Customer Reviews: Animal Madness: How Anxious Dogs, Compulsive Parrots, and Elephants in Recovery Help Us Understand Ourselves
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Laurel Braitman's experiences as a twelve-year-old on a farm with Mac, a miniature donkey she bottle fed, affected her whole life when he grew up to be a biter and kicker despite her love. Years later, she and her husband adopted a four-year-old Bernese Mountain dog on which they had no background information, and again, the results were not what she had hoped. Desperately in need of attention, Oliver received it from Braitman and her husband without restraint. Despite this, he still remained so anxious whenever he was left alone that he literally "went crazy," eventually becoming a "liability at the dog park." Separation anxiety was just the tip of the iceberg with Oliver, who becomes a recurrent image in the book.

Beginning a serious, very intense study of animal behavior, Braitman spends three years at animal sanctuaries, zoos, aquariums, water parks, and animal research centers throughout the world, creating a body of work that is thorough and academically rigorous enough to have earned her a PhD in the History of Science at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She recognizes, however, that the audience for this book is quite different from the academic audience to which she presented her original research. Here her goal is to show that all animals do share some basic characteristics and needs with other animals, including humans, and they are often subject to the same psychological problems as humans. She also understands and hopes to assuage the emotions of guilt, helplessness, and sadness among pet lovers like herself who have discovered that love is not always enough in dealing with a seriously disturbed animal.

Thanks to the research of animal behaviorists over the last hundred years, a "mad elephant," a gorilla with "night terrors" and extreme "homesickness," and a "brokenhearted" bear, may now be diagnosed with conditions similar to some of the "codes of behavior" mentioned in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (1952), which identifies and names the psychiatric problems which humans face, and some of the same medications used to treat human problems are now being prescribed for animals with similar issues.

Providing ample examples of abnormal behaviors among displaced animals at zoos, marine centers, and aquariums across the United States, Braitman discusses animals with a variety of disorders: PTSD, generalized anxiety disorders, separation anxiety, attachment disorders, generalized panic disorders, obsessive compulsive disorders. Even Alzheimer's disease is being diagnosed now in animals. Enrichment programs for captive animals and even "family therapy" are now being used to help some animals which have not been able to deal with the reality of their current existence. Ultimately, Braitman questions whether some animals may even commit suicide, be it a dolphin's "passive suicide" to the apparently deliberate stranding of many whales, sea lions, and monk seals. As Braitman says, "I discovered that the guilty country is crowded. So many of us are there looking for answers and blaming ourselves, wondering what would have happened if..." Eventually, she concludes, "Animal madness isn't our fault, though - not always anyway..." This book may help to assuage some of that guilt by providing more information on the inner lives of our pets.
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on July 11, 2014
As an animal scientist, I found this book to be a good read that was full of interesting stories. However, I feel that the author lacked substance in some areas of the book, and failed to remain unbiased. People should remember that the author is not an animal scientist, so she has limited understanding of animal behavior, psychology, and physiology. As a result, she may make statements that are written from the perspective of a concerned animal lover which can be very relatable. However, these statements may fail to take into account the genetics, instincts, physiology, etc. of the animal or species being discussed that may account for strange behavior.

Overall, I would describe this book as a book on the history of animal mental distress. It discussed many stories of animals that have mental problems and why that may be. The book, however, will not provide much insight on how to cure animals of mental illness.


- This book is easy to read

- The book contains a ton of interesting stories about animals that are struggling mentally and discusses their life history.

- The author covered a wide variety of reasons that animals may develop mental problems beyond just bad life experiences. This was very interesting to read about.


- The author fails to discuss why some animals go "insane" while others do not in similar situations. I feel like discussing why some animals in zoos struggle while others thrive would have helped our understanding of animal "insanity".

- I would have liked the author to spend more time discussing effective treatments for struggling animals. I felt like she skimmed over changes that help to improve animal well-being. For people reading this book who work with distressed animals this information would have been very helpful.

- The author spends too much time discussing her dislike of zoos. It is hard to trust the science when her biases are very clear. Furthermore, having worked in zoos, it is clear that she lacks a fundamental understanding of animal behavior and the best way to manage it. She has only a superficial understanding of zoos and lets her emotions rule her "scientific" writing.

- Her information on animal suicide is scientifically lacking. It is clearly very emotionally written, while the science is almost ignored.

- The author falls prey to anthropomorphism at times when I do not feel that the science backs her claims.

- At some point in the book the author seems to start writing as if she is an animal behaviorist. She is not and some of her opinions on how animals should be treated or are treated are really ridiculous. She should stick to the science.
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VINE VOICEon June 22, 2014
The author tries to explain how aniamals are basically driven mad by the actions of humans, and that if we learned to compassionately coesixt with other species we would all be better off.

Early in the book the author does a nice job of showing how Alzheimers in humans and dementia in dogs are closely correlated, with the primary difference being that due to the shorter life span of dogs they don't have time for plaque to build up in their brains but instead suffer dementia from atherosclerosis [hardening and narrowing of cranial arteries].

She also points out how anxiety occurs among the lower ranking animals of a pack or group with their brains being constantly bathed in stress hormones as opposed to the higher ranking members who suffer from much less stress which can correlate nicely to the differences in human society between the very well off and the middle and lower ranking members of society trying to make do.

Something that I never realized before is the primate mothers who were raised in isolation as babies, say in old time zoos and circuses do not know how to nurse and will often push their young away. They are now provided with lactation consultants by watching other primates nurse theier young and sometimes even human surogates, this use of human females as surrogates more frequently done in poorer countries.

We are also told that as late as the later 19th century, it was thought that animals contracted rabies as punishment for some evil act they had done, and throughout the 19th and well into the twentieth century homesickness was considered a physical illness with the terms nostalgia and homesickness being used interchangeably. [p71]

Trichotillomania [pulling out your own hair] an anxiety reaction and now considered as a form of OCD in the latest DSM-V affects about 1.5% of males and 3.5% of females in the USA. It is also present in six other primates besides humans as well as among mice, rats, guinea pigs, rabbits, sheep, musk oxen, dogs, and cats. [p144]

The author documents some animal suicide behavior with the most famous member being a dolphin named KATHY [the mani one of six] that played the part of FLIPPER on the 1960s TV show of that name. She literally died in the arms of her trainer, Ric O'Barry on 4/12/1970. [p166] I loved that show, and who didn't love FLIPPER?

We are told that 14-17% of all the dogs in the USA suffer from some degree of separation anxiety.. [p220] And how elephants become so attached to their mahouts that they are jealous of all other human companions of the mahouts to the point of being aggressive towards other humans, which can lead to a very celebate lifestyle for the mahouts. :-0

And last but not least we learn that 10-15% of the gray whales who come to the lagoons off Baja.Mexico to calve and mate prefer human company to associating with their own species and will actually come up to small boats and make eye contact and let people pet them. LIke, how cool is that!

This is a great book, easy to read, full of facts of which I have merely brushed the surface, and t goes a long way in showing the interconnectedness of mental process between humans and other species. HIghly recommended.
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on June 17, 2014
Fun to read even if you've never heard of Konrad Lorenz and backed up by scientific studies from the new-ish and exciting field of ethology (mindful animal behavior), Animal Madness is a refreshing cutting edge way to read about the animals in our lives. Braitman shows us relationships to animals not as simply anthropomorphic projections, but intelligent beings who suffer and thrive just as we do. A must read to better understand our animals mental health or just to validate that yes, maybe your dog IS crazy!
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on June 18, 2014
Laurel Braitman translates the world of psychology and behavioral studies through stories so entertaining you forget you're actually learning stuff. Leave it to an MIT Ph.D. who grew up on a southern California coastal ranch to weave together distant worlds. #1 in Animal Psychology right now on Amazon, although this book reaches far beyond your "normal" definition of animal and reminds us to include humans as animals too. Highly recommended.
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on June 29, 2014
As an animal lover and owner of three dogs at present, I enjoyed this book tremendously. It confirms what I have always thought: that animals' mental lives are more like ours than most people realize. This book is written with humor, intelligence, and compassion. I recommend it highly.
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on July 14, 2014
Animal Madness is an exploration of the mental abnormalities of the animals around us and how they resemble and are treated like human mental illnesses. I thought the book was interesting, particularly the discussion of nineteenth and early twentieth century accounts of the mental problems of animals and how they mirrored the understanding of human mental health at that time. Some of the descriptions of the more extreme cases of mental illness in animals and how they were treated were also intriguing. The story of the author's Bernese mountain dog and his battle with untreatable anxiety was particularly heartbreaking.

Reading this book, it becomes clear that human management (and mismanagement) of animals has a big impact on their mental health. However, maybe because I work with an animal welfare organization, that's not exactly news to me. I wish the author had focused on more extreme cases of mental illness in animals, because I was underwhelmed with some of her examples--the behaviors that she describes are so common as to be unremarkable to anyone who works with animals on a regular basis. For example, she describes the behavior of an orphaned donkey that she bottle raised when she was a child--he bites frequently and unexpectedly, is hostile and aggressive toward other animals, and is fascinated with people. And that's about what you might expect from an animal that wasn't properly socialized to other animals as a baby (and, according to the author, was also weaned too soon). In fact, I have a cat with similar (less severe) behaviors, probably because she didn't get enough time with her mother/litter mates as a kitten. Is she "disturbed," as the author labels the donkey? I have a hard time seeing her that way, although her personality is more difficult than that of my other cats. But if my cat is mentally ill, so are a lot of other dogs and cats out there.

That aside, the book is a worthwhile read for anyone who is interested in the topic of mental illness in both the animals around us and in the human animal.

An ARC of Animal Madness was provided by the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
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VINE VOICEon July 11, 2015
Humans are lucky animals.

We aren’t particularly strong, fast, or resilient, we can’t peck through solid pine, generate perfectly symmetrical calcium shells, fly, change the color of our skin to match the background nor any of the other amazing things animals can do. But we have a special skill that has guaranteed our survival: we can complain.

More specifically, we can vocalize our thoughts. And because we talk, we can complain about the things that bother us, like mental health issues, and seek remedy.

Non-speaking animals, lacking this one slender skill, seem to suffer from many of the same mental health problems as humans — PTSD, abandonment issues, sexual dysfunction, suicidal thoughts — but since they can’t complain, they wind up stuck in cages and zoos and pens and farms and logging camps (elephants) and eventually, for some, on dinner plates — while suffering from extreme mental health issues.

It shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise that animals rely on the same (if, perhaps, less sophisticated) mental heuristics and evolutionarily adaptive cognitive strategies as humans. Sure, they may be expressed differently — some primates rely on grooming to strengthen social networks, for example, while humans rely on small talk and gossip — but the goals, broadly speaking, are the same: eat, reproduce and ensure the survival of the species. If we think about human mental misbehaviors as a misfiring or misappropriation of these cognitive systems, it’s natural — expected, really — that animals, whose brains are made of the same stuff as ours and who seek similar goals, would have similar issues.

Factor in the abysmal way they are treated — from circuses to street performers, from zoos to laboratories, from aquariums to (in some cases) family pets — and uncharacteristic neurotic behavior seems like the ONLY sane response.

This book is a tour of mental health issues in the animal world through (a short span of) history and across species as the author investigates how we think about animals and madness, which, of course, is more of a reflection about how we think of ourselves. Much of it is fascinating and depressing, with clinical observations from behavioralists, psychiatrists and psychologists — practicing on both humans and nonhumans — with lots of observational anecdotes of animals behaving strangely and tragically.

The book blends hard and theoretical science with the personal, and I found it a bit too personal at times. She uses her experience with her doomed dog Oliver as the narrative thread to hold it all together, which worked very well, but I found myself a bit bored by the often too-long descriptions of elephant and their mahouts in Thailand, or making eye contact with baby whales, etc. I wanted more and harder science; a tall order given that the main subjects can’t speak.

Descriptions of how doctors once thought humans could die of heartbreak or homesickness seguing into societal norms on slavery and the growing understanding of PTSD, projected onto murder charges against elephants, was the stand out section for me.

She’s a strong writer with a lyrical (at times, too lyrical) style that invites readers to share her journey to understanding. Her strong views on animal rights — notably, that zoos shouldn’t exist — will likely offend some, but I wanted her to go farther and tackle the moral ambivalence of dietary choices. In light of the clearly sophisticated cognitive landscapes of animals, so eerily similar to humans, it would seem her discomfort with imprisoning animals for our viewing pleasure should be matched, or even eclipsed, by discomfort consuming them. But that topic was only mentioned in passing a few times, and often in regard to intolerable conditions in factory farms; perhaps that’s another book in the works?

All in all, a worthy, depressing read.
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on July 15, 2014
another great entry into the examination of how much like us animals are -- and/or how much like animals we are. Excellent analysis of the cases presented, allowing for some interesting comparisons and thought provoking questions that have gone un-asked until lately. Husband and I have both enjoyed the read and the ideas it brings up.
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on August 23, 2014
I'm very lucky that Laurel Braitman stopped by my blog to tell me that the book was in Kindle format. I'd seen her TED talk and listened to her on KQED, and she came off as a very intelligent and reasonable person.

As I work with animals on a daily basis and have experience with bipolar disorder, this book was certainly up my alley.

The stories that she goes through are fascinating, funny, and heartbreaking. I was absolutely horrified when reading of their dog jumping out of a fourth story apartment window due to extreme emotional distress :( It's an easy read and something about her style of narration really added a rich, personal element to the book. She doesn't back down from taking responsibility for mistakes, and coherently communicates what she has learned through her experiences.

For anyone interested in the relationships and similarities between us and our furry, feathered, scaled, whatever friends, I would highly recommend this book. It should be much more common that people recognize the genuine mental disorders that animals are capable of suffering, and I especially like that she keeps a neutral and objective stance on pharmaceutical interventions; too often this category of book rejects "unnatural" practices.

It's not a technical work, but that's why it's so wonderful. These stories, for me, really provoked thought about our connection, as animals, to the other creatures around us. :)
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