Is your dog on Prozac?

Suppose that there is a problem case–let’s call it the Zoey case–of extreme, uncontrolled biting behaviors that pose serious risks to others. Then we might imagine the following snippet from a clinician’s consultation with Zoey’s guardians:

If we were to ask Zoey: ‘Look, if you slip up in the future, and you bite someone like that again, the chances are you’re not going to come out of it alive. But we can make you feel better if we give you some medicine like, for example, Prozac. Would you like to have the medicine that might save your life?’

Your dog on drugs

Your dog on drugs

Perhaps melodramatic? Not so, given that Zoey is a 5-year old, muzzled dog brought in to the office of Nicholas Dodman by her concerned owners for a psychiatric evaluation! The quote above contains words of advice that Dodman begins his consultation with.

This comes from a recent New York Times Magazine article by James Vlahos, Pill-Popping Pets. Although it rambles in places, bringing in everything from the origins of cognitive ethology to Thomas Nagel’s “What’s it like to be a bat?”, it’s worth a read, especially if it’s a rainy Sunday afternoon. Vlahos opens with the following:

Max retrieves Frisbees. He gobbles jelly beans. He chases deer. He is — and this should be remembered when discussions of cases like his blunder into the thickets of cognitive ethology, normative psychology and intraspecies solipsism — a good dog. A 3-year-old German shepherd, all rangy limbs and skittering paws, he patrols the hardwood floors and wall-to-wall carpets of a cul-de-sac home in Lafayette, Calif., living with Michelle Spring, a nurse, and her husband, Allan, a retired airline pilot. Max fields tennis balls with his dexterous forelegs and can stand on his hindquarters to open the front door. He loves car rides and will leap inside any available auto, even ones belonging to strangers. Housebroken, he did slip up once indoors, but everybody knows that the Turducken Incident simply wasn’t his fault. “He’s agile,” Allan says. “He’s healthy. He’s a good-looking animal.” Michelle adds, “We love him to death.” That is why they had no choice, she says. The dog simply had to go on psychoactive drugs.

The psychopharmacological management of our pets is now a growing industry, accompanied by the application of what looks like the full range of psychiatric categories, pulled over from their often dubious human domain to that of our closest furry friends: social anxiety disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, depression.



Pharma giant Eli Lilly opened a “companion animal” division last year, and their Reconcile, which is a repackaging of Prozac, is being used to treat canines with social anxiety disorder. With over 60 million dogs in the US alone, and a population of concerned owners (human companions?), EL no doubt has done the numbers on this one. Another victory for predatory capitalism in the trading zone where medicine solves problems rooted in lifestyle choices?

Where does one start on this festering sore of a situation? Maybe just with a question for responsible pet owners everywhere: is your dog on Prozac? (Follow up question: if your dog IS on Prozac, why not switch to the GENERIC version and save yourself a bundle?)

Hat tip to my favourite neuroethologist Malcolm MacIver for bringing the NYTM article to my attention.

5 thoughts on “Is your dog on Prozac?

  1. I like to get out of the city for the weekends, but taking the cats along was very difficult because they would go into orbit – much hissing and yowling for a whole day. But leaving them was not an option. The vet suggested prozac, but the one thing worse that getting the cats into the car was getting pills down them.

  2. As a certified vet nurse, I have to say this just takes the cake. Growing up, I remember many problem dogs, but none on drugs. Some people would solve aggression by simply beating a biting dog into submission. This was obviously a terrible situation, but not much worse than what’s going on now.

    I see this as a parallel to people who have little terror children, running and screaming through coffee houses, slamming into people carrying overfilled mugs of scorching hot chocolate, parents oblivious and unwilling to even wonder where their little angels are at the moment.

    At shelters, I watched people enter adoption floors of cat rooms – 25 plus healthy, friendly, lovely cats waiting for a home. All between the ages of 1 and 2 years old. But people would get into screaming matches over the last 8 week old kitten.

    Dogs, the same way. People wanted puppies and would not spend a single minute trying to train them. One year later, the same dog would be returned to the shelter, untrained and out of control. The little dogs were considered cute when they snarled. People would scream with laugther and parents of little kids would beg to adopt them.

    Puppies require months of training, that’s why……I don’t have a dog. I have 2 cats, both went through weeks of observation before I would bring them home.

    These pills make it very easy for people to justify their refusal to take one second of responsibility, not to mention allowing pit bulls and rottweilers to run loose, then wonder why people get angry, and even shoot the dogs when the property owner wakes up one morning to see these dogs barreling towards them on their own property.

    I wish our society would educate ourselves – if we only have time to pill an animal, we shouldn’t get one.

  3. There’s pills for this and pills for that–for humans and for other animals (sometimes the same drug, repackaged, as in the case of Prozac and Reconcile). Your dog gets fat, so you whack down some slim-pills, rather than feed him half and walk him twice as much. You do it to yourself, so why wouldn’t you do it to your dog, for crying out loud?

    And then we get more sophisticated and realize that the connection between circumstance and behavior is this thing called the mind, and we develop some fancy-sounding categories for talking about kinds of mind. If problem children are now ADHD rather than just rambunctious, then why not Scooby Doo too?

    Bow wow!

  4. Pingback: 10 bits of Fun Stuff « What Sorts of People

  5. I know this post is old but i just wanted to say to ‘pelagica’ that for a vet nurse, you are surprisingly ignorant. Certainly there will be irresponsible owners you use this drug as a “quick fix,” but frankly the burden should be on veterinarians to screen more carefully. If you ever had a dog with serious anxiety problems, you would realize how frankly stupid and insulting your comment is. I have spent hundreds of hours (and thousands of dollars with a private trainer and animal behaviorist) working on counter-conditioning my dog after a natural disaster traumatized her. After three weeks of not sleeping at night (a new behavior she developed) with little relief, I decided to medicate my dog. If you think this akin to beating my dog, you don’t deserve your job.

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