Oz: New medications can help dogs with mental health issues

Today, people are far more aware of the importance of good mental health for themselves and their dogs.

Back in the day, it was very uncommon for people to take medication for their mental issues.

People that were treated medically were considered crazy. Going to a psychiatrist was the last resort and was done secretly and accompanied by feelings of shame.

Today, people are far more aware of the importance of good mental health.

The same holds true for dogs. Veterinary medicine has also changed and developed in how to deal with their mental problems.

Most often a dog’s behavioral disorders are misinterpreted by the owners as mischief.

This behaviour usually annoys and aggravates their owners. This results in angry reaction of the owner that may exacerbate the dog’s problem.

This vicious cycle can be resolved by understanding the dog’s behaviour and the management options.

The most common behavioral problem of dogs is separation anxiety.

This is usually manifested in dogs by destructive and inappropriate behaviour when the dog gets left alone even in a familiar environment.

The most common complaints I hear from owners are that the dog constantly howls, barks or whines, destroys by chewing various objects in the house such as furniture, doors and windows.

Some dogs urinate and defecate in the house despite being house trained.

These dogs will usually express extreme excitement when the owner returns home.

This condition is extremely irritating for the dog’s owner but it is crucial to understand the nature of this behaviour.

These are symptoms of severe stress. Dogs are social creatures, they consider the family as their “pack” in which they are an equal member.

It is not natural for dogs to be separated from their owners and some dogs get very distressed by it.

When they exhibit destructive behaviour, it is not done out of vindictiveness, it is their way of trying to free themselves.

Soiling the house may represent a sign of severe emotional distress.

Because we cannot converse with the dog, the diagnosis of separation anxiety is tentative and is done by ruling out other medical problems that may result in a similar behaviour.

Puppies may show destructive behaviour as a part of teething and not due to separation anxiety. So punishing the dog will not help solving the problem.

On the contrary,when you punish your dog when you return home, it may associate the punishment with your return rather than with the mischief it caused. This may stress it even more when you leave home the next time.

The management of this condition is not straightforward. This problem will not go away on its own.

It requires perseverance in a process that is meant to ensure the dog that when you are leaving you are not deserting it and you will be back.

I strongly recommend to the owners of dogs who suffer from behavioural problem to consult a behavioral specialist.

The treatment process usually involves desensitization training in which the dog learns to cope with periods of separation that are gradually extended.

It is also important to create a safe area for the dog in which it will feel secure and its ability to cause damage is limited.

The key is to confine the dog without making it feel isolated. Leaving an object with your smell such as a shirt may help the dog feel closer to you.

Behavioural modifications are available for dogs. These medications are similar to human antidepressants and anxiolytics.

Most people find these medications very effective in reducing their dog’s stress level without sedating it.

Another common mental problem is OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder). This is a repetitive behaviour.

It can range anywhere between constantly running back and forward on the exact same path up to a destructive behaviour of either animate objects or even themselves (obsessive licking for an example).

Some of these obsessive behaviours can be harmless, but in other cases they can be successfully managed with a medical treatment.

Owning a dog with a behavioural disorder will affect both the dog’s and the owner quality of life.

There is no need to suffer any longer.  If your dog is trashing your house or showing other mischievous behaviour, it is not done necessarily to spite you, it is very possibly a call for help.