Here’s another contentious topic: psychoactive drugs for pets. They’re used for all kinds of disorders and in my experience they’ve saved lives.

There’s no doubt on this point: Veterinary behaviorists and general practitioners have been using these drugs now for decades with significant benefits to dogs, cats, horses, and birds. 

The problem? This arises every time veterinarians and pet owners employ these drugs as the sole approach to the complex issue of "mental health" in pets (a.k.a., behavior problems). 

"Pets displaying unwanted behaviors do not deserve to be medicated," many trainers, natural health proponents, and others argue. Nor, they say, does it help much beyond the sedating, mind-numbing capabilities these drugs offer. What these pets really need, in their estimation, is a healthy dose of exercise, basic training, and behavior modification.

I would heartily agree with the latter, but I couldn’t be more opposed to the concept of these drugs as a crutch for the clueless. Not when I work hard to counsel pet owners on the possible origins of the problem, put pets through their basic behavioral paces, refer to trainers, dog runners and veterinary behavior specialists, and generally try everything that might work in the face of anxiety, aggression, and obsessive behavior (among other serious disorders of the canine and feline brain).

Though you could argue that behavior problems happen primarily when we impose our human ways on your pets, they also happen in nature. A certain percentage of animals, wild or not, will always exhibit aberrant behaviors, many of which are potentially the result of genetic mutations. It’s even been posited that the adaptation towards certain "eccentric" canine behaviors may have led to the domestication of the dog. 

If we accept that basic tenet, we should also accept that mutations in the opposite (more anxious, more aggressive, more obsessive) direction are similarly possible and, as such, may require more than exercise, basic training, and behavior modification to circumvent.

Even if you argue it’s our human lifestyle that’s to blame for all our pets’ behavioral ills, you still have to accept that these animals have nowhere else to live. We have to create conditions whereby they can live with peace and comfort in the context of our households. Setting them free is just not an option, right? So what do you do when the non-drug methods don’t pay off enough to offer relief?

Ultimately, I tend to use one yardstick to measure whether I’ll use a psychoactive drug (like Prozac) or not: Am I using it to help the people achieve a "quick fix" through drug use or am I integrating it into a well-rounded healthcare program that’s designed to help the pet?

If it’s the latter, I’d argue that the use of drugs like these more than makes sense: They’re indispensable. 

Dr. Patty Khuly