Sound Off

Should This Dog Be Medicated?

If you felt lonely or blue, they used to tell you to get a dog. Now, if your pet's acting out of sorts, they might tell you to put it on a behavior-modifying drug.

That's the story James Vlahos reports in Sunday's New York Times Magazine. Vlahos told us all about it on the show today, including some amazing case studies.

For now, we bring you a case study from YouTube.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.

being an animal lover, i would do whatever necessary to help a pet remain a loving part of any home. if you give a difficult pet away, it will probably wind up someplace not nice...so i would be open to trying anything that has the potential to help my pet.

Sent by janet | 12:54 PM | 7-11-2008

I sincerely hope that the vets and behavioral experts are making sure the problem isn't a natural behavioral problem that could be fixed without drugs. When I read the synopsis about Booboo before I listened to the story I thought "huh, maybe the cat has play aggression." Human's gone all day, no other cats to play with, he's bored and has too much energy so he gets rid of the energy by attacking the human. That's what my cat does (he even has "the call" first; he opens his mouth and makes short little squeaks and his pupils dialate and his ears flatten). We got a kitten 2 days ago so that he has a playmate while the husbar and I aren't at home.

I won't say 'yay' or 'nay' to drugging up our pets since some of them may genuinely need it, but if it gets to the point where an owner says "my dog likes to roll on the floor" and the vet prescribes some OCD drug, then I will go to the extreme and decry to all pet drugging.

Heh, and now my boring pet story! My cat's name is Goblin (it may have been a self fulfilling prophecy with regard to his temper tantrums). When he gets excited he likes to run full tilt and burrow under the living room rug and stare at feet as they walk by. Sometimes he leaps out and tries to eat the feet. THE END!

Sent by Sarah Lee | 1:21 PM | 7-11-2008

Matt almost got me crying. Way to bring down the hour, guys. :-) We had a cat with similar problems to Marx. It got a lot better when there was a human in the house all the time, but the behavior returned with old age. Had it been strictly up to me I'm not sure Cocoa would have made it to 23.

I think that most people recognize dogs need for constant companionship, but cats have social structures too. If a cat is left alone for long periods they can get a little nutty. I've known single cats to pee everywhere and even start gnawing on their own fur. The idea you can get a cat and leave it alone all day is more than a little mean. Fish work better for this lifestyle.

Sent by Dave Wiley | 1:23 PM | 7-11-2008

As a loving dog mom, I have to say this is insane. I have to wonder how many of these "depressed" and "obsessive compulsive" animals don't get any exercise and have poor diet. Same goes for humans.

I'm never surprised to find out that someone I know is prescribed antidepressants when they sit inside all day on the computer, watching television and eating junk food. I can't imagine that is road to happiness.

Wake up people. Your animals are depressed because of the environment you created for them. They are bored. And now you'll let the pharmaceutical companies convince you to drug your pets and you'll PAY them for it! They WANT you to think your dog is depressed. That's how they make money, remember? Craziness.

Sent by Holly | 4:54 PM | 7-11-2008

Preposterous!!! Another shamelessly aggressive move from greedy pharmaceutical companies seeking to expand their customer base by creating a non-existent "ailment" to justify marketing their product to a new base of customers. This story reminds me of the reports of doctors seeking to peddle statins to 8 year olds, instead of recommending diet and exercise.

If your pet is lonely, you need to stop neglecting it or find it a home wherein it will receive the time, attention, and love it deserves.

The only beneficiaris of this trend are pharmaceutical companies and the doctors who receive kickbacks for writing the Rx.

Sent by marie33 | 5:32 PM | 7-11-2008

Oh! ...so other dogs do that rapid scratching thing too. The first time my dog did it common sense made me realize he was bored and needed to release some pinned up energy. A one mile hike in the woods on a moderately easy trail or an hour long stroll to the river and back is all he wants. Even 45 minutes of playing fetch and hanging out at the park will do.

Form a connection with your pet; they have their ways of expressing their needs. When mine wants attention, he taps me or gets in my face. If the TV happens to be on, he will sit in front of it, blocking the view. No kidding!

I agree with other posters; expect behavior issues when you leave a pet home alone all day and then take them for a quick potty stroll down the block before settling in for the night. Pets need companionship, love, attention, and play time - every day. Not drugs!

Sent by Nik | 7:24 PM | 7-11-2008

He mentions that Congress gave the go-ahead on this in the mid-90s. I'm curious, was this part of the FDA Modernization Act or was this a separate issue? If so, it seems like it would make for a fascinating connection: direct-to-consumer ads, off-label uses, & pet meds!

Sent by AP | 12:30 AM | 7-12-2008

Our family rescued a 2 year old dog who had been beaten and starved by its former owners. We enrolled her in dog training classes, which did help somewhat, but she was so frightened by everything in her environment that she was difficult to live with. Her fear made her aggressive and she shrank against the walls at the slightest sound. She isolated herself from people and didn't seem to know how to receive a simple pet or hug. We didn't feel we could give her away because we felt sure she would be euthanized by someone, eventually, as a dangerous dog. Finally, our vet prescribed clomipramine, and we noticed a difference almost immediately. She slowly began to come away from the walls and we saw her wag her tail for the first time. A little over a year later she finally began to make eye contact with us and come to us for love and attention. This month is our third anniversary of her adoption and she has become a loving, albeit, eccentric member of our "pack." Without the medication I don't think would have been possible. Deb

Sent by Deborah Smith | 11:32 AM | 7-12-2008

I have a cat that, over time, developed a habit of urinating outside her cat box. After many many trips to the family veterinarian, I finally took her to a pet behavior specialist who worked with me to change her environment and eliminate 75% of the problem. But anyone who knows the smell of cat urine knows it doesn't take long for just a few mistakes to cause a lot of damage. I broke down and started giving her small doses of fluoxetine (Prozac) each day, which, in combination with the environmental modifications, have reduced her instances of inappropriate elimination to few and far between. Without drugs like this, I just don't know what else I would have done with her.

Sent by Liz | 5:58 PM | 7-12-2008

I have 4 dogs---2 pugs, a basset, and a shih-tzu...Two out of four do the scratching thing...who cares? the only thing that bothers me is when the one pug barks obsessively at her reflection (in anything--mirrors, appliances, etc.) or attacks the tv when there is another dog on it...medicate them? next it will be psychotherapy....

Sent by Kathleen | 6:52 PM | 7-12-2008

To pet lovers and those who think they are:

If you suspect you're deficient nor have the time to devote to nurturing meaningful human relationships then please do not even consider getting a pet, especially a Canis familiaris. First it should be understood that in the beginning dogs had a job to do, herding, guarding, and even fearless warrior...they asked for little in return and often it was done in ultimate sacrifice. Life was hard and for whatever debated reason they always returned to be by our side. We are the only two species I now of that are joined at the hip, inseparable as it were. As we advanced in essence they became unemployed and the resume had to be revised to: faithful companion solely dependent on man for their every need. After having the privilege of learning from several wonderful dogs I believe the deficiencies we observe are responses to our own inability towards understanding their language. All my dogs spoke to me. No they didn't get up in the morning and say Hi George (as much as I wished), but as different as they all were in personality they were all equally alike in wanting a "master" whom they could depend on. That much I learned, and if they could say it out loud they'd ask: okay it's time for me to eat now, I need to poop now, I'd like to play now and show you my skills you've seen a hundred times already, I need to please, let's go exploring so I can re-establish my imaginary territories (some things can never be un-learned), and how 'bout you drop everything and give me a little affection but don't over do it with rubbing the head...it can be annoying. And don't leave me alone for too long in that room with the TV and those animals I'll never meet, I get excited for nothing, and for gods sake please don't give me your medications...I don't want to be numb or dumb.

(Dedicated to my friends and champions: Anis, Nigel, and Calhoun)

Sent by george gekas | 11:55 AM | 7-13-2008

IMPORTANT update from George Gekas:

I swear just moments ago my dog, Mr. Calhoun, said "HI GEORGE!". Little did I realize he'd been saying it all along...in MANDARIN (origionally I suspected Gaelic)!! It now makes perfect sense 'cause ever since I caught him dancing to Saturday Night Fever (have pictures to prove it) I've suspected he may have escaped from a traveling circus in China...you know, the kind of shoddy affair that goes from one dusty hamlet to another singing slogans how life is good, he's always saying things like that.

Alas, the puzzle finally comes together. What other option was to his avail...end up on someone's menu in Beijing? I hardly think so.

Sent by george gekas | 5:07 PM | 7-13-2008

Most psychological problems that we medicate ourselves for are not true disorders at all.

We have removed ourselves from the circumstances that we evolved to exist in. That is to say, a small, tight knit tribal community. We don't receive the emotional inputs that we need to feel comfortable; This manifests itself in anxiety, depression, paranoia, all kinds of things.

It stands to reason that animals that we domesticate are also removed from their natural circumstances, and thus develop psychological "disorders"

Go take your dog for a f*****g walk and you'll both feel fine.

Unless someone has a true chemical imbalance in their brain, they should not be taking prescription medication. If you feel depressed, deal with it.

If we continue medicating ourselves we will end up a society of soma deadened monsters. Go read Brave New World, it's all in there.

Sent by Anon | 6:27 PM | 7-13-2008

Americans are becoming too busy to live life, which includes spending time with kids and pets. So we medicate humans and animals into a state that serves our busy lives. Sad, but not necessary.

Sent by Robert Haines | 8:26 PM | 7-13-2008

Edit as req'd.

Oh dear. Hard to know where to start.

The short answer: for the dog in the video, medication wouldn't have been my first thought. Looks like instinctual behavior to me. I suspect medication is rarely really needed, but if it is, then by all means, provide what the animal needs.

Digging the couch could be exhibiting any of several things (and more things that I don't know about), as I've seen this behavior in our own dogs, to a lesser degree. The explanations seems different in each case. Our Border Collie digs when frustrated and hungry. But at other times she chooses a different "displacement activity" --throwing a ball to herself or chasing a toy up and down the hall, while dinner is being prepared. She gets so excited that she just has to do something. That's Border Collies for you. Always have to have a job to do. If you don't give 'em a job to do, they'll find one themselves.

Our shepherd digs furiously when he's thirsty or thinks he hears or smells something 'under there.' He seems to have a pretty active imagination.

Our terrier digs when he's trying to find a soft spot to lay down (instinct), even though the digging doesn't do any good, and eventually he gives up and just lays down and goes to sleep. Smells will also set him digging and he can't stop himself. Neural circuitry, I think.

So the above illustrates the need to understand your dog, before wondering about medication. As you can gather from all the above responses, causes of behaviors can run the gamut from instinct, to breed-specific behavior, to breed LINE temperament, to physical problems like low thyroid, to trauma in puppyhood, to some actual neuroses and psychoses, and on, and on.

Bottom line: take your pet to a good vet to get evaluated. But prior to that, read up on the psychology of different pets and breeds and breed lines, and causes of behaviors. But prior to THAT...Consider whether you should have a pet at all. Can you really give it the environment and attention it needs and deserves? Maybe you can, but WILL you? If not, don't do it. It's not fair to the animal.

Final comment: I was dismayed to hear that the Obama family has been spouting that they plan to 'get a dog.' Like it was a easy, trivial, and fun thing to do--kind of like going out to a movie. They said they haven't had a pet before, which, to me, confirms the inexperience that accompanies this attitude. Would make for a good public image, though--young family moving into the White House, just like JFK. Complete with dog. Trouble is, it sets the example that that's what 'getting a dog' is all about.

I was dismayed, because if just 'get a dog' is the way you look at it, then you probably aren't aware of the commitment that's needed to do justice to an animal and take it into your 'pack.' It's a lifetime commitment, like getting married. If you don't understand that then don't do it.

Call me judgmental, but I guess I'm drawing a distinction between dog people and the other 99% of people with dogs. Dog lovers educate themselves on a breed, the breed lines, the temperaments, the potential genetic problems, (and more) and then they look around a while for the right family member, and then they do things with it--include it in family activities and make sure it gets exercise and proper care.

But what most people do is just 'get a dog.' For them, it's fun for a while, and then they ignore it and put up with it, or give it away or dump it in the country. Not fair.

While I'm being cynical let me go all the way and recommend that the Obama family, instead of getting a small dog like they propose, should get a large breed, because they live about 8 years, which is as long as they need it for display purposes.

No, that's too cynical. I hope they love their dog and learn to take care of it, and enjoy its company and take it places. I'm sure they won't do like LBJ did, showing reporters how he could pick up his Basset by its ears.

Sent by lefty | 3:43 AM | 7-14-2008

What a great bunch of informed wonderful readers. I whole heartedly agree with most. a) give your dog good food, b) take your dog for a long walk every day! c) Pay attention to you and your dogs needs. If you can't do that don't get a dog, cat or have a child.
It takes alot of work and attention to care for yourself never mind another living thing in addition. Synthetic drugs are rarely the answer. I have a Jack Russel with moderately severe Thunder Phobia, I would never medicate her. Thankfully would my vet wouldn't even considered medicating my dog unless she was hurting herself. Also there are so many alternative therapies for dogs just as for people. I havehad great success with acupuncture, reiki, herbs, and flower essences. Thanks forthe article.

Sent by Terry Harquail | 2:41 PM | 7-16-2008

Support comes from: