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Is your dog distressed?

June 11, 1999

JakeBy KATE COLEMAN / Staff Writer

photos: KEVIN G. GILBERT / staff photographer




Jake is a "Velcro dog." That's what the techs at Dr. Virginia Scrivener's Funkstown veterinary office call the 7-year-old golden retriever. Jake likes to be close to Scrivener, his owner.

Jake has separation anxiety. He gets upset when Scrivener is away from him. Scrivener and Jake live in an apartment above her office, so he can go to work with her. But that wasn't good enough for Jake. When Scrivener was in an examining room with a patient, he would sit by the door and cry.

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It's understandable. Jake's had three previous owners.

Some people give their pets away. Others take them to a shelter. Humane societies try to find homes for them, but often the animals are euthanized. Behavior problems are the number one reason for euthanizing pets, says Scrivener. Other veterinarians and Humane Society of the United States agree.

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Dr. Scrivener and JakeScrivener is trying is a low dose of Clomicalm, the trade name for clomipramine, the first psychological drug for dogs approved by U.S. Food and Drug Administration earlier this year.

FDA also has approved the drug Anipryl, originally marketed for Cushing's syndrome, an adrenal gland disorder. Veterinarians are prescribing it for treatment of a behavioral disorder known as canine cognitive dysfunction syndrome that has been linked to a number of changes in old dogs' nervous systems, according to an article by Dr. Leslie Sinclair in an article in "All Animals," the Humane Society newsletter.

Dr. Darin Gilpin of Shenandoah Veterinary Hospital in Martinsburg, W.Va., compares the syndrome to senility in elderly people. Symptoms may include walking in circles or barking incessantly, he says. They get disoriented, lost in their own homes, and it's usually worse in the evening, says Dr. Lindsay Kerfoot of Park Circle Animal Hospital in Hagerstown.

Extra-label use of people drugs that are not approved specifically for animals has been an accepted practice for some time. Prozac, for example, was one of the first drugs to be looked at for animals, according to Sinclair, Humane Society director of veterinary issues for companion animals.

Dr. Dwight Ridenour of Wayne Heights Animal Hospital in Waynesboro, Pa., considered prescribing Zoloft, a drug used to treat depression or obsessive-compulsive disorder in people, for a springer spaniel, a breed that's known for aggression, he says. If you tried to groom the dog, he'd try to kill you, he says.

At about $100 a month, the owner decided it was too costly. "They're all pretty expensive," Ridenour says.

Problems in cats

Cats have behavior problems, too. They can be aggressive toward people or other animals, they may use the litter box inappropriately, or they may be territorial and spray urine all over the house.

Kerfoot has used Valium, Elavil and Buspar to help cats. Her own 9-year-old cat, Monster, had problems with spraying urine in the house. Kerfoot tried one of the medications, but it just made the cat dopey, she says.

Sinclair's cat Mr. Socks would spray urine - on her clothes, her purse - when she came home from the animal clinic smelling like 20 other cats, she says.

Kerfoot uses multiple litter boxes, and Monster stays in the large bathroom when visitors come, because he gets upset. Sinclair learned that she had to put her work clothes in a hamper as soon as she got home from work.

Drugs alone will not solve the problem. The pet's environment and behavior need to be changed. So do the owner's.

Scrivener had to desensitize Jake to her leaving. She doesn't put her keys where he will hear her pick them up to go out. She removed clues to her impending absence by leaving at oddball times. Scrivener advises that you don't look at the dog when you are leaving and says the dog never should be reprimanded for attention-seeking behavior.

Dogs who seem hyperactive may just need more exercise.

The veterinarians agree that the pet should have a good physical exam to rule out conditions that might be causing the unwanted behaviors. If medication is prescribed, it is only along with behavioral and environmental modification. The goal is to wean the pet off the drug after a few months or at least get to a very low dose.

Jake is doing better. He now goes to the treatment room to sleep while waiting for Scrivener.

Where to call for help

For help with your pet's behavior, call American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Behavior Helpline. It is staffed by trainers and pet behavior counselors who can help with problems such as biting, scratching and household spraying. They also can offer advice on care, provide information on specific breeds and recommend local trainers. Call 1-212-876-7700, ext. 4357, between 1 and 5 p.m. weekdays, or e-mail companion@aspca.org.

The Web site of Humane Society of the United States is www.hsus.org.

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