Separation anxiety: the ubiquitous pet malady for which medication abounds
Today I had a drug rep come to the hospital to let me know about a new medication for separation anxiety in dogs (again, our cats are left out). Just approved, Reconcile, manufactured by Eli Lilly, is not about to become a household name (as Rimadyl and Heartgard have). Yet so many dogs have serious separation anxiety issues that it’s tough to imagine another drug that deserves it quite as much—should it prove effective.
Separation anxiety is widespread among our pets—for good reason.
We love them, we baby them, we integrate them into so many aspects of our lives…and then, unless they’re very lucky, we leave them behind when we have something important to do (like go to work).
It’s no wonder that many act out their stress in undesirable ways. Consider the dog that barks incessantly, almost rhythmically, when left outside. Or the one who leaves “presents” by the door almost every day. How about the crate destroyer or the couch assassin? I even knew one dog who chewed through the wooden steering wheel of his owner’s antique car when left alone for just a few minutes. Another broke three canine teeth…after making it halfway out of his crate and discovering he couldn’t escape without further destruction.
To be sure, their displays of anxiety can be exasperating (and expensive). But look at it from their point of view: they’re freaked out of their brains.
Most dogs aren’t so affected that they actually destroy things and hurt themselves in the process. But many are well on their way. Without an appropriate response from their owners, minor separation anxiety can give way to full-blown destructive manifestations of stress in a matter of years, if not months.
What’s worse is that [until the dog gets outright injurious in his behavior] most owners tend to mis-read common signs of distress (house soiling, frequent hot spots, lick granulomas and crate chewing, to name a few).
Moreover, the guilt we feel when we leave our pets behind often makes us act in ways that can unwittingly exacerbate the condition. Confess: Do you ever spend just a couple of extra seconds every day saying goodbye?
Like the mother who cries at the schoolhouse door upon relinquishing her child’s care to another, doting pet owners mistakenly fail to tear themselves away appropriately. Sure, it’s hard. But it’s much harder on them when the act of separation becomes daytime drama-worthy. The quick split is the ideal approach—for humans as for pets.
For my patients I recommend safe, comfortable crate training. I recommend an experienced, positive-methodology oriented trainer. And for those who have acquired a moderate to severe form of the disease, I recommend medication—at least at the very beginning of behavior modification therapy.
Most of the meds I use are not your typical, “I’m-so-whacked-I-might-as-well-just-sleep-and-not-rip-up-my-crate” drugs. Valium and Xanax? Almost never. I tend to use the non-drowsy, neurotransmitter-affecting drugs like Prozac and Clomicalm.
Clomicalm (clomipramine) is an anti-anxiety drug already marketed for separation anxiety in dogs. Somehow this drug didn’t quite make it as far as people expected it to. No, it was not the answer to our prayers; one little pill didn’t miraculously cure Fido of his baseboard cravings—not without the hard work it takes to properly re-condition a dog to a comfortable state of being.
And I don’t expect Lilly’s version to magically cure anxiety, either. It's basically Prozac, fancily repackaged for our canine friends.
But will I use it? Maybe. Their reason for being the best of the anti-anxiety drugs? Because theirs comes with a DVD so owners can’t cop out of the behavior modification aspect of anxiety. Yet I’m not sure that’ll help. After all, if an owner can’t go to the trouble or expense of hiring a professional trainer, I suspect one little old DVD ‘ain’t gonna cut it—especially not if it comes with a dollar-a-pill premium.