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Barking Back At Prozac

January 18, 1999 [ Printer-friendly version ]

If you've been completely wrapped up in the president's Senate trial, you may have missed the stunning news to come out of the Food and Drug Administration. Earlier this month the FDA approved the first behavior modification drugs for dogs: Clomicalm and Anipryl. They respectively treat "separation anxiety" -- whose symptoms are excessive whining and barking, drooling, attacking doors and window -- and a form of mental deterioration known as "old dog syndrome" (no jokes about new tricks, please).

Will sullen, non-responsive cats or sleepy lap dogs now be diagnosed with clinical depression? Will sniffing every fire hydrant be seen as evidence of obsessive compulsive disorder? Should puppies who run wildly around the house one minute, then chew up a pair of shoes the next be diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder? Can a line of liver-flavored Prozac rawhide chew toys be far behind, sitting on the shelf next to Eli Lilly's peppermint-flavored Prozac for children?

What used to be farce in "Down and Out in Beverly Hills," in which a pet psychiatrist counseled the family dog, is now reality. It illustrates a national trend toward drugging our problems away that nowadays elicits more yawns than protests and proves what Charlie Sheen has known for years: drugs are man's best friend. Who would have thought that the hysterical ad parody from "Saturday Night Live" -- "puppy uppers and doggy downers" -- would become a ho-hum reality at millennium's turn?

There has even been a proposal to charter a new college for pet psychologists in the American Veterinary Medical Association. "Anything that can cause stress for humans can cause stress for animals," said AVMA spokeswoman Sharon Curtis.

"Pets are supposed to provide therapy for their owners, not the other way around," said Dr. Peter Breggin, author of "Talking Back To Prozac." "It's going to be just like with our children: Instead of meeting our pets' needs, we'll just drug them. It used to be that we petted our dogs and hugged our kids. Now we can give both of them a pill instead."

So the people who want their dogs to keep up with the Rovers will have to put them on the latest doggy drugs. Can Doggy Viagra be far behind for those lucky older mutts who have not already had their doghoods snipped off? One of the two drugs just approved is, after all, made by Pfizer, the pharmaceutical giant that brought us Viagra. With Bob Dole signed up as Viagra's spokesman, maybe Leader, the Doles' faithful miniature schnauzer who, ironically, barks in the third person, can become the poster pup for Clomicalm, the separation anxiety drug.

Can you imagine a worse anxiety than having both of your masters leave you to campaign for president?

Sales of antidepressants for humans surpassed $6 billion in the United States last year. If the adult human market is peaking, think of the growth potential in going after children and animals next, especially if pet owners are as willing as parents have been to overlook the pet drugs' side-effects, which include mania and schizophrenia.

Fortunately, there is another school of thought represented not just by my lonely voice in the wilderness but by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA). "This is symptomatic of our culture," said PETA spokesperson Ingrid Newkirk. "This is what happens when people are so self-consumed that they don't even have time to prevent or relieve stress the good old-fashioned way, by giving animals enough love, attention, play, fresh air and exercise."

There is one silver lining. Hundreds of thousands of children have been prescribed anti-depressant drugs without rigorous clinical testing and before they have been approved by the FDA for pediatric use. Now that the FDA has approved anti-depressants for animals, maybe the big drug companies can begin testing their new products on actual guinea pigs, instead of using our children as a substitute.

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