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article imageProzac For Pets - Animal Psychiatry Is On The Rise

By Sinikka Tarvainen     Jan 15, 2002 in Lifestyle
MADRID (dpa) - Does your dog jump all over you, block your way and sometimes bite visitors?

In the old days, he would simply have been called naughty and slapped. Today, he could be diagnosed as suffering from a "hierarchy- related disorder" and be prescribed tranquillizers and therapy.

Even in Spain, a country known for its bullfights and weak legislation on animal rights, pet psychiatry is on the rise.

"It is no longer just crazy millionaires, but ordinary people" who take pets to behaviour specialists, animal psychologist Inaki Saez told the daily El Pais.

Dejected dogs are prescribed Prozac anti-depressants or generic equivalents and tranquillizers designed specially for them. Cats which suffer from "territorial disorders" after moving house are given therapy by reducing the anxiety-producing new territory to a small room.

Pet psychologists even treat jealous parrots and lovebirds which fall in love with their owners.

Just a whim of spoiled westerners who have nothing more important to worry about? Specialists of animal behaviour say that their field is only now beginning to get the attention it deserves.

Despite the alleged cruelty of bullfighting and traditions of torturing goats or pigs at village festivals, Spaniards are also animal lovers, and around a quarter of the 40-million population lives with some kind of a pet.

Yet "many dog owners forget that their pet has a rich interior life and that it picks up every gesture and word," dog psychologist Carlos Heras said.

Some experts estimate that more than a half of Spanish dogs and cats suffer from psychological problems. These are hardly ever innate, but arise because people do not understand the nature of their pets.

Dogs, for instance, are hierarchical animals. A dog which has not been made to understand that its owner is boss begins to play the boss itself and can become aggressive, El Pais reported.

Dogs are also prone to separation anxiety, and can howl or tear furniture when their owner leaves the house. Owners can treat the disorder by pretending to leave and returning immediately.

Cats, on the other hand, do not care about bosses or close relations with humans. But they need a clearly defined territory, and can begin urinating on the floor to mark boundaries if their owner rearranges the furniture.

Cats are also hunters which need action and adventure, and should be stimulated with toys and games.

Even parrots can become depressed by changes such as moving from country to town. They pick their feathers and injure themselves.

Lovebirds have fallen in love with their owners, making copulative movements when sitting on their shoulders. Jealous birds can become furious when another human enters to compete for their owner's attention.

"If your dog digs in the garden, it is just being a dog," veterinarian Paloma Toni advised. Many people taking pets to psychologists are in need of psychiatric help themselves, veterinary surgeon Mari Carmen Rodriguez quipped - but in some cases, the pet really does have a problem.

Animals can be treated with medication and therapy just as humans can, but experts stress that owners could avoid such expenses if they bothered to gather information about the kind of animal they acquire.

Many people are totally surprised when problems crop up, and give up on their pet by taking it to the veterinary to be put to death.

Others choose a solution which can be even worse: simply abandoning a pet which probably cannot survive on its own. Some 94,000 dogs were abandoned in Spain 2000, one of the highest such figures in Europe.
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