Tails magazine presents...

Pill Popping Pets–Are They Becoming the Norm?

In Uncategorized on July 16, 2008 at 4:19 pm

Before James Vlahos’ article “Pill-Popping Pets”, I was inclined to think pet medications similar to human anti-anxiety and other drugs were ridiculous. Could a dog really have anxiety attacks or obsessive-compulsive disorder? Perhaps I should have known better because my own cat suffers a neurological disorder that causes him to bite his tail among other odd behaviors. After reading the article, I realize it makes perfect sense that animals living in the same conditions humans do would start to display human-like mental and other illnesses. Treating dogs (and cats) with medication is increasingly becoming the norm. Vlahos mentions Novatris’ Clomicalm for dogs suffering from separation anxiety, Eli Lilly’s Reconcile, also for separation anxiety, and Pfizers’ Slentrol for canine anti-obesity and Anipryl for cognitive dysfunction (for example, when an elderly pet forgets where his food dish is located). While I agree with the author that pet anti-obesity drugs are an extreme, I can definitely see why some animal caretakers would want medication for their animals.

Vlahos thinks the issue goes deeper than whether or not pets need human-like medication. He believes the issue is simply another entry in the centuries-old debate about what specifically separates humans from animals. The question was pondered as early as Aristotle who believed only humans could reason. During the Enlightenment, many philosophers still held roughly that view; animals were merely flesh and blood and ruled by instincts. Charles Darwin, who forever changed the way biology and other sciences are thought about, wrote that the difference between man and animal is “one of degree and not of kind.” Unfortunately, some 20th century scientists dismissed the idea of animal intelligence. Others, though, have conducted research that yielded evidence that animals are in fact intelligent. Nowadays, I think the focus of the debate has shifted from the pretty well accepted fact of animal intelligence to the still unanswered question of animal emotion. As of yet, there is no hard evidence for animal emotion, only our human intuition that animals feel the way we do. This is also part of a human tendency of anthropomorphizing or “humanizing” animals (giving animals human-like qualities). Until more research is done, we cannot say for certain whether or not animals feel emotions.

Vlahos wonders if animals do not have human-like emotions, then why do they eerily display human-like conditions such as anxiety? Those not in favor of medicating animal separation anxiety and other related maladies, feel that dogs (and cats) simply need better training to amend the issues. Those who are in favor of medications such as Reconcile (for separation anxiety) often also believe stronger training should go along with medication. Are some people just looking for a magic pill to make their animals well-behaved at all times? Probably. Have others seen a positive change in their pets as a result of taking medication? Yes. Have still others seen a positive change in their pet after correcting some training issues? Yes. I am inclined to think the use of medication for pets is situational, what works for one pet will not necessarily work for another.

I think one of Vlahos’ strongest points is that perhaps the reason we see a growing trend of pets who display human-like illnesses is because we force pets to live in human-like conditions. We as a society are increasingly more anxious, compulsive, depressed, and in addition to genetic factors, it may be because “the mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation” (Thoreau) in uninspiring office jobs that we must give more and more of our time to. Our pets also suffer by spending much of their days alone, trapped inside, like we are, with few, if any, outlets. Perhaps our pets are some of the best social commentaries we have.

-Amanda Giffi

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