To medicate or not to medicate, that is the question!

​Why are medications used to help manage pet behaviour?

Medications are most often used when a challenging behaviour has been happening for a long time. Pets learn to respond to something in their environment in a way that makes them feel better. This may be an unwanted behaviour such as barking, lunging, biting, growling, hiding, panting, pacing or others.

If this continues for a long time a habit forms and your pet responds “automatically”. Your pet may “generalise” this behaviour and begin to react in this way to other things in the environment as well. The behaviour may also become more frequent and intense.

An emotional reaction to something in the environment triggers a response in the survival part of the brain causing a flight or fight action. When the survival part of the brain is triggered it blocks the rational part of the brain and makes listening and learning new behaviours very difficult.

Medications aim to reduce the “survival reaction” chemicals in the brain, helping your pet be calmer so they can learn new, more acceptable behaviours through behaviour modification techniques. Medication does not fix the behaviour but is a “tool” that makes your pet ready and able to learn.

What kinds of medications may be used?

The most common medications are anti-anxiety treatments. They are only used if they are appropriate for the diagnosis given, based on the assessment of your pet. When used appropriately they will improve your dog’s longevity and quality of life!

Will they change my pet?

People often worry that medications will “drug” or “sedate” their pet or change their personality. This is not the case. If you notice these changes in your pet, the medication is not right for them and other options will be considered.

What is my role in the use of medications?

Medication is only used with the consent of the owner. It is important that you feel comfortable about the medication, fully understand it’s use and ask as many questions as needed so you are fully informed.

There are few medications registered for use in animal psychiatry. Human versions that have been used extensively for behaviour treatment in animals are often used. It is not always possible to predict the exact reaction an individual animal will have to medication, so your role in monitoring your pet’s response is vital.

If you notice any side effects, you will be asked to contact me immediately, so that doses can be adjusted or your pet can be weaned off the medication if needed and an alternative can be trialled.

Are any medical tests needed?

Before medication is begun, your pet will need a through veterinary check-up within last 6 months. This should include a complete physical exam, specifically looking for any source of chronic pain and a full blood test including thyroid levels.
The check-up is essential for your pet’s health and safety, while the blood tests are needed to look for any underlying medical conditions. Follow-up blood tests are required every six to twelve months while your pet is on medication. For your pet’s safety there will be no exceptions made.