I’m curious how animal rights activists feel about this:
They are the new “Prozac Nation”: cats, dogs, birds, horses and an assortment of zoo animals whose behavior has been changed, whose anxieties and fears have been quelled and whose owners’ furniture has been spared by the use of antidepressants. Over the last decade, Prozac, Buspar, Amitriptyline, Clomicalm — clomipromine that is marketed expressly for dogs — and other drugs have been used to treat inappropriate, destructive and self-injuring behavior in animals.
It’s not a big nation yet. But “over the past five years, use has gone up quite a bit,” said veterinarian Richard Martin of the Brentwood Pet Clinic in West Los Angeles. Half a decade ago, no more than 1% of his patients were on antidepressants. Now, Martin estimates that 5% of the 8,000 cats and dogs seen at the clinic are taking drugs for their behavior.
On the one hand, I hope animal rights activists applaud pet owners who love their pets so much they are willing to purchase expensive pharmaceuticals. The article cites case after case of different species – everything from a cat to an orangutan – benefiting from anti-depressants. The pills don’t up-regulate happiness as much as they down-regulate excess anxiety. (Is modern life so upsetting for animals? Apparently.)
On the other hand, isn’t this another form of animal experimentation? Does Kitty or Fido really want to be drugged? Are these psychoactive drugs just another way of trying to control natural behaviors and instincts that shouldn’t be controlled? Where do we draw the line? I don’t know the answer to these questions, but they’re worth pondering. We should be wary of trying to turn every pet into a docile stuffed animal.
And on a related note, I’ve been meaning to say something about the increasing immorality of some dog breeders. In our yearning for idiosyncratic pets – dogs with blue hair, poodles that fit in teacups, etc. – we’re inducing an awful lot of animal suffering. The problem seems to be especially acute in Japan:
Rare dogs are highly prized here in Japan, and can set buyers back more than $10,000. But the real problem is what often arrives in the same litter: genetically defective sister and brother puppies born with missing paws or faces lacking eyes and a nose.
There have been dogs with brain disorders so severe that they spent all day running in circles, and others with bones so frail they dissolved in their bodies. Many carry hidden diseases that crop up years later, veterinarians and breeders say.
If I were an animal rights activist, this is what I’d spend my time trying to fix. The specialized dog breeding industry are doing something far worse than scientists who experiment on animals. At least scientists generate knowledge; the suffering of these pets is just a result of neglect. There is no ancillary benefit.