Saturday, February 28, 2009

Drug use among pets increasing

A recent National Geographic article addresses the increasing tendency of some pet owners to medicate their pets with anti-depressants and other psycho-pharmaceuticals that have been explicitly developed for humans.

The issue made headlines earlier this month after a pet chimp attacked a woman in Connecticut leaving her in critical condition. The chimp may have been given the anti-anxiety medication Xanax because he was agitated -- a claim that his owner later retracted.

According to NG:

Demand for anti-anxiety medications for pets is growing, in part because of increased public awareness of the drugs' potential benefits, said animal-behavior expert Bonnie Beaver of Texas A&M University's College of Veterinary Medicine.

It's not known, however, exactly how many pets are taking such drugs, Beaver said.

Common side effects of anti-anxiety medications in pets include drowsiness or sedation, said veterinary behaviorist Melissa Bain of the University of California, Davis.

But in dogs, drugs such as Xanax can reduce inhibition, worsening aggression problems, Bain said. Dogs that are both fearful and aggressive, for example, may lose their fear and lash out.

"We use [anti-anxiety medications] with caution in aggressive animals, by all means," she said.

Other side effects of Xanax, noticed in dogs and cats, include excitement, irritability, and increased affection.

I could write a tome about this topic. This trend raises a number of issues:
  • Should pet owners be allowed to medicate their pets (yes, in some circumstances)
  • Should pet owners medicate their pets with drugs intended for humans (probably not)
  • Should drug companies develop drugs specifically intended for pets? And if so, what psychological issues would these drugs address? Why? (probably yes -- all pets by definition have already been highly modified and domesticated; as for what psychological traits to address, that's an open question -- but perhaps human psychology may provide a clue)
  • Should people be allowed to have chimps (and other highly intelligent species) as pets? (definitely not)
  • Should people even be allowed to have pets (Peter Singer would say no)
I would be interested to hear what you think. Please feel free to share your thoughts on the matter.

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