We’ve all seen the array of pharmaceutical commercials saturating primetime television, opening with idyllic, computer-rendered home or landscape scenes to evoke a calm that is quickly bracketed by an often exhausting list of possible side effects. In humans, the choice to take pharmaceuticals is still one that demands care and caution – but there is still that element of choice, which is absent, in this case, from your dog. You remain the sole arbiter of whether or not to drug your dog, and the information available, as well as the presence of government regulatory bodies may both fall terribly short when contrasted with human medicine. If you love your dog, it may be vitally important to educate yourself about anything you’re going to offer him or her.
As with humans, there are a wide range of medical conditions a dog can suffer, ranging from the mild and annoying to the dangerous and urgent. If your dog’s health is seriously threatened, any option with the potential of remedy is to be sought out, even if there may be some undesirable side effects in tow; but if your dog is suffering from a condition that is real, but not immediately dangerous, make absolutely sure that the medicine doesn’t produce worse side effects than the actual problem you are trying to medicate!
An example: Dog Noise Anxiety Disorder. It is now recognized by a large body of publications and a majority of veterinarians as being a legitimate condition affecting millions of dogs, but if you have a dog who goes crazy during thunderstorm season, you don’t need a vet’s diagnosis to know the dog is unhappy and considerably disturbed. Fireworks, vacuum cleaners, and even ambient construction noise can all lead to a sudden agitation of this condition, provoking in your puppy a wish to flee from the startling sound, and provoking in you a pity for your pet that will probably lead you to wonder what you can do.
Do some research online or speak to certain vets and you’ll probably encounter suggestions to treat Dog Noise Anxiety Disorder with Clomicalm, along with other drugs touted as “Puppy Prozacs.” Clomicalm is a brand-name form of Clomipramine, which is a Tricyclic Antidepressant. Originally developed for human usage, Clomipramine is considered, according to Wikipedia, as being a “second-line treatment” due to its having more serious side effects than the SSRIs more commonly administrated as anti-depressants. The list of contraindictions for Clomipramine is intimidating enough for administration to humans, and the list of side-effects, doubly so:
- central nervous system: Often, fatigue, dizziness, lightheadedness, headaches, confusion, agitation, insomnia, nightmares, increased anxiety, seizures (0.5% to 2%, see above), rarely hypomania or induction of schizophrenia (immediate termination of therapy required), and extrapyramidal side-effects (pseudoparkinsonism, dyskinesia, rarely tardive dyskinesia) are noted.
- Anticholinergic side effects in different grades of severity are quite common: dry mouth, constipation, rarely ileus (paralysis of the large intestine, life-threatening), difficulties in urinating, sweating, precipitation of glaucoma (may lead to permanent eye-damage or even blindness, if untreated). The incidence of dental caries may be increased due to dry mouth.
- antiadrenergic side effects occur very frequently due to strong central and peripheral blockage of alpha receptors: hypotension, postural collapse (when patient is rising too fast from lying or sitting position to standing), arrhythmias (sinus tachycardia, bradycardia, AV block, rarely other forms of cardiac problems). Preexisting heart insufficiency can be worsened.
- Allergic/toxic: skin reactions and photosensitivity with increased frequency of sunburns are seen in a few percentage of cases. Rarely liver damage of the cholostatic type, hepatitis, and leukopenia or other forms of blood dyskrasia are seen, also severe acute allergy including difficulties in breathing, skin reaction, chest pain etc.
- Other side effects may include heartburn, weight gain, but also nausea and bruxism - teeth-grinding while asleep - (the latter due to the strong inhibition of reuptake of serotonin).
It’s frightening enough to risk these side effects for yourself, when doctors have pages and pages of studies for exactly what dosage to take and what to watch out for when you take it – but for your dog, the dose may be not nearly so precise, and more pressingly, unless your dog is from a Pixar movie, you cannot ask it about its internal state. A condition that causes deep internal distress or pain to your dog may only be manifest as a slight fatigue, or even not at all. Your dog doesn’t know to report symptoms or changes in its experience – and so Clomipramine may be ten times the gamble in a dog as it would be for a human, where it’s already considered a last option to treat humans.
Another notable difference is that in humans, where it’s already only resorted to if other drugs fail, Clomipramine is used to treat conditions that may be disabling and immediately life-threatening. Although dogs with noise anxiety can be dangerous to themselves in storm situations, there is no way this danger is comparable to deep depression in humans – and so, for treating dogs, these side effects are not in parity with the problem.
If you’re searching the internet for information on helping your dog’s anxiety through storm season, make sure and search past those drug-company websites and go a few pages further to find actual pet-owner experiences. This is a good rule of thumb for any treatment you’re uncertain of, and in the case of Clomipramine, take note of all the dog owners who report that loss of personality, loss of energy, of liveliness - then, ask yourself if there isn’t a better remedy to your dog’s anxiety than one that risks liver damage, nervous system problems, and the alteration of all that which you love about your dog.