The pet industry is booming, and drug companies now find that they can make good money creating, and marketing a variety of medications for dogs and cats. There is dog medication for obesity, dog medication for separation anxiety, and of course Prozac for dog aggression.
Certain kinds of dog medication, including pain medication, vaccines, anti-biotics, allergy medicines, etc. are very appropriate (as directed by your vet) for dealing with physical ailments in dogs. However, should you medicate your dogs for behavioral or psychological issues?
Proponents of dog medication cite studies showing that dog medication, together with a behavioral modification program, can help dogs recover much faster. The drugs, they argue, can blunt the effects of extreme stress, fear, or anxiety, and enable the dog to more quickly learn from the behavior modification techniques.
There seems to be general agreement among dog experts and veterinarians that most dog behavioral problems can be treated with behavior modification. However, these behavior modification programs can be very time consuming, and many dog owners may not have the time, desire, or monetary resources to carry out such a program. In the absence of such programs, the dog may 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 caring for a dog before getting one. However, the fact is that there are many people who get puppies on impulse. When faced with surmounting behavioral issues, they are willing to either surrender the dog, or medicate 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. Before going down this road, it is important to think it through with your vet, and with a professional trainer.
As with many human medications, dog medications may also 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.
The rush to the medicine bottle for easily resolved problems such as canine obesity–(Just feed the dog less!)–can show a disturbing parallel to the human approach to health care, where we lead an unhealthy lifestyle and then rely on drugs to correct it.
Dog medications can provide a simple, no effort way, for dog owners, to suppress behavioral issues. As a result, it may discourage owners from pursuing a more difficult behavior modification technique, that may more effectively address the root of the dog’s behavioral problems, and improve his quality of life. Many dogs get medicated for life, simply because medication is an easier alternative for stopping destructive behaviors. The dog’s root issues are silenced by the magic pill.
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. However, these genetic predispositions can often be managed, re-conditioned, and redirected towards healthy and acceptable activities. Except is the most extreme cases, this can be achieved with behavior modification techniques alone, and without the need for any medication.
To Medicate or Not to Medicate?
It is also important that we address our dog’s problems as soon as they occur, so that they do not deteriorate to a point where the dog becomes a danger to himself or others. Letting a dog continue to practice problem behaviors, will also make rehabilitation more difficult.
In more extreme cases, where medication will significantly enhance the behavior modification training, and improve the dog’s quality of life, then medication sure seems like a good and appropriate choice. However, in many cases medication should only be a temporary measure, and a dog should be weaned off a medication as he progresses in his behavior modification training.
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 who knows? It differs on a case by case basis, depending on the severity of the behavioral issue, and the temperament of the dog in question.
So nip your dog’s problems at the bud, and don’t let it get to a point where medication becomes necessary. That 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.