Behavioral Problems and Drug Solutions: A Last
Michael W. Fox
of psychotropic drugs have proven to be beneficial for treating people with
various emotional and behavioral problems, such as anxiety, depression, and
obsessive-compulsive disorders. Veterinarians are discovering that these drugs
can help in treating similar problems in dogs. These clinical findings support
my contention that the inner world of dogs, their consciousness and
emotionality, must be similar in many ways to ours, otherwise these
psychotropic drugs would not result in similar clinical improvement in dogs as
in human patients.
are well advised to use behavioral-modification techniques like reward
training, desensitization, changing the dog’s environment, and evaluating the
dog-human relationships in the home before prescribing these kinds of drugs.
Some have potentially harmful side effects. Then there is the ethical issue of giving
drugs to dogs to help them cope with a way of life -- like being left alone
(often in a crate) for many hours during the work week, to which no animal
should be subject. Turning a dog into a chemically-dependent zombie is
of these mind (brain-chemistry) and behavior-altering drugs to dogs are being
documented in the veterinary literature. Before the advent of these new drugs,
many dogs would suffer years of distress (and their owners too), or be
(Dista’s Prozac) has helped many dogs suffering from obsessive-compulsive
disorders, including compulsive licking, pacing, tail-chasing, and
(Pfizer’s Anipryl) is now being prescribed for old dogs suffering from the “old
dog’s disease” of disorientation and anxiety called cognitive dysfunction
(Zeneca’s Elevil) is one of several medications that can help dogs showing dominance
aggression, coupled with underlying anxiety.
(Bristol-Myers Squibb’s BuSpar) and Clomipramine (Novartis’ Clomicalm) have
proven beneficial to dogs suffering from fear-related aggression.
One of the
most common emotional disorders to afflict dogs today is separation anxiety.
If behavior-modification techniques, and providing another dog as a companion
or an open crate as a safe “den” do not work, the treatment with any of the
above drugs, including Eli Lilly’s Reconcile ( that is the same as Prozac but
is beef-flavored), or with Imipramine (Novartis’ Tofranil) or Alprazolam
(Pharmacia and Upjohns’ Xanax) can provide significant relief, emotionally or
symptomatically, for the dog, which will help the distraught owners feel better
I find it
ethically questionable to drug a dog who is suffering from boredom and
loneliness and becomes a house-wrecker. Wherever possible, dogs’ basic needs
should be met and their environments changed for their benefit rather than
changing their brain chemistry to help them cope with and adapt to a relatively
deprived existence. Is it more ethical to selectively breed them to better
adapt to such conditions? Or would they then become “virtual dogs,” dispirited
facsimiles of the once real, that our children may never know, respect and
cherish, with no remnant of the wild that we recognized in their original
behavioral and emotional problems in dogs have a complex genesis, including the
animal’s genetic background and basic temperament, the dog’s rearing history
and experiences earlier in life, and current factors in the dog’s immediate
environment and family relations, including other animals as well as people in
judicious use of psychotropic drugs, with careful monitoring and individual
dose-adjustments is appropriate, I believe, but only as a last resort for those
conditions when behavioral counseling and modification procedures have failed.
Often the dogs can be slowly weaned off these drugs and, in the process, they
seem to learn to cope better with the conditions or stimuli that caused their behavioral
disturbance in the first place.
The worst side-effect of some psychotropic drugs
dependence, liver damage and paradoxical reactions), which lead me to caution
against over-prescribing, are disturbing consequences that may be hard to detect
in the animal, but which humans report when on similar drugs. These may include
disorientation, increased feelings of vulnerability, anxiety or depression,
fatigue, loss of appetite, and disturbed sleep patterns.
often overlooked factor that can affect behavior is diet. Nutritionists are
beginning to discover how dietary habits cannot only affect the immune system
and other vital body functions, but also influence behavior, emotions, and
cognitive (learning) abilities in humans. Recent work by a team of
veterinarians at Tuft’s University School of Veterinary Medicine, Boston, has
revealed that for dogs showing territorial aggression, their aggressive
behavior was lowered when they were fed a low protein diet supplemented with
tryptophan (10 mg/kg per meal, twice daily).
Dogs showing dominance aggression were less aggressive when fed low or
high protein diets supplemented with tryptophan, compared to when they were fed
a high protein diet without the extra tryptophan. These different diets had no
appreciable effect on hyperactive dogs.
approach to treating some dog behavior problems is relatively new, the health
benefits of good nutrition have been long recognized. Artificial coloring
agents, preservatives and other ingredients like wheat and various glutens in
many manufactured foods may affect brain and behavior, so a whole-food,
biologically appropriate diet may be helpful.
Many veterinarians prescribe herbal and nutraceutical
supplements for companion animals with behavioral and emotional problems
including Valerian, Passion flower, Hops, Lavender, Kava Kava, Chamomile, and
The need for companionship for a dog alone at
home all day
should also be considered, another compatible dog, or a cat or two being the
most natural remedy, and negating the need for pysychotropic drugs to help an
animal cope with loneliness and a deprived, un-stimulating environment.