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Canine Depression


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Prozac - The Quick Answer to a Behavioural Issue?

In the past, pharmaceutical companies have not invested into drugs for canines due to high research costs. Drug companies have taken onboard the changing relationship between dogs and their owners. The human-animal bond has escalated beyond a dog being a pet to the dog now being accepted as a “family member”.

Dog owners are spending more money on their animals than ever before. Huge pet stores now sit beside leading supermarket chains selling a vast array of goods designed for the family pet. Drug companies have realised the advantages of grabbing a share of this immense new marketplace.

Reconcile…The new wonder drug?

Reconcile is prescribed by veterinarians for conditions such as separation anxiety. It is administered in conjunction with a training plan and is suitable for dogs and puppies that are 6 months of age and above, and those that weigh 8.8 pounds (4.0kg) or more. The training plan called the ‘Bond' training programme is a behaviour modification programme that has been proven to work effectively when taken with the drug. The drug is one of the selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRI's) that are a class of antidepressants approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the U.S. for the treatment of canine separation anxiety. The tablet works by making the dog more receptive to the BOND behaviour modification programme. This training programme consists of:
Adapting the dog to the comings and goings of the family
Teaching the dog to sit and stay and be comfortable with the owner's absence
Not rewarding unwanted behaviour
Getting the dog used to being left starting with short periods and then progressing to several hours.

It is claimed that some dogs may show improvement within a couple of weeks of taking the drug whilst others may take up to a couple of months. If after this the dog is still displaying signs of separation anxiety the ‘vet will discuss additional plans for the dog'.

What these ‘additional' plans are is not explained in the leaflet that accompanies the drug. Side effects are mentioned as some animals may experience lethargy, decreased appetite, vomiting, shaking, shivering, diarrhoea, restlessness, excessive vocalisation, whining, aggression, ear infections, disorientation, in-coordination, constipation, excessive salivation, weight loss and in severe cases the dog may experience seizures (convulsions) that may result in death.

Eli Lilly, the company releasing Reconcile warns that the drug had shown side effects in a small minority of dogs that included anorexia, vomiting, diarrhoea, barking and fits.

Just exactly what is meant by ‘a small minority' is not fully explained. Is it 5% or 50%? Perhaps Eli Lilly is prepared for massive law suits should this ‘small minority' of dogs have fits and subsequently destroy furniture or worse!

Reconcile will compete with 'Clomicalm', a drug produced by the Swiss pharmaceutical company Novartis. Reconcile can be prescribed by veterinarians in many countries including the United Kingdom.

Eli Lilly and Company of Indianapolis

Eli Lilly is a $15 billion pharmaceutical firm that employs 41,000 people worldwide and markets medicines in 143 countries. The company has launched a new business group focused on companion animal health. The company gave a $250,000 endowment to the Centre for the Human – Animal Bond at the Purdoe University School of Veterinary Medicine with which to fund an animal lecture on veterinarians knowledge of physiological, psychological and sociological aspects of the human – pet bond. The director of the Companion Animal Health, Eric Graves said:
“We appreciate that the companion animal sector is a dynamic market place, and our value to the profession will be measured by the performance of our products and our people”.

Prozac has been used for some years to treat depression in humans. Eli Lilly's Prozac is the only SSRI indicated for use in children and adolescents. In 2004, there were more than one million under 17's being treated for depression. Around this time reports carried a linking of teenage suicide to use of antidepressants. The New York Times carried an article on September 14 2004 that stated that top officials of the FDA acknowledged for the first time that antidepressants appeared to lead some children and teenagers to become suicidal. Dr Robert Temple, director of the FDA's office of medical policy said that analyses of 15 clinical trials, some of which had been hidden from the public by the drug companies that sponsored them, showed a consistent link with suicidal behaviour, (the British health authorities banned the use of most antidepressants aimed at children in December 2003.) Eli Lilly and company made Prozac that was being used by teenagers and younger children. Shares in the company plummeted after the link between antidepressants and teenage suicide was made public.

Eli Lilly and Company of Indianapolis in the US launched the canine form of the drug Prozac (Fluoxetine Hydrochloride) under the brand name ‘Reconcile' as a chewable, meat flavoured tablet to treat conditions such as separation anxiety in dogs. In America scientists are hailing the new drug as a potential cure for aggressive and depressed dogs. Eli Lilly launched the new drug for canines saying:
“Lilly research shows that 10.7 million or up to 17%, of US dogs suffer from separation anxiety”.

Steve Connell, Lilly's manager of consumer services for companion animal health went on to say that in field studies of around 600 dogs, 73% of dogs taking Reconcile and undergoing therapy showed better behaviour within 8 weeks compared to dogs receiving therapy alone.

Eli Lilly and Company Ltd. Is the UK affiliate of the American company. Lilly have other medicines aimed at dogs and companion animals in the pipeline such as a diet drug called Slentrol (Dirlotapide) and another one for preventing car/motion sickness called Cerenia.

The generic form of Slentrol, originally tested for human use had numerous side effects so much so that it was deemed intolerable for human use.

The Issue in Britain

Research carried out for Sainsbury's Bank in Britain showed that 632,000 dogs and cats had suffered depression in 2002. Three times as many pets had suffered with behavioural problems that were linked with depression.

1.86 million owners reported pets destroying furniture.
922,000 pets had loss of appetite linked to stress.
803,000 pets were incontinent.

Claire Moyles, Sainsbury's Pet Insurance Manager said:
“People are leading more stressful lives and unfortunately this has an adverse effect on the health of our pets”.

The research was carried out by the market research company TNS who interviewed 1,002 people in the UK.

At a recent meeting of the British Small Animal Veterinary Association in Birmingham, UK vets expressed their concerns on the development of drugs to treat animal behaviour. Dr Roger Mugford, a leading animal psychologist and an expert in canine behaviour said:
“A number of speakers, including me, were all of one mind that pharmacological help with any anti-depressant or mood modifying drugs diminishes the better you are at your behavioural management. The more skilful you are at behaviour modification, at getting animal husbandry right, diet, exercise, lifestyle and so on, the less the need for drugs”.

Dr Mugford went on to say that there were concerns that Prozac had some unpleasant side effects in humans, and this could suggest that some dogs may become aggressive when taking the drug.
“Why do we need these things? It is so easy to modify the behaviour of dogs by good management techniques. We call it behavioural husbandry”.

On the subject of other drugs being developed for the animal market, in particular diet drugs for obesity, Dr Mugford said:
“If Eli Lilly want to dust off old patents on products that were not suitable for humans, I doubt that it would work”.

Highly Recommended Dog Training Course

There are already drugs on the market that are targeted at pets that are depressed but they have not found a market in the UK due to not having been popular with British pet owners. Dr Mugford said:
“The British are a lot more sensible than people in some other countries if their animal is unhappy. Medicating dogs is not the solution to behavioural problems. Most dogs do not suffer from cognitive learning disorders. It is mostly a matter of lifestyle, genetics, diet and the skills of the owner to keep the dog healthy”.

Veterinarians are not alone in their concerns of giving dogs antidepressants. Animal charities and animal welfare workers are also concerned and make a desperate plea to owners to use tender loving care and to leave Prozac to the humans! A spokeswoman from the RSPCA said:
“We would not approve of a vet to prescribe anti-depressants or of people giving them their own anti-depressants. If an animal is in a depressed state, you need to ask why and take it out of that situation”.


Animal welfare organisations are deeply concerned that the drug could be used to replace proper training and instead of giving dogs the attention they need. Misuse of the drug could in fact hide the distress of dogs that are neglected by their owners. A member of the Sussex Pet Ambulance, Rayner Butshke has heard of drugs prescribed for the owner but being fed to the dog:
“In most cases, its not the animals that need the drugs, it's the owners”.


Why do dogs suffer from behavioural problems?

In days gone by it was common for most families to keep a dog. More often than not the wife and mother of the family would have been at home so the dog usually had someone around to care for it. The family structure has changed. More women now work than before and family members do not live in such close proximity to each other. Dog owners often live on their own or as a couple, both of which are often working full-time. It is thought that this may well be the reason why so many dogs are depressed or form behavioural issues.

It is often the fashion to get a dog with little thought being paid to the dog's needs or to training programmes. Lifestyles have changed dramatically. We now live in a world of more traffic than ever before, more stress and less open space to let our dogs run free. Many owners have neither the time nor the inclination to learn even the basics of dog care, nutrition and training procedures. Some would say that people never used to be interested in these subjects in the 'old days' and this is true, but there was hardly any need to do so as canine behaviour problems were almost non-existent, and no - they weren't left undiagnosed, they just didn't exist because people lived lives which fitted almost perfectly alongside a canine lifestyle, and people also never lost sight of the fact that a dog is a dog, and not some kind of human replacement.

Since the first time that dogs graced our camp fires there has been no need for any drugs to help suppress dog depression, or in fact no report of such phenomena even existing. This canine Prozac may well be just another way for drug companies to capitalise in an area where they are guaranteed to make money out of dog owners treating their pets as ‘family members' and preferring to just ‘pop a pill' rather than to take the time to treat the problem behaviour.

Would people a hundred years ago have spent their hard earned money on a cute toy or fluffy blanket for their pooch? Would they have tied endless ribbons in the dog's coat to make it more humanly appealing? Even dogs names have changed, and it would have been quite frowned upon to call a dog a human name in days gone by, as it was an insult to humans, owing to the inescapable difference which was always held in mind between dogs and humans.

The dog knew its place within its human family and was treated as just that, a dog! If owners put as much energy into understanding their dog's mind and learning how to train and care for their dog there would be no need for anti-depressants such as the doggy Prozac. We see this as a perfect testament not only to a social change which is detrimental to our dogs, but to the fact that we increasingly seem unable to differentiate our own evolving human lifestyles with that which is essential for a happy dog. Our lives can change, it is not a problem for dogs when this happens, where it becomes a problem is when we fail to cater for our dog's needs which never change, whilst ours do.

Whatever next, a mobile phone for your dog? Oops, what have we just started?!


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