Prozac Pets

I don't know how I feel about this new trend of giving household pets human anti-depressants. Here's James Vlahos in the Times Magazine:

The practice of prescribing medications designed for humans to animals has grown substantially over the past decade and a half, and pharmaceutical companies have recently begun experimenting with a more direct strategy: marketing behavior-modification and "lifestyle" drugs specifically for pets. America's animals, it seems, have very American health problems. More than 20 percent of our dogs are overweight; Pfizer's Slentrol was approved by the F.D.A. last year as the country's first canine anti-obesity medication. Dogs live 13 years on average, considerably longer than they did in the past; Pfizer's Anipryl treats cognitive dysfunction so that absent-minded pets can remember the location of the supper bowl or doggy door. For lonely dogs with separation anxiety, Eli Lilly brought to market its own drug Reconcile last year. The only difference between it and Prozac is that Reconcile is chewable and tastes like beef.

On the one hand, it's one of those bourgeois habits that's all too easy to mock. We think we're helping our animals - most pills are prescribed for "separation anxiety" - but we're actually indulging in some reckless experimentation. A dog can't tell us that he'd rather not take the little blue pill, or that he preferred his mindset before we started slipping tricyclics into his doggie bowl. It's the kind of foolishness that makes me wish Evelyn Waugh were still around.

And yet, as a pet-owner, I completely understand the urge to do everything possible to make these animals happy. As I write this post, my African Grey parrot is standing on her perch saying "I love people!" (I'm not joking - that's her favorite refrain.) She feels like a member of the family, so it's easy to understand how, if my vet diagnosed her with some emotional disorder, I'd be tempted to put some Prozac in her foodbowl. (That is, if my vet recommended such a thing.)

In the end, though, I find this paragraph pretty compelling:

Pharmacological treatments, furthermore, are sometimes more for the convenience of owners than they are for the health of pets. When the dog bites, when the cat pees -- "a lot of the 'behavior problems' we see are actually normal behaviors for the animal," Dodman says. Cats aren't mentally ill if they attack a new feline in the household or claw furniture to mark their domain. Food guarding and aggression toward strangers boost a dog's survival rate in the wild but don't cut it in the living room. And both cats and dogs demarcate territory with urine. "If a dog goes to the bathroom on a bush outside, you don't mind as long as it's not your bush," Dodman says. "But when he comes back to the house and lifts his leg on your chair, it's like, 'Is the dog mentally sick?' "

What do you think? Would you give your dog or cat an anti-depressant if your vet recommended it?

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Great. It's not enough that we rely on pharmaceuticals to solve our problems, now we subject our poor pets to drugs' adverse effects, solving their problems according to a human model. I am not opposed to drugs themselves, rather to the pharmaceutical culture that insists that our lives can be enriched by one substance or another, forgoing more traditional treatments or relying on the human body's incredible capacity to self-heal and leading doctors to write scrips rather than seek out the real problem. Meanwhile the booming drug industry puts lotsa money into executives' deep pockets. Anyway, I just don't think we should medicate our animals; they can't even make the decision for themselves!

Absolutely not. If my hypothetical dog were depressed, that'd be my damn problem. If a person can't spend enough time with a pet to train it properly and provide companionship for it, maybe they ought to rethink having one. They aren't ambulatory fuzzballs to be cuddled when you feel like it and ignored when you don't.

Hmmn. I guess my question would be what is the vet attempting to treat and what are the expected results. Certainly a veterinarian cannot expect to treat feelings and constructs. (Who am I kidding people expect all kinds of things they shouldn't-- but a vet definitely shouldn't intend to.)

I imagine with animals a vet must do what I try to tell parrot people to do at my behavior lectures -- let go of managing animal emotions and focus on measurable behavior. I cannot tell you how to make your grey less angry or jealous (if they even are -- who knows I've yet to read a man's mind, let alone my grey parrot's), but I CAN help you figure out how to manage the behavior of your parrot biting your finger or chasing your girlfriend down the hall. Behavior has an antecedent and a consequence. I imagine medicine should have a measurable antecent and a measurable consequence as well.

To me this means if a vet is treating something measurable and defined, like plucking or self-mutilation, with prozac and the plucking subsides, perhaps that was a good decision. And if we're all thinking this way, I've probably tried everything I could to get the bird to stop plucking. I'd go with it. If a vet says a bird is "sad" and gives him Prozac because it works on people, I would question the thought-process.

Prozac for dogs that self mutilate or exhibit erratic self-injuring behavior over thunder during thunderstorm season? Maybe. Prozac for "angry" "lonely" dogs? Get thee to a behaviorist. Although, that's work, which most won't bother with --leaving the question of Prozac or the local aniaml shelter. What's a vet to do then?

(Finally an interesting "parrot behavior" post on Google alerts! Thank you!!)

author of "A Parrot for Life" (like anyone really cares) :-)

I give my 20 y.o. geriatric cat pediatric simethecone when she gets all gassy. It seems to improve her mood. Does that count?

To answer your question: NO NO NO! I have cats (lots of cats), I had dogs (my baby girl died recently... She joined her Mom and Dad who died a few years ago) and all the small animals kids have when I was younger. Of course they got sick and got treatment for all kinds of things.

Of course they will react to a new addiction to the family, just like children do, adults even (thank God we don't pee to mark our turf otherwise... heheh). I've had my share of experiences with antidepressants (good and bad) but unless one of my cats "tells" he/she's feeling blue I'll make that vet find me some proper explanation for their aparent sadness.

And of course I' not going to deny that pets can at times act like they're sad or jealous or whatever other human behaviour we seek in them but let's learn from our "human" mistakes and not start throwing pills down their little throats.

This should have come at the beginning: Thanks for bring this to our attention. As a pet owner and animal lover, I do appreciate it.


No. Only tranquilizers for long car drives in my family. And that's more for the driver's benefit.

By twentynineOthree (not verified) on 09 Jul 2008 #permalink

Generally no, no, no. But my large friend Madison has a phobia associated with car travel. He had two very traumatic emergency car trips in his first year of life, one a blocked Urethra caused by crystallization of his urine. The urgency and the consequent treatment has left him so scared of car trips that he evacuates from every orifice, including frothing at the mouth after vomiting, within 5 minutes of leaving the house. The vet recommended 1/2 of a Valium (Madison is a lean 22lbs, a huge bone structure for a cat, not fat) an hour before leaving the house. This seems to curb the elimination, but he is still obviously very distressed, and I surmise that the inhibitory effect of the pill is itself distressing. Our final solution has been to side-step the issue altogether; we found a vet who specializes in home visits. Hopefully she continues to do this for the rest of Madison's lifetime.

By GrayGaffer (not verified) on 09 Jul 2008 #permalink

There's nothing "natural" about the very pets we have when it comes to dogs and cats. They've had the natural bred out of them already for nothing other than our benefit. How is this medication trend any different from that? Designer drugs for designer pets.

Next up: "Repet" as in "The Sixth Day" movie! You see if it doesn't happen!

Pets lead brief lives, often living closely with one other pet or one owner and should the death of a pet's owner or companion-pet, cause the onset of depression, a Vet administered medication could raise the quality of the pet's remaining lifetime.

By OftenWrongTed (not verified) on 10 Jul 2008 #permalink

I love my cats, one of whom is hyperactive and scratches up a lot of stuff. I am one of those people who think that human beings overmedicate themselves for an array of "disorders", but I would give my beloved Jackie a sedative IN A HEARTBEAT if there were one available for kitty ADHD. As one above says, there is nothing "natural" about dogs and cats. I know that scientifically speaking we're not of a "higher order" than other species, but practically speaking, we ought not worry too much about drugging our pets. We cut their reproductive tissues out, we might as well dose 'em to get 'em to behave up to living room standards.

Now if only there were a pill that would end shedding...

Yes, I would. And do. It's one thing to seen "marking behavior" and know it for what it is. It's another thing entirely when your dog stands in the middle of the living room during a thunderstorm, shakes uncontrollably and pisses herself.

I can say that, yes I would give them if needed.

I can say for certain that sometimes they are: My aunt's cat, (shelter adopted), turned out to have mental or neurological issues that do lead to significant aggression. Kismet was first put on Prozac, which did help somewhat, and is currently on Valium, which has been working and has brought back the sweet cat that was behind 'Mrs Hissy-Pants'.

By Rick Pikul (not verified) on 17 Jul 2008 #permalink

I have a 11 year old Bicheon Frise, who we love and adore, she has always been a Drama Queen, and very emotional, she has started self mutalating herself. She does this because she cant stand the fact that we sometimes have to leave the house without her, I am checking in to getting her on Prozac, or I fear the only alternative for me is to put her down, because I cant have her eating herself to death... so In some cases, just as people with emotional problems I feel that dogs need help to ...

By MissMoffett63@… (not verified) on 23 Feb 2009 #permalink