Pets and Antidepressants: 5 Reasons Why Your Vet Would Prescribe Them

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Given the state of the economy, and upticks in home foreclosures and employment rates in the past few years, it may come as no surprise that antidepressants are now the most frequently used medications among Americans between the ages of 18 and 44, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

People may have a lot to be depressed about lately, but why are veterinarians now prescribing antidepressants for pets? Considering the cushy life that many dogs and cats enjoy these days, do they really have anything to be down about?

It's Not What You Think

Truth is, antidepressants are generally not used for depression in veterinary medicine. Rather, they are prescribed to help treat various underlying anxieties that can lead to behavior problems. And by behavior problems, I'm not talking about your average my-dog-doesn’t-come-when-I-call kind of issue.

I’m talking about complex problems, like the ones that have come through my exam room: a dog who shrieked whenever the silverware drawer was opened, a cat who repeatedly attacked his own tail until it was nothing but a bloody stump, and a rescued dog who constantly cowered and flinched — despite the fact that the canine's kind-hearted owner spent months sleeping on the floor to earn the dog’s trust.

For these pets, there’s no “magic pill” that can cure their behavior problems. Although training and behavior modification may eventually help them overcome their anxieties, veterinarians may also prescribe medications to help prevent such pets from hurting themselves or damaging property — and to help reduce their anxiety levels long enough to allow them to learn new behavior patterns.

So what kind of behavior problems are we talking about? Here's a look at five common scenarios in which vets may prescribe pet antidepressants.

Separation Anxiety

Many dogs can become severely distressed when they're separated from their owners. A classic example of this is when owners leave for work, driving certain dogs to bark incessantly, destroy furniture, chew holes in drywall, urinate in the house and even scratch at the door until their paws are bloody.

Generalized and Acute Anxiety

Pets who were poorly socialized or who had bad experiences as youngsters may have trouble interacting with people and animals — and be fearful of new situations. Others may experience acute anxiety, which can manifest as thunderstorm phobias or a fear of loud noises.

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