vitreous humour of the eye, explains veterinarian Dr. Salkin. Dogs see these as dark spots moving about as they move their eyes.
“For some pets, when they are “seeing” things that aren’t there, it could be due to eye issues. They could have debris inside the eye (floaters) that are physically causing them to see things but they are inside the eye and not out front.”~Dr. Bruce.
Low Blood Sugar
A possible cause for a dog walking around as if he’s seeing things can be low blood sugar, explains veterinarian Dr. Eli. In such a case, once the dog is provided with a source of sugar, the symptoms disappear.
In some cases, a dog that appears to be having hallucinations may be acting this way due to behavior problems. A dog may sometimes act in certain ways when he learns he gets attention. First instance, if a dog chases a shadow and the owners laugh or talk to the dog giving him attention, if the attention is craved and therefore, perceived as reinforcing enough to the dog, the behavior may strengthen and repeat over time. Dogs who perform attention-seeking behaviors typically perform the behavior when the owner is present. In some cases, compulsive disorders may originate this way.
OCD (obsesive compulsive disorder) is mental condition that can cause what looks like dog hallucinations. An obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) can cause a dog to perform repetitive, patterned behaviors that interferes with the dog’s health and over all well-being. In the case of a compulsive behavior disorder, behavioral therapy and environmental modification along with the use of drugs such as prozac, may help. Punishment should never be used since it can exacerbate the anxiety and ultimately worsen the problem.