January 10, 2007


Fido's little helper (Carla Hall, January 10, 2007, LA Times)

THEY are the new "Prozac Nation": cats, dogs, birds, horses and an assortment of zoo animals whose behavior has been changed, whose anxieties and fears have been quelled and whose owners' furniture has been spared by the use of antidepressants. Over the last decade, Prozac, Buspar, Amitriptyline, Clomicalm -- clomipromine that is marketed expressly for dogs -- and other drugs have been used to treat inappropriate, destructive and self-injuring behavior in animals.

It's not a big nation yet. But "over the past five years, use has gone up quite a bit," said veterinarian Richard Martin of the Brentwood Pet Clinic in West Los Angeles. Half a decade ago, no more than 1% of his patients were on antidepressants. Now, Martin estimates that 5% of the 8,000 cats and dogs seen at the clinic are taking drugs for their behavior.

The use of antidepressants is another example of the growing sophistication of medical care available to animals and willingly financed by owners who see pets as cherished companions. For these owners, drug therapy is not just another indulgence like Louis Vuitton carriers and day spas for the pampered pet. In their eyes, medication is urgent. Indeed, the new Prozac Nation is not populated with the worried well of the animal kingdom; it's filled with animals behaving so badly they're in danger of being cast off to a shelter and, possibly, a death sentence.

"If you have a cat that sprays constantly, that's not a cat you're likely to keep," said Elyse Kent, the veterinarian who owns the Westside Hospital for Cats. "We were compelled to try these behavioral modification drugs."

Kent has been treating cats with psychoactive drugs, mostly for spraying or aggression, for 12 years. After a UC Davis study published in 2001 showed that fluoxetine reduced feline spraying -- and following the success of Kent's patient, Shadow, in a Prozac trial -- Prozac became a frequent choice at her clinic.

"I'd say twice a week, someone comes in to get a prescription for Prozac or fluoxetine or clomipromine," said Kent, who nonetheless estimates that at any one time only 1% of her practice's 3,000 patients are taking a psychoactive drug. ("Six weeks to three months is the average" length of treatment, she said.)

Veterinarians who prescribe psychoactive drugs insist they are not Dr. Feelgoods for the animal set.

Why not cut to the chase and buy your pet from Norman Bates?

Posted by Orrin Judd at January 10, 2007 8:50 AM

Aquariums are nice.

Posted by: Bartman at January 10, 2007 12:44 PM

Dogs are wonderful pets and it's a lousy owner that needs to put the dog on antidepressents. I do have some prescription doggie-downers for my biannual 12hr trip to Reno from Seattle, but that's to save on upholstery cleaning costs only.

Posted by: Patrick H at January 10, 2007 2:45 PM

I suppose some pets are depressed about being pets.

Posted by: Joseph Hertzlinger at January 10, 2007 3:40 PM

I expect Scientology to make this an issue soon.

Posted by: ken at January 11, 2007 3:34 PM