When and Why I Recommend Drugs for Help With Your Dog’s Behavior

Sometimes Aggression is More than We can Handle.

Have you ever taken a drug?

Have you had sore muscles and taken a Tylenol or Ibuprofen?

Have you ever needed antibiotics?

Have you needed medication because a part of your body wasn’t performing the way it should; for instance your thyroid or some other system?

I, personally, have needed medication on occasion.

I take over the counter pain medication when I am sore, I take over the counter cold and flu medication when I am sick and occasionally I have taken prescription medication.

I have been on antibiotics on occasion throughout my life.

Once my eardrum ruptured and I had a fever of a littler over 105 degrees; and another time I had such a severe reaction to bug bites that my leg swelled over twice its size and I needed both antibiotics and steroids.

If I hadn’t had medication, there are a few times I am unsure that I would have actually survived.

The most simple of things can kill people and animals in the wild.

And, most people have no problem taking medication or putting their dog on medication for “physical” issues.

Many dogs need thyroid medications or other medications for a lifetime to regulate their system.

Yet….

Yet people fight and fight and often refuse to put their dog on medication for behavioral problems.

Can You Imaginedrugs

Can you imagine a world where people with mental illness were denied medications that could help them feel better?

Many of these mental conditions, such as schizophrenia, bi-polar disorder, and multiple personality disorder cause a marked increase in aggression if they are not treated.

A Department of Justice Report found that

  • of spouses killed by spouse – 12.3 percent of defendants had a history of untreated mental illness;
  • of children killed by parent – 15.8 percent of defendants had a history of untreated mental illness;
  • of parents killed by children – 25.1 percent of defendants had a history of untreated mental illness; and
  • of siblings killed by sibling – 17.3 percent of defendants had a history of untreated mental illness.

A 1998 MacArthur Foundation study found that people with serious brain disorders committed twice as many acts of violence in the period immediately prior to their hospitalization, when they were not taking medication, compared with the post-hospitalization period when most of them were receiving assisted treatment. Important to note, the study showed a 50 percent reduction in rate of violence among those treated for their illness.

For more on this fascinating human study click here

Most of us advocate treating people with mental illness (including depression) with medications that will help them feel better about life and their surrounding and cope with their mental illness.

Although thankfully, I have never suffered from a severe mental illness; I have had some bouts with serious depression (and *interestingly to note everyone in my family has had depression at some point or another and found relief from prescription medication).

After all, I think most of us can agree that depression is a physical and chemical imbalance; and NOT an inability to choose to change how we feel.

It used to be that depressed people were told to just “feel better” or “try harder” but it has been proven over and over again that clinical depression cannot be so easily “fixed”.

I Think it is Interesting to Note

And, I think it is interesting to note, that we as humans, realize that dogs suffer from the same basic health conditions we suffer from:

  • Thyroid disease
  • Cold or Flu
  • Pain
  • Infection
  • Old Age and the mental conditions that go with it
  • etc.

But…

dangerous dobermanBut again, we never take the time to pause and think that if they too, suffer from the same basic health conditions we have; why would they not suffer from some similar mental conditions?

We can’t sit our furry friends down and ask if they “hear voices”

But, I think it is fairly clear to witness that they suffer from phobias and severe anger management or rage syndroms.

Yet, owners always want to opt out of medications for what we consider “behavior problems”

I almost wish we COULD diagnose them with mental illness so that people could empathize with even their own animals instead of judge.

We don’t want them to have to be on “medication for life” much less behavioral medication but if their kidneys begin to shut down we have no problem giving them medication to help ease their “physical”pain.

The unfortunate part is I believe many mental illnesses (depression is certainly included here) also brings severe and sincere physical pain and limitations that then make the illness or “behavior” worse until treated.

If You Wouldn’t Deny Your Dog Health Medication; I Don’t Believe that You Should Deny Your Dog Medication that Will Improve His Behavior and Mental Wellness.

That is not to say that I think you should run to your vet if your dog is ignoring your commands or is rambunctious often.

I believe that medication should only be used in the most severe cases; especially aggression.

  • Severe dog Aggression (where the dog in question desires to kill dogs)
  • Severe People Aggression (where the dog in question has a desire to bite anyone who gets into his space)
  • Child Aggression (where the dog wants to chase and bite or even kill children, often this is children under a certain height and sometimes occurs even when a baby cries).
  • Severe Prey Drive and Aggression (these are often the dogs that get into a pack and wreak havoc in a neighborhood seemingly hunting anything that will run)
  • Severe Separation Anxiety (these dogs will literally hurt themselves trying to escape the home or environment)

Can you imagine living a life where every day you have an extreme desire to physically fight with people or even a sincere desire to kill when you are enraged?

I can’t imagine that this is a healthy or happy mental state and in my opinion certainly is not a “behavior problem” that can be fixed with some obedience to task.

However, I believe some people can be treated with medication AND behavior modification and counseling etc.  Not everyone with “homicidal tendencies” eventually kills someone.

I also think that behaviors like:

  • Fur pulling (some dogs literally pull their own fur out of their tails and other areas).
  • And self-harming (some dogs will lick themselves until they wound themselves through the skin, muscle and if left some down to bone).   We once saw a Greyhound who had licked his front leg to the point we could see his radius and another dog who had chewed off and eaten a couple of toes…

can be helped with medication and behavior modification (think of it as “therapy”).

But, we think of the latter two examples as “health” and not behavior or mental illness in animals, yet when people do this it is considered mental illness.

As soon as we think about putting an aggressive dog on medication people want to put on the breaks because, I suppose they don’t see the physical damage.

I Do

Do it again furI see the physical damage.

I see these dogs exhausted, torn or unable to decide between behaviors and pushed to debilitating aggression due to a probable chemical imbalance and lack of treatment.

But the physical damage (death) usually doesn’t come until these dogs have to be euthanized because of their “behavior” or aggression.

I can’t imagine living in a world where people are executed because their mental illness was not treated effectively.

Don’t get me wrong, I do think that euthanasia is appropriate in some severe instances of aggression; because again I don’t think that these dogs are happy or healthy and some are simply unmanageable.  Most people don’t want to take a dog that had killed other dogs or people.

But, I think, many can be saved; and many dogs could be find recovery if we step in prior to the aggressive “event”.

Yet, as with addiction or other severe mental illness recovery and maintenance of behavior does not equal CURED.

But many could be controlled if their families notice early, seek help, accept medical advice from a veterinary behaviorist, stick to a strict behavior modification program and realize the dog’s life behaviors will need to be maintained and controlled (again there is no miracle “cure” for people or dogs).

So if your trainer, behaviorist, or vet recommends some drug therapy for your dog with “behavior problems” consider how you would feel if you or others in our society were denied medication when needed!

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Comments

  1. Geske says:

    Very much agree and enjoy reading your posts

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  2. Donna says:

    Excellent article ! Makes a tremendous amount of sense.

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  3. SSN says:

    Thank you for validating what I finally did. We adopted a beautiful 4 yr chocolate Lab last year. Found out that we were her 5th home! She had spent most of her life either crated, hobbled, and had never been allowed “off lead” or socialized with other dogs. Giving up on her was not an option as she is very smart AND very strong (85 lbs.). Obedience classes, various restraints (no choke chain or pincher as she has throat damage), lots of patience and love worked marginally, but she still had issues of jumping other dogs and people-not aggressively, but friendly. Finally had a talk with my vet who recommended Prozac for her. I had mixed feelings and felt that if I gave her drugs, I had copped out. After deciding to “just try for 60 days”, I relented. It has been almost a year now. I still tell few of our friends, but everyone comments on “how far she has come”. Her behavior is not perfect, but she needed drugs to be enjoyed and enjoy her new life. You are so right!

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  4. I think u r absolutely rite dogs need help to with things I know a pit that went nuts and had to be put to sleep maybe if the owners had know to put her on meds it could have helped these owners were sweet people did not raise. The dog mean one day the dog started showing its crazy side and went nuts maybe it could have been prevented with meds poor dog so I totally. Agree with u Chet

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  5. Catherine Rees says:

    I too agree that dogs can and do suffer same illnesses as humans, be it physical or mental, and if they can be helped w/ meds, by all means, do it but responsibly. Our dog is extremely exuberant, and we are trying to stop the jumping when people come to visit. However in one of my exasperated moments, I asked about Prozac for dogs…well, we have some but I don’t want to break his happy and lovable disposition, so was told about putting little treats & peanut butter in a Kong & freezing it. Works like a charm, he wants his Kong & soon he’s quieted down & ready for pets & live.

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  6. Virginia says:

    I have had my dog eight weeks she his 3years old I got her of young couple who had a baby .she his really good in house but she pulls on lead tried to get to other dogs I can let her of lead and she good of lead but if she sees cat squirrel or dog will chase them don’t know the answer

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  7. JoAnn Hirshhorn says:

    We have an alpha female Australian terrier who is agressive when my daughter’s around. It’s her dog which I understand but it’s getting worse. It’s around food now and most recently around toys. I also have a one year old Yorkie and a fourteen year old Ausie terrier. She’s fine around the older dog but keeps attacking the timid Yorkie. It’s gotten better since we walk them together and have worked with a trainer but just yesterday there was an attack over a toy that was pretty scary, no blood or fur she just won’t let go of him. Do you think Medes might help with this type of aggression? Thanks.

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  8. Leslie Bowman says:

    Would meds help my small dog who is severely frightened by my husband? ? She was a mill dog rescued young, warms to ANYONE but my husband.. there’s never been any abuse by him towards her..she just hates him..we’ve tried everything. .

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  9. Jennifer Cavin says:

    I have a dog with severe people aggression. I’ve been working with her through the Dog Aggression Training Class, but she is still wanting to bite anybody that comes near her. She is a very bright Border Collie mix who learns very quickly all the training techniques I’ve gone through with her. I believe she would benefit from medication, but my veterinarian doesn’t believe in medicating for behavioral issues. Is there another way I can get these meds prescribed?

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    Minette Reply:

    Seek a second opinion or find a veterinary behaviorist. Veterinary behaviorists are more familiar with the correct drugs and dosage for behavior problems anyway!

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  10. BJ says:

    In November my 15 1//2 yr old reacted to my touching him by snapping and his tooth slashed my hand. I ended up in the hospital on IV antibiotics for four days. He had never done that before. Things quieted down and then in February it happened again. I was in for only three days. He was becoming more and more aggressive and we couldn’t figure it out.

    In May I noticed blood in his urine. He was diagnosed with UTI and treated with antibiotics and Prozac. That didn’t help. What helped was changing vets. She found stones in his bladder which is very painful. Once she cured that he was no longer in pain and his behavior changed completely.

    Better living through drugs.

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  11. lee ann somers says:

    I totally agree. Our malamute has severe anxiety riding in the car but once we arrive at our destination is very happy to be there with us. We give her a sedative before long car trips and she is so much less stressed. She feels better and we feel better.

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  12. Janet says:

    I think you are right on the money with this advise. I had a Doberman who licked her front leg until she needed treatment from our vet. We lived on a farm so getting exercise was not an issue. She had a form of mental illness. She constantly licked until the leg looked like a huge wound. Many people would inquire as to what we were doing about the severe sore on our dog. When I would tell them what she was doing and that she was under the care of a vet, they looked skeptical. She had what was called a lick granuloma. As you probably know, this is a compulsive problem for some dogs. Not a fun thing to watch a dog suffer because they just have some issue going on within them that they can’t explain. Informing people and giving them options that they might not have thought of is great. Keep up the good work. Your articles are very helpful. Thanks, Janet

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  13. My dog has gotten aggressive towards me,but loves my husband. He was a rescue dog,so may have had a bad experience before

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  14. Sheriluci says:

    My 6 1/2 yo Welch Corgi female has become territorial about her space,.ie..the back & front yard if another dog gets near it the barking & growling begin. She is a pet therapy dog & has not shown these behaviors until the last 6 months! Any suggestions?
    Thank you.
    Sheri

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    Minette Reply:

    This can be common and is a problem of being visually stimulated as well in lot of herding dogs.

    I put my dogs on leash and teach them appropriate behavior when in the yard and other dogs are around. If I need to set my dog up for training by having a friend heel past so that I can teach my dog that the running and barking and growling is not acceptable.

    I also get my dogs out in the world to make sure this feeling doesn’t transfer to dogs in other areas.

    I think this might help http://www.thedogtrainingsecret.com/blog/cohabitating-herding-dog/

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  15. Cathy says:

    I agree that meds can help a lot of dogs, but the medications we have don’t always work for mental illness in humans or animals. I had a dog that from the time I got her at 8 weeks always had fear in her eyes and like an autistic child never was able to bond with us. At around a year she began biting people. We had her on meds and I thought if I just loved her enough and gave her consistant training and lots of exercise that I could save her. We finally gave up and felt that it was a kindness to euthanize her rather than let her live in the obvious mental pain she was in. I cried my eyes out, but I had to let her go.

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    Minette Reply:

    True, sometimes the behaviors are too severe to manage kindly but again; I think this goes back to genetics. Clearly you loved this dog and had her young, sometimes the chemical imbalance is simply too severe.

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  16. Annie says:

    My 1 year old male Bichan Frise was rescued age 11 weeks. He was very afraid of everything & still is of anything new. He is very hyper when we come home & often loses control of his bladder. When we can get him settled down he is fine. He also gets hyper when anyone comes to the house that he knows. Mostly he loves people but occasionally he gets aggressive with one as if he might bite. On occasion as we play with him he gets hyper & barks & runs like crazy. I am concerned that these behaviors may get worse since they have shown no signs of calming as he has grown a little older. Does it sound like he needs evaluating for meds. The bladder thing is a concern also.

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    Minette Reply:

    Submissive urination is fairly normal in young dogs. Use the search bar at the top of the page to search for articles that will help with that.

    Meds should not be used for hyper dogs, just like I don’t believe in them being used for hyper kids. Instead lots of exercise and training are key.

    I have to run my dogs several miles every day to meet their needs. You can also search my articles on exercise and your dogs’ needs.

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