Canine separation-related problems – also described as separation anxiety or separation distress – are among the most common behavioral complaints of dog owners. But the issue of using psychoactive medication to help pets with behavioral problems is a widely debated one. Regardless, treatment with psychoactive medication in parallel with a behavior modification plan is well documented, but it is unknown if this is associated with an improvement in underlying emotion or mood, or simply an inhibition of the behavior and the drug is just a placebo.
In a new paper, researchers say they devised a method to evaluate animals’ emotional state when treated with fluoxetine – the active ingredient in Prozac for humans and Reconcile for pets. Fluoxetine is typically used to treat depression, obsessive compulsive disorder and anxiety in humans. The researchers recruited dogs showing signs of separation anxiety, such as barking, howling, destruction of property and toileting when alone, and used a special behavior test to determine if they were feeling ‘optimistic’ or ‘pessimistic’.
In the test, dogs were taught that when a food bowl was placed in one location it contained food, but when placed in another location that it was empty. The bowl was then placed in ambiguous locations, and the dogs’ response was assessed to determine whether they expected food (i.e. ‘optimistic’) or not (i.e. ‘pessimistic’).
The results indicated that when dogs were treated for separation problems using both a behavior modification program combined with fluoxetine treatment that they did become more optimistic, and as their mood improved so did the behavior problem. The same results were not recorded for the control group.
The animals were treated with both the drug and a behavior modification program. Though the drug did seem to bring about a rapid improvement in mood, the animals responded to the training program.
Citation: Daniel S Mills, Christos I Karagiannis, Oliver HP Burman, ‘Dogs with separation-related problems show a “less pessimistic” cognitive bias during treatment with fluoxetine (Reconcile™) and a behaviour modification plan’, BMC Veterinary Research
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