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Over the last 20 years, the use of antidepressants has soared. In the United States alone, it is estimated that one in 10 people now takes an antidepressant medication. Humans, however, aren’t the only ones who are popping happy pills. Our furry friends are too. Considering the comfy life that many cats and dogs enjoy these days, it’s hard to believe they’d be anything but cheerful, but the market for pet pharmaceuticals is large and growing into a near $10 billion industry.

More and More Pets Being Given Antidepressants

In the U.S., approximately 2.8 American guardians reported giving their pets psychiatric medication. Why, we ask, are our companion animals being pumped full of happy pills? For starters, it has less to do with depression, than it does with behavior.

According to a British study, more than 80 percent of dogs in the UK suffer from behavioral conditions, such as excessive barking, destroying furniture, aggression, and urinating in the house. To control these problems, vets say their guardians are turning to antidepressants. In some cases, these drugs, which are like doggy versions of Prozac, do work to curb unwanted behaviors, but such medications often treat the symptoms of the problem, not the cause.

Finding the Root of the Problem

According to the study, many of these unwanted behaviors actually stem from stress while left home alone all day. People are living busier lives than ever before and that can take its toll on our furry companions. According to a report by the People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals (PDSA), more than 25 percent of dog guardians leave their companions alone in the house for five hours or more, and over 250,000 dogs are never even walked. Experts believe this is a recipe for behavioral issues, such as hyperactivity, anxiety, and obsessive-compulsive behavior.

Separation anxiety is one of the most common mental diagnoses for dogs, which is the feeling of distress when animals are separated from their guardians. When pet parents leave for work, dogs with separation anxiety will bark excessively, demolish the furniture, and urinate in the house. Another common problem amongst companion animals is general anxiety. If cats or dogs have been poorly socialized, they may struggle interacting with animals and people. Compulsive disorders are also brought on by boredom, which can lead to pets displaying repetitive behaviors. Cats, for example, may compulsively pace, continually groom themselves, or chew on fabrics. Dogs, on the other hand, may repetitively lick, tail chase or fence run if they’re exhibiting signs of a compulsive disorder. If your cat or dog is showing signs of any of these behavioral problems, there may be something wrong. But instead of heading for the bottle of Prozac pills, con.

Doggy Prozac, has been shown to improve behavioral problems in both cats and dogs, but veterinarians suggest that these drugs work best only with training and behavior modifications, as well. The best thing you can do to address these problems is to put in the time and effort to  ensure that your pet has been trained, properly socialized, and make its home environment a safe and comfortable place to be.

For our companion animals with severe disorders, there may be instances when a vet suggests that medication is the best option. For instance, one guardian said they took in a homeless dog who was riddled with anxiety problems from day one, which led to excessive barking, chewing and an intense dislike of other dogs. After trying everything from behavioral therapists to obedience training, they decided to try Prozac, and it worked. It was the only thing that worked, in fact, they said. However, there’s limited information about whether an animal’s mood can actually improve through these drugs.

The Alternative Treatment

The truth is, there is no magical pill that can solve all behavioral issues. And many of these drugs have side effects such as an altered mental state, including confusion, difficulty walking,  trembling and seizures, vomiting, diarrhea, increased body temperature, and other unintended results. Experts say spending more time with our pets is the most effective way to curb unwanted behavior. Our furry companions need lots of love, care and attention. If you leave them alone for hours at a time, provide them with little amusement, and only walk them once in a blue moon, then yes, problems may crop up.

If your cat or dog is suffering from behavioral issues, first, take a good look at how you’re treating your companion animal and ask yourself, are you giving he or she the best possible life? Are you spending plenty of time with them? Walking them enough? Playing with them enough? Have you taken the time to train them so that you both can live happy lives? If your fur baby is still suffering with anxiety, consider these natural stress remedies to help, along with seeking a behavior specialist’s and veterinarian’s advice to do what’s best for your cat or dog.

Featured image source: Sachin Sandhu