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.
I couldn't help noticing that the psychiatric treatment of four-legged creatures is superior to that of many of their human counterparts. The article cites one veterinarian who says that dogs are not intended to stay on antidepressants for life. "We don't have specific studies on long-term use." The article goes on to say that most vets prefer to taper their patients' use of the drugs. "We try to use these medications short-term," says another veterinarian, "because they are not without side-effects." If only more physicians exercised the same caution. I'm sure human physiology isn't any better suited to endure sustained treatment with brain-altering medication and, given the fact that the popular class of antidepressants known as selective seorotonin reuptake inhibitors only appeared on the scene in the late 1980's, we have yet to discover what adverse effects accompany long-term use.