Friday, 18 July 2008

medications to change dog behaviours

As I was reading an article on "Pill-Popping Pets" in the New York Times, I could hear Penny making a quiet repetitive noise; she was licking her paw. The report I was reading was by James Vlahos and I'd found it by following a link from Bark Blog. I settled down to read the story and Penny settled down to turn her paws a reddish-brown colour.

The article discusses the modern trend towards medicating pets with pills originally designed to alter human emotional states.

For many years scientists have argued that animals do not have minds similar to our own. Charles Darwin believed animal minds differ from human ones in the degree of thought or emotion, not in whether they are capable of such characteristics, but his view has not been as influential as Descartes' teaching that animals are soulless machines. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy gives an overview of such views:
The early history of western philosophy reflects a tendency to see animals as lacking rationality. Aristotle defined “human” as “the rational animal”, thus rejecting the possibility that any other species is rational (Aristotle Metaphysics). Aquinas believed that animals are irrational because they are not free (Aquinas Summa Theologica). Centuries later Descartes defended a distinction between humans and animals based on the belief that language is a necessary condition for mind; on his view animals are soulless machines (Descartes Discourse on the Method). Locke agreed that animals cannot think, because words are necessary for comprehending universals (Locke Essay Concerning Human Understanding). Following in this tradition, Kant concludes that since they cannot think about themselves, animals are not rational agents and hence have only instrumental value (Kant Lectures on Ethics)
However, modern pharmaceutical companies have discovered a huge potential market for their products - pets and domesticated animals. Pragmatism may lead to a different popular belief system about animal cognition. This change runs alongside a scientific community that is more willing to investigate the possibility that we have misinterpreted or underestimated the possibilities inherent in the animals that co-exist with us on this planet. For instance, Vlahos interviewed a behavioural pharmacologist, Dr Nicholas Dodma, a pioneer in this field who founded the Tufts University Animal Behavior Clinic.Dodman gives the example of 'a pacing, hyperventilating dog.' Sceptics would question whether the animal was actually feeling anxious. Dodman said, “We’ll give him an antianxiety drug and see what happens.”

Trials of many drugs used on humans have in fact had a similar effect on dogs, the article says. Well, I can't say that surprises me, given that we usually try out our new drugs on laboratory animals. Why would we trial drugs on animals if we don't think they are like us?

It was when I got to page 5 and the discussion of dogs that are literally bored out of their brains by the life we expect them to live in our homes that I began to feel the stirrings of guilt. What was I doing sitting there reading while Penny lay in the kitchen licking her paws? I leapt up and grabbed a pair of rubber balls and ostentatiously rattled the back door. Sure enough, there she was, wet paws and all, standing by my side. Out we went and threw the ball around for ten minutes. But human frailty crept in - after all, it was only 5° outside (Celcius) and the sun was setting.

Inside again, I started to read. The discussion dealt with the question of whether pharmaceuticals have a part to play. In general, they probably do, in extreme cases; but they'll only have maximum effect if the humans are willing to put in the 'hard yards' at working with their pets to change behaviours.

Uh, oh... guilt struck again. Was Penny lying there bored? Hmmm...maybe for dinner tonight I'd give her a Kong stuffed with soft food instead of her normal hunk of rabbit or piece of meaty chicken carcass.

It took her nearly an hour to lick out the two Kongs of food. Good. But wait a minute...aren't I committed to a raw meaty diet?

It sure is a complicated life living with a dog. I think I'll stop worrying about all this and accept that Penny has a rich life. I don't think we'll be taking mood-altering drugs in the near future.

Well, she won't. Don't know about me.

For an informed evaluation of the article you might like to read the post on it by a US vet who blogs as Dolittler.

8 comments:

The Aphasia Decoder.... said...

My brother in law had a dog who constantly looked up to the ceiling, obsessively so. Their vet gave him some kind of a drug and he turned into a normal dog again.

Interesting blog entry again. I have an award for you if you want to come by my blog to collect it.

Levi's mom

parlance said...

Levi's mom, thanks for the award. I'll come over and get it, if I can figure out how it works. Sometimes things on the Net confuse me!
I can see how medication would help a dog who had a mental illness that showed up as an obsessive behaviour. It all goes to show that humans are very like other species, doesn't it?

The Aphasia Decoder.... said...

You asked about the figure eight walk we do in obedience class... Picture a large number eight painted on floor---ours is about 20-25 feet long. When the dog/human team starts they start by having the dog sit in the middle where the loops meet and then they walk/heel the lines of the number, sitting the dog again each time they get to the center. That gives you practice with inside and outside turns, and where we go for obedience, it gives practice walking by the distractions of the other dogs who are lined around the outside of the room. You can do figure eights anywhere. We're suppose to do them 3 times a day which only takes 5 minutes each time. Levi can even do them without his leash now.

You don't have to publish this comment. It doesn't fit your topic. I just wanted to be sure you saw my answer since you asked about it.

Jean

parlance said...

Hi, Jean
I hope it is okay that i've published this comment anyway. If not, just let me know and I'll remove it. Or I think you can, actually. Not sure about that.

I wanted to put it here because others might have visited your interesting blog and might have had the same question in their mind but not asked it. :-)

Bibi said...

Hi there, and thank you for the blog award!! I'm glad you feel "Yankee" is helping dispel the Serbian bad-buy myth. It's late here now, we've had guests, and I will do my duty tomorrow (actually it will be a pleasure!) to pick five of my favorite blogs, though that will be hard.

Arf to you from Bibi!!

The Aphasia Decoder.... said...

No problem at all with publishing the comment. I just wanted to give you the guilt-free option in case you didn't want something off topic in your comments.

By the way, I haven't been to any of the blogs you passed the award on to. I can't wait to pay them a visit. They sound interesting.

Jean

parlance said...

Hi, Bibi
Please, please keep showing us the human (and photogenic) side of Serbia. In this way the Internet brings the world closer to world-wide understanding and peace.

parlance said...

Jean, the fascinating thing about blogs, I find, is clicking on the 'comments' and seeing the commenters' own blogs. Some nights I have to remind myself that it's time to go to bed!