Dogs and Cats Recieving Psychiatric Drugs ~ The Debate

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The number of pets that are receiving psychiatric drugs for things such as hyper activity and depression are rising significantly over previous years.  Just last year alone, Americans spent nearly $7 billion dollars on pills for their pets, which is an increase of 35 percent in just four years, according to David Lummis, a senior pet market analyst for Packaged Facts.  In fact, Pfizer Drug Company has established a companion animal division which brought in nearly a billion dollars last year.

Not everyone agrees that drugs like Prozac and Zoloft are the best way to treat human conditions found in dogs or cats.  The debate over whether or not this is the best way for pet owners to spend their hard earned money has opinions coming in from across the country.

Who’s For It?

One of the advocates of prescribing psychiatric medication to pets is Dr. Nicholas Dodman, founder of the Animal Behavior Center at Tufts University in Massachusetts.  “There’s absolutely no doubt that psychiatric medicines that work on people also work on pets.  I mean we’ve shown it over and over again, ad nauseum,” said Dodman.  One of the pets he’s treated with human medication is a dog named Frisbee, who was brought to the center because he compulsively chased his hind legs between 10 and 12 times a day.

Dr. Dodman treated Frisbee with Prozac and a medication typically used for Alzheimer’s patients in an effort to reduce the dog’s compulsive behavior.  Dodman doesn’t treat every pet with medication, just those he feels it will help.  “I only use medicines if I think it will help,” he said.  “Some people will say, ‘but I really wanted medicine,’ and I say, ‘your animal, your pet doesn’t need it.'”

When Dodman started using drugs meant for humans, he found that Prozac in various forms not only successfully controlled anxiety-related problems in dogs but also helped reduce some forms of aggression.  This prompted Eli Lilly, the company that manufactures Prozac, to create a chewable, beef-flavored version of the medication specifically designed for dogs.

Who’s Against It?

Cesar Milan, animal trainer and “dog whisperer” from National Geographic’s hit show, said he is skeptical of using psychiatric medicines on pets.  Milan firmly believes that with the proper behavior changes, love, and time spent, pets can achieve the same changes that human drugs might change.

“Unfortunately, everybody is looking for the quick fix, for the ‘I want to see dramatic change in my dog,'” he said.  “Exercise, proper diet and tough love – showing your pet who’s boss – can cure psychological problems in pets in most cases.”

Veterinarians across the country have varied opinions on giving human psychiatric drugs to dogs and cats, mostly because they feel they are not informed enough to make that decision.  What do you think…are you for it or against it?

3 COMMENTS

  1. Who says they work on humans.Nobody gets undepressed taking the psych drugs.Alot of them do alot of great harm even death.My son took welbutrin for smoking cessation. he had a seizure one day and fell and died from it.
    What ever happened to the oath”do no harm”
    Psych drugs kill thousands ,why extend this outrage to pets?

  2. I am a consumer advocate for better veterinary care. I agree that in general, psychiatric drugs are being over-prescribed for both humans and animals.

    With that said, there are cases where there use is legitimate. I had one pet who benefited from elavil, which appeared to help with his separation anxiety and marking behavior. He was ultimately able to go off the drugs after the cycle was broken.

    What I am most concerned about is these drugs being prescribed without veterinarians disclosing to clients the side effects (long and short term), as well as stressing dose range and safety. Some pet owners have inadvertently overdosed their pets because drug safety margins were not explained to them. There is also a small but real risk that a pharmacy will not fill the prescription properly, especially if it is being filled at a human pharmacy. If the safety margin is not huge, one mis-filled prescription can be serious or life threatening. All of these things MUST be discussed with the pet owner as a part of informed consent, along with providing and reviewing the client information sheet. A big problem of course is that, Indeed with “off label” use, usually studies have not even been done to identify side effects and safety margins in pets.

    Veterinarians play fast and loose with pet drugs, since the veterinary industry is unregulated for all intents and purposes, and there is no punishment for killing pets with pharmaceuticals or anything else. For example for years vets have been overprescribing a pain killing drug called meloxicam, which according to some studies causes kidney failure in 30% of cats who are administered the drug in oral form. Notwithstanding the fact that this drug is labelled NOT for use in cats, vets persist, because no one regulates them and the pharmaceutical company continues to market it to them as part of accepted standards for treatment of cats. Most vets continue to prescribe this drug — which at best in cats has an extremely narrow safety margin — in spite of the many injuries that result. (See metacamkills.com)

    • Stefani, Meloxicam is licensed for cats in Ireland and is avaiable in oral suspension and in injectable form, in a different concentration to Meloxicam for dogs. Vets here are very aware of the renal risks of NSAIDS and most will not prescribe to an older animal or an animal who shows any signs of renal impairment, without running a blood biochemistry panel first.
      There was a time when prescribing pain relief for animals was a contentious issue, and now it is done routinely. If psychiatric drug can improve the quality of life of a animal, and is safe to use, why should they be stigmatised? Ideally each animal would be raised by knowledgeable owners who train that animal to be secure, confident and well socialised. Such an animal is unlikely to need psychiatric drugs. But what about the neurotic rescue dog or cat? Surely a safe and effective drug could be used short-term to help that animal break out of a pattern of distructive/antisocial/ aggressive behaviour.

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