The pet industry is booming, and drug companies now find that they can make good money from creating, and marketing a variety of medications for dogs and cats.
There is dog medication for obesity, separation anxiety, and of course Prozac for dog aggression.
Certain kinds of medication, including pain pills, vaccines, anti-biotics, and allergy drugs can be helpful (as directed by our vet), for dealing with physical ailments in dogs.
However, should dog medication be used for dog behavioral or dog psychological issues?
Dog Medication – The Good
1. Dog medication can hasten the recovery process.
Proponents of dog medication cite studies showing that drugs, together with a behavioral modification program, can help dogs recover much faster.
The pills, they argue, can blunt the effects of extreme stress, fear, or anxiety, and enable a dog to more quickly learn from the behavior modification techniques.
2. Dog medication is better than no treatment.
There seems to be general agreement among dog experts and veterinarians that most dog behavioral issues can be treated with behavior modification techniques.
However, these modification programs can be very time consuming and expensive. Many dog owners may not have the time, desire, or monetary resources to carry out such a program. In the absence of such techniques, the dog may just be left to suffer with his extreme stress, anxiety, and fear; which may ultimately result in him harming himself, or others.
It is true that dog owners should ensure that they have the time and resources for a dog before going out and getting a puppy.
However, the fact is that there are many people who get puppies on impulse.
When faced with surmounting behavioral issues, they may only be willing or able to medicate the dog or surrender him. Given that our shelters are already filled with unwanted dogs, another surrender, especially one with behavioral issues, is most likely a death sentence for the dog.
Dog medication provides a last resort alternative for such dogs. However, before going down this road, it is important to consult a vet, together with a professional trainer.
Dog Medication – The Bad
1. Dog medications often have bad side-effects.
As with many human drugs, dog medications may have undesirable side effects including depression, lethargy, and loss of appetite.
These “side-effects” may sometimes worsen a dog’s behavioral problems, and may significantly decrease the dog’s quality of life.
2. Dog medications provide an easy way out for behavioral issues.
Dog medications provide a simple, no effort way, for suppressing behavioral issues.
As a result, it may discourage dog owners from pursuing more difficult behavior modification techniques, that actually address the root of the dog’s problems. Retraining a dog by teaching him alternate ways for dealing with his stress, will improve his quality of life. This is in contrast to dog medication, which just suppresses the symptoms.
Sadly, many dogs get medicated for life, simply because it is an easy alternative for stopping destructive behaviors. The dog’s needs and pleas for help are silenced by the magic pill.
The rush to the medicine bottle for easily resolved problems like canine obesity — “Just feed the dog less!” — shows a disturbing parallel to the human approach to health care, he says. “We lead an unhealthy lifestyle and then rely on drugs to correct it.”
~~ [ Ian Dunbar – Excerpt from Pill-Popping Pets, The New York Times, July 13th 2008 ]
Nature vs. Nurture
To some, the argument for dog medication comes down to nature vs. nurture.
Are behavioral issues caused by bad genetics and internal chemical imbalances, or are they caused by the environment?
The answer is most probably a little bit of both.
Dogs, like us, can have a genetic predisposition towards certain kinds of neuroses. My Shiba Inu has inherited plenty of those. However, these genetic predispositions can often be managed, re-conditioned, and redirected towards healthy and acceptable activities.
Except in the most extreme cases, this can be achieved with behavior modification techniques alone, and without the need for any dog medication
To Medicate or Not to Medicate?
I must confess that my natural bias is not to medicate a dog for behavioral problems.
I follow the same rule with my own health, and I follow it with my dogs’ health. Most dog behavioral problems have solutions that only require some of our time and patience. Surely we can spare some effort to help fulfill our dogs’ needs when they so freely, and willingly fulfill ours.
If we address our dog’s problems as soon as they occur, things will not deteriorate to a point where the dog becomes a danger to himself and others. Letting a dog continue to practice problem behaviors, will also make rehabilitation a lot more difficult.
In more extreme cases, where dog medication can significantly enhance behavior training, perhaps its use should be considered.
Dog medication, however, should only be a temporary measure.
The dog should be slowly weaned off the medication as he progresses in his training program.
Finally, there are those extreme cases where the owner is unwilling or unable to correct the problem behaviors through training. The choices, unfortunately, are all grim. We obviously cannot let the problem go untreated, because the dog will ultimately end up hurting himself and others. Therefore, we can either medicate the dog for life, or we can euthanize the dog.
Many will of course argue that the former is a much better alternative, but I am not so sure. I think that this will differ on a case by case basis, depending on the severity of the behavioral issue, and the temperament of the dog in question.
My Shiba Inu, for example, hates being drugged. Whenever he has to go under anesthesia at the vet, he gets really stressed when he wakes up. Some of it has to do with the stress of being at the vet. However, a big part of it has to do with feeling vulnerable, and not being in full control of himself.
I truly think that he would prefer not to live, rather than ‘exist’ in a dog medicated haze.
Therefore, it is best to nip our dog’s behavior problems at the bud, and not let it get to a point where dog medication becomes necessary. That, to me, seems like the easiest choice.
We should try to make life as good as we can for our dogs, because they make life so much better for us.