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Designer Drugs for Today’s Pets

By: Rebecca O'Connor

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In 1999 the FDA approved psychotropic drugs for animals and since then the debate has been raging. Are drugs a way to combat extreme behavioral problems or are they a behavioral Band-Aid. Do drugs save the lives of animals that would otherwise be euthanized or do they create easy solutions for lazy pet owners? There is no doubt that these drugs can be easily misused, but there are many pet owners who make a strong case for their value.

Broken down into two classes, these drugs are mainly selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and tricyclics. Both these types of drugs work by inhibiting the levels of serotonin in the brain. Serotonin is believed to affect depression and anxiety. Basically these drugs are lesser doses of the human drugs Prozac, Paxil and Zoloft.

Cats on Drugs?

If you've ever had a cat with a serious spraying problem, you likely know this immense challenge of this problem. Territorial spraying has nothing to do with whether or not a cat has been neutered or spayed. It has nothing to do with whether or not the litter box is clean. Territorial spraying is about marking boundaries and quite possibly a result of anxiety. It isn't just an undesirable behavior for an indoor cat though, it's a destructive one. Having an uncontrollable sprayer may spell the end of your carpet, drapes and couch.

A UC Davis study published in 2001 demonstrated that fluoxetine, or Prozac, reduced feline spraying and many cat owners who previously battled this problem are singing its praises. Once on the medication, in a matter a weeks, many cats cease the behavior and their frustrated owners breathe a sigh of relief. Cat lovers whose cat's display serious behavioral problems sometimes consider drugs as the start of a solution. And these days drugs are't solely for the feline set. Fido sometime needs a little helper too.

Doped up Dogs?

Dogs also have behavior problems that at times confound behavior modification techniques. There are dogs that lick places on their legs or paws incessantly, creating hot spots. Sometime dogs are so fearful during thunderstorms that they become panicked and dangerous to themselves and others. Of course, the most commonly talked about disorder with dogs is separation anxiety. Although this can often be solved strictly with behavior modification there are dogs that need more help.

Sometimes the trick is thoughtful reinforcement and activity to keep separation anxiety controlled, there are dogs that don't seem to respond to anything. Even with a constant schedule of dog walks, visits, and toys, some dogs still go to pieces when their family just goes out to dinner. These dogs destroy everything they can find in their anxiety; couches, woodwork, appliances and often injure themselves. In cases like this, veterinarians are more frequently prescribing drugs to help dog owners get a handle on the behavior and then begin modification training. Clomicalm has been the drug of choice for treating separation anxiety, but there is a new drug this year.

The Newest Addition – Reconcile

Targeting dogs with separation anxiety, beef-flavored Reconcile was licensed by the FDA this year is produced by Eli Lilly. It is a once-daily chewable tablet that has been proven safe from dogs and puppies 6 months or older. It is intended to be used in conjunction with a training program called, BOND that is meant to help pet owners work through their dogs separation anxiety, eliminating inappropriate responses to anxiety. The idea is that decreasing the anxiety with the drugs, allows the dog to focus better on training, which will in the end solve the problem.

Do Animals Need Designer Drugs?

Dogs and cats didn't need drugs thirty years ago so what has happened? Is the introduction of psychotropic drugs a result of increased care or is it an indicator of the overly pampered pet? Perhaps it is a little of both and owners will have to ultimately make the decision about the best way to solve their pets' behavioral issues.

Keep in mind that all these drugs have side effects and must be prescribed by a veterinarian. Your veterinarian is likely to do a full work up on your dog, cat, parrot or other animal to rule out any physical illness. They are also likely to refer you to an experience animal behavior consultant to help you work through the behavior issues, allowing you to wean your pet off the drugs if possible. Keep in mind that it is never a good idea to share your own medication with your pet. Improper dosages can be fatal.


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