Pharm Animals: Should We Be Putting Our Dogs On Anti-Depressants?

A vet in the UK has apparently found a link between dogs feeling depressed and their humans overusing their mobile phones.

According to veterinary surgeon and founder of VetUK, Iain Booth, our dependence on our phones and other tech gadgets is sabotaging our relationship with our pets.

"A dog is a social creature, a pack animal. And to the dog you are the bona fide leader of the pack," Booth told UK newspaper Metro.

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"You administer every facet of its life -- you collect, you feed, you show it where its allowed to go and you,hopefully, nurture its development," he added.

"If you’re perpetually attached to your phone, that vital bond breaks down and the dog is hit for six."

But an Aussie expert has slammed this expert opinion as "ridiculous" saying there cannot be any scientific evidence of the connection between mobile phone use and pets' anxiety because it has nothing do with their natural reactions.

Dog behaviour specialist Nathan Williams said this type of rhetoric could even have a worsening effect on what he described as "one of the biggest battles he is losing" in his profession -- owners who choose to medicate dogs with prozac or other anti-depressants.

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"Not all dogs have anxiety. When I work with dogs they're not anxious anymore," Williams told ten daily, adding that the problem was exacerbated by vets increasingly telling pet owners to medicate their furry friends.

"Anxiety is created from dogs feeling like they have too much control."

"My belief is that it’s being pushed and promoted onto vets and vets are pushing and promoting onto people and then everyone thinks its normal," Williams said of the increasing use of medicine to treat what's perceived as anxiety in dogs.

"The real problem is people don’t know what to do, they get desperate and take their dog to the vet and then the vet says to medicate."

Williams said the problem with prescribing anti-depressant or anxiety medication to pets it that the drugs are still developed from a human perspective.

A veterinarian examines a dog in a clinic (Image: Getty Images)

Williams claimed developers trial human drugs on dogs and then lower the dosage.

"People are taking it hook line and sinker and the dogs are the ones that are suffering," Williams said.

But President of the Australian Veterinary Association Dr Paula Parker said pets suffer mental health challenges the same as people do.

Parker told ten daily this can stem from physical medical problems if they are unwell or behavioral mental challenges which manifest in anxiety.

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"One of the ways in managing mental health challenges in your pets is asking are they getting the right simulation in their environment," Parker said.

This included good habits such as going on walks, going to dog parks and whether pets are having enough interaction with their owner.

"Probably all of us are guilty of sitting on the couch and scrolling through Instagram rather than being outside and doing active things," Parker said.

Parker said it was important to recognise that every animal expresses stress in different ways.

While some pets become more timid and reclusive in their behaviour, on the other spectrum dogs can become quite aggressive.

"One of the ways that cats will often express they are stressed is by changing their toilet habits," Parker said, adding that this can be both in their behaviour by urinating outside of their trays or physically when their bladders become extremely irritated.

She said increasingly vets are advising owners help pets suffering from these problems with a combination of medication and behavioral therapy.

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But she stressed not all pets need medication in the long term, sometimes drugs will be used for specific ailments or just for a short period of time.

Parker told ten daily that while sometimes this means human drugs are given at a lower dosage, in other cases they are also entirely different medicines.

But she added that a lot of mental health problems in animals are treated using human medication where there is published literature evidence that the specific medication can treat the specific problem.

Parker said there is also another class of medication that is specifically registered for use in animals.

"I think it's something that we’ve seen a lot more research on in recent years along with an expansion of knowledge and awareness," Parker told ten daily.

"Pet owners are more aware of it and our view of education and literature has expanded as well."

Parker said it's most important for owners to simply keep an eye out on their pets and take them to the vet if they think they are unwell in any way.

While all medication has potential side effects, Parker said any pets placed on medication would be closely monitored and required to undergo regular checkups by their vet to ensure they are responding well.

Williams told ten daily that on average dogs will take between four to six weeks to be weaned of anti-depressant medication .

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