Why dogs need pills for psychological problems: ‘cos they’re not allowed on the couch

Earlier today Ben Goldacre tweeted: “Treat your dog for separation anxiety with a pill: amazingly this is not a spoof” – and a link to Reconcile, aka fluoxetine hydrochloride, which “helps manage separation anxiety”.

Fluoxetine hydrochloride? Oh, yes, you may know it as Prozac and various other trade names.

This though rang a loud bell with me. I’d written about it ages ago, and said so. Looked it up on the database I keep on my machine of all the stories that I wrote at the Indie. Oh yes, there it is, back in April 1998.

It is on the web, but the version on Findarticles seems to have mated at some stage with something about Northern Ireland – not to any good effect.

So here’s the original article that I wrote and which appeared in The Independent on April 16, 1998. Enjoy.

by Charles Arthur, Science and Technology Editor

With unhappy adults delighted by Prozac and hyperactive children calmed by Ritalin, drugs companies have discovered a new sector in need of pharmacological help to get through the day: dogs.

With fewer dogs actually working, and more and more people leaving them behind while they go off to work, a growing number (of the animals) are believed to suffer from “separation anxiety” – a psychological fear that they have been abandoned.

But since most dogs have problems with conventional psychiatric treatment – they find talking difficult, and are forbidden from lying on the couch – the Swiss pharmaceuticals company Novartis has stepped in.

Yesterday after a decade of effort the company received Europe-wide approval for a drug to treat canine separation anxiety – a problem that it claims affects up to 15 per cent of dogs of all breeds. Some vets say the problem has afflicted the animals since humans first domesticated wolves tens of thousands of years ago, though it has only been formally recognised for about 20 years.

“It might sound strange that dogs would suffer from anxiety,” commented Beverley Cuddy, managing editor of Dogs Today magazine yesterday. “But a dog is a pack animal. If you keep a single dog it regards you as its ‘pack’. Then it gets very upset when your routine changes – say if you start going to work. The dog doesn’t feel able to cope on its own and becomes terrified at being alone.” Such dogs will howl, chew furniture, soil the house and even mutilate themselves.

Novartis’s solution is twofold: a drug treatment lasting between 60 and 90 days, costing about 40 pence per day; and behavioural treatment, which is free (but comes with the drug). With 6.5 million dogs in the UK alone, the potential market is huge.

Chemically the drug, named Clomicalm, works in exactly the same way as Prozac: it sustains high brain levels of serotonin – the neurotransmitter associated with a “happy” state of mind. “The advantage is that it makes the dog more accessible to behavioural treatment,” said the spokesman. “The owner should have guidelines and rules for how they treat the dog before and after they arrive home.”

Ms Cuddy said, “This isn’t a miracle drug – the main problem tends not to be the dog, but the owner, whose lifestyle perhaps doesn’t support a pet.”


  1. I think everyone on my (very small) street would like to drug the dogs in #5, who go into fits of prolonged, yappish barking during the many, many hours their owners are out every day. Next door says she can’t sit in her garden any more because they bark like maniacs as long as she sits there.


  2. hehe, you’re absolutely right. We have an open plan front garden and the new dog next door chased my wife back into the house. The dog obviously thought it was his garden too. However, if the dog was drugged up this would not happen, and it wouldn’t bark. Make it compulsory I say!

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