for National Geographic News
Spot the Dalmatian was an aggressive dog, biting his owners up to 40 times each week.
But it wasn't until one particularly painful incident that his owners decided to seek help from Nicholas Dodman, an animal behaviorist at Tufts University in North Grafton, Massachusetts.
"The husband was getting out of the shower and stepped across the dog," Dodman said. "And the dog lunged up, like a breaching whale, and bit him in the unmentionables."
Dodman prescribed Prozacthe same antidepressant medication given to humans. Within one day of being on the drug, Spot never bit his owners again.
In the early 1990s Dodman helped pioneer the use of Prozac in pets. Back then, he said, it was widely considered a cop-out for treating behavioral disorders in animals.
More than a decade later, pharmacological control of behavior problems has become a routine part of veterinary medicine.
Prozac is now given to zoo animals and pets suffering from problems including obsessive-compulsive disorders, aggression, and separation anxiety. Some patients are weaned off the drug in a few months, while others stay on it for the rest of their lives.
It's not known how many animals are currently on antidepressants. According to marketing research firm Ipsos, animal-lovers in the U.S. spend 15 million dollars (U.S.) on a variety of medications for behavior management in dogs and cats.
"Prozac is inexpensive. It's highly effective. It's unbelievably safe. There has never been an animal death ever reported on it," Dodman said. Possible side effects include sluggishness, lack of appetite, and anxiety.
In addition to using the drug, Dodman recommends teaching wayward pets behavior modification.
"Prozac doesn't impair learning or memory, so you can teach the animals a new way [of behaving] during this window of opportunity," he said.
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