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

Compulsive Disorders

Pets can display repetitive behaviors that serve no function. Cats with psychogenic alopecia, for example, may groom themselves to the point where their flanks or limbs are completely devoid of hair. Cats can also compulsively pace, yowl or suck on fabrics, such as wool. Compulsive behaviors for dogs include repetitive licking, fence running and tail chasing.

Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome

Older pets, especially dogs, may start to show signs of anxiety associated with an aging brain, as well as appear disoriented, forget housetraining and interact less with the family.

Feline Urine Marking

While most urine marking can be resolved through neutering or spaying a pet, some felines who continue to spray in the house may respond to medication. In cases like these, your veterinarian will examine the pet and recommend diagnostic tests to help rule out underlying medical conditions that can cause the behavior problem.

4 Important Facts About Antidepressants and Pets

No medication is a replacement for training and behavior modification. Prescription drugs may help calm a pet, but they don’t address the underlying problem. Ideally, antidepressants should be used on a short-term basis, so that your pet is more receptive to training. The ultimate goal: Change a pet’s behavior through training, eliminating the need for medication.

Many medications have potential side effects. Your veterinarian may want to perform blood tests before prescribing an antidepressant, as well as run periodic blood tests during treatment to help determine how your pet's body is tolerating the medication. Be sure to ask your vet what potential side effects are associated with your pet's medication.

Pets will not change behaviors overnight. With many medications, it may take several weeks or months before you notice changes in your pet's demeanor.

Some medications may be used off label. What this means is that a drug can be prescribed for a use that has not been approved by the Federal Drug Administration (FDA). While veterinarians make recommendations based on the best information available, using drugs off label is not without risks, so you may be asked to sign a consent form authorizing the use of medications in this manner.

For pets with severe behavior problems, antidepressants may help them cope with their anxieties in the short term, but the real key is for owners to possess the patience and determination to provide their pets with the right training — even if it means working with a veterinary behaviorist or a certified trainer. Ultimately, this is what will make pets a lot happier.


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