💊 PSYCHOACTIVE MEDICATIONS 💊
There is a stigma that surrounds the use of psychoactive medication for dogs, which can result in some dogs being denied support that can make a huge difference to their welfare.
Much of the criticism of psychoactive medication for dogs comes from a place of being misinformed.
Although, I agree that in some cases they can be too quickly recommended or prescribed, or not used to their maximum potential.
To avoid this;
💊 A thorough and holistic assessment of the dog should be taken, including a thorough review of the medical history and consideration towards potential health problems or pain as a cause or contributing factor for behaviour change.
💊They should only be used alongside a behaviour modification program, as detailed in research.
They are not intended to be a quick fix and they are more likely not going to help if physical and emotional stressors have not been identified and targeted so to reduce their impact on the individual.
Psychoactive medication addresses neurotransmitter imbalance. Neurotransmitters play a pivotal role in emotions and their affect on behaviour. For example, low serotonin levels have been found to correlate with an increase in aggression.
Recent findings suggest some medications may change behaviour by having a positive effect on the gut microbiome. The gut is now considered an extension of the brain and crucial in assisting the regulation of emotions.
Thus, it’s important to NOT overlook the importance of having a healthy gut first and foremost.
However, whether we like it or not, some individuals need the ‘leg up’ to help their body rebalance. Medication can be a total game changer for many cases.
🛑 The dog should NOT become a zombie! That would be considered an undesired response to the medication.
Sometimes dogs starting to react less to stimuli and who sleep and rest a NORMAL amount can be mistaken for being too lethargic. Often owners have got use to having a dog who is over stimulated by environmental and even internal stimuli- and the improvement can be a big contrast to the dog they had.
On long-term medication dogs should still want;
🍖 To eat their food!
🧠 To engage in mental stimulation activities, such as training!
🐕 To go for their walks (unless the environment outside is what they are avoiding, rather than the physical activity itself!)
😃 To show positive emotional responses and positive anticipation!
WARNING: Only suitably qualified professionals, such as Clinical Animal Behaviourists, are technically allowed to liaise with vets about medication (at least here in the UK!).
This can only be done if your chosen professional is working via vet referral.
If your professional tells you to discuss medication with your vet having not got a referral- then ask your vet to refer you to someone who will work thoroughly and appropriately.
Referring dogs back to the vets for them to consider medication is a huge responsibility and requires a lot of knowledge about all the different medications, how they work and the risk factors of their use with that specific case (and generically)!
It’s not as simple as one medication for all.
Professionals must justify the reasons for referral back and be ready to work with the vet in choosing the right medication for that case as well as assist the client in monitoring their dog’s response to the medication.
REAL LIFE CASE STUDY
Here’s a picture of Jackson who I met 3 years ago. He was then unable to be left alone, reactive to people in and out of the home (was certainly a bite risk back then!), reactive to traffic and would sometimes freak out on walks and want to go home.
After initial progress, Jackson became more reactive to traffic following the birth of their baby. After a reassessment and practical training support- we opted to give him an extra gentle push in the right direction to help speed results up and make his and his family’s life more enjoyable.
On our last session, we had to park near a busy road, cross over and walk 50m to the walk location. We were ready to bail out of Jackson didn’t cope, and whilst it was not super easy for him (slight stress grimace, combined with panting due to the heat), he was able to focus on his training.
The medication does not allow us to disregard protecting him. He needs recovery from that challenge and careful consideration to when and how often he will be asked to try again- so to avoid sensitisation.
You will note he’s also quite tense in his back legs, something that is being explored via referral just to be on the safe side.
Anyway, here’s what Jackson’s dedicated owners have to say about their experience with psychoactive medication:
🗣️ We’d put off trying Jackson on medication in fear of stigma, in fear that it would completely change his personality, even perhaps make him more aggressive.
He’s been on his medication for over 4 months now, and I can honestly say it’s been life-changing for us and him.
We used to not invite friends and family over because it was stressful for everyone and not enjoyable. Last week, it was our son’s first birthday and we had 15 people out in the garden all day. Jackson’s only incident was dive bombing the middle of a card game to ask everyone for tummy rubs!
Walks are so much better, we still have a way to go for them to be perfect, but he is so much more manageable and focused on his training.
He’s still the same old Jackson, but he just has a slightly bigger threshold now and is able to relax, whereas before every single thing triggered him in some way. We know it was a combination of the medication and working with Roz that has led to such an improvement!