‘Smart’ medications make the treatment of problem behaviours in pets easier and safer.
Anxiety disorders in pets are far more common than many people recognise.
Dogs which are sensitive to noises such as thunderstorms and others that are unmanageable when their owners leave them, are showing behavioural disorders which could respond well to new ‘smart drugs’.
Cats that are anxious and that spray urine around the home, that are aggressive or that show compulsive behaviours which could including over-grooming could also benefit.
Many people ask why you need to medicate an animal for a behavioural problem. Can’t the animal be ‘trained’ to make it behave?
Medications are just one part of a 4-step plan for a behaviour remedy, and they need to fit a formal assessment and diagnosis.
When we help you with your pet’s behaviour will consider the following 4 points of therapy:-
- Is there a medical condition that is causing, or contributing, to the behavioural problem?
- Can your pet learn to ‘be good’ and if so, how can that be achieved?
- How is your pet’s behaviour best managed? (which usually means ‘avoided’ – an important step for aggressive behaviours which are risk-laden)
- Is a calmative needed? If so they can include:-
- Homeopathic preparations
- Pheromones such as Adaptil and Feliway
- And other calming strategies such as massage.
So, ‘training a pet to behave’ is only one part of a behavioural plan, as is the choice to use medication.
Medication is rarely used in its own, just as training is rarely used on its own.
Further, just like humans, some animals cannot learn to ‘switch off’ the moods that worry them.
Anxious animals are often so aroused that it is impossible for them to learn how to act differently. The story is much the same with cats except that cats are much more difficult to train ‘to be good’.
So, medications can make a pet calmer so that training and other strategies are more effective.
What Type of Medications are Used?
A broad range of medications are available and choosing the correct medication can be a complex decision.
Nowadays, the use of tranquilisers and sedatives is uncommon due to side-effects.
Instead, modern medications are mostly side-effect free and are quite ‘smart’ in the way they change a pet’s mood for the better.
To keep it simple, medications can be divided into two groups:-
- The quick-acting – ‘use when you need it’ group
- The slow-onset daily medications
Quick-acting ‘When you Need it’ Medications
There are several candidate medications in this group. They are implemented when a problem can be predicted and are generally given before the problem arrives.
- Thunderstorms can be predicted using weather radar software. Giving a ‘when you need it’ medication when the storm is an hour away can be useful
- Fireworks are a ‘night-time only’ event and are usually quite predictable – New Year’s Eve is a typical example.
- Separation distress that occurs only as you leave (and that does not last for the whole day) can benefit from a ‘when you need it’ medication
- If it does last for the whole day, a slow onset-long term medication is often better.
- Distress that occurs when you walk or drive your dog is another example.
The Slow-onset Daily Medications
Slow-onset, daily medications are very commonly used and are amongst the most effective medications for pet behavioural disorders.
Mostly, this group is characterised by the medication taking 2 – 4 weeks to show benefit.
They are used long-term – usually at least 2 months and often a lot longer. Sometimes they are needed ‘for life’ if the continued need is proven through recheck consultations.
Typically, medications from this group are used when the pet’s behavioural problem is not predictable, when it occurs several times per day, and/or when a pet’s quality of life and welfare scores are adversely affected.
- Separation -related distress where the pet is anxious or panicking for the duration of an owner’s absence – typically 10 hours a day, five days per week.
- Noise-related disorders where the noise cannot be predicated or eliminated (e.g. nailing guns in a newly-developing suburb, or gunshots from a nearby rifle range).
- Many forms of aggression which cannot be predicted (other forms of behaviour management would be vital).
- Impulsive, hyperactive and highly aroused states.
- Compulsive and self-injurious behaviours.
- Anxiety in cats caused by territorial challenges from uncontrolled roaming cats
If you are considering that your pet would benefit from a medication approach for his or her behaviour, we can help by creating a behaviour management plan and will help you to decide if a medication approach is part of that.
If you have not done so already, please “tell us what’s happening” by completing a behaviour assessment form that you will find linked in the menu above.
What pet behaviour worries benefit from medication?
Many dogs show physiological signs of stress in the owner’s absence and suffer from a Separation Anxiety Disorder. Dogs with this problem will often tremble, shake, drool and hyperventilate when their owners leave to go to work. Some will even do this when their owners close the door to go to the toilet in private!
Some of these dogs, when confined when their owners are absent, will soil the room they are in and others develop ‘introverted’ behaviour such as self-mutilation. This can include licking or chewing of the paws and the upper part of the foreleg. On the foreleg, a gradually enlarging lesion caused by the continual licking and chewing can occur. This is called an Acral Lick Dermatitis. These lesions can be difficult to control.
Many dogs suffering a Separation Anxiety will also escape regularly. Escaping can often be a sign of a panic disorder.
One dog I treated jumped through a plate glass window, bent a swimming pool fence to get out and pulled the door jams off a room he was confined in. Dangerous behaviours!
Behaviours like this are obviously a problem for the owner but think about the dog! These pooches are really stressed out.
Noise fears often respond well to new mood-modifying medications. Dogs which are scared of thunderstorms and noises are very difficult to manage and often put their lives at risk by escaping. While some dogs can be desensitised to the noises and the problem thus solved, many cannot. Mood-modifying medications are useful for dogs like these.
Compulsive Disorders in Pets
Behavioural problems known as Compulsive Disorders also respond well to mood-modifiers. Compulsions are repetitive, pointless behaviours that are sometimes harmful to the pet. Tail chasing, pacing and circling are examples of such disorders.
Then there are the paranoid puss-cats!
Fears in cats are surprisingly common. It is common for cats to be scared of strangers and of new cats entering their household. It is also common for cats to be upset by neighbourhood cats that they see or hear. The common outcomes of fear and anxiety in cats are spraying behaviour, house-soiling and sometimes aggression.
Spraying behaviour can be a huge problem for cat owners to deal with and a headache for veterinarians to treat. I have had pleasing results with mood-modifying medications for such problems and have saved many cats, and marriages, with its use!
Pet owners rightfully ask about the side effects of the medications. This is an important question as all drugs have side effects of one type or another.
Common behaviour modifying medications are usually very gentle.
Some can cause a small amount of lethargy or a reduction in appetite and, depending on the medication, there can be other side effects
Medication must be used responsibly. All mood-modifying medications are prescription medications and they are only available from your veterinarian and only through a consultation.
Medications do not replace behaviour modification or other methods of creating behaviour change.
If you use medications on your pet, your view should be to use it for as long as needed to solve the problem and to then get your pet off the medication.