For centuries and throughout a variety of cultures, satanic possession or religious punishment was seen as a reason for mental illness. Hippocrates, however, began treating mental problems in the 5th century B.C. not based on religion or superstition, but by challenging these beliefs and claiming that mental illness could be helped by improving one’s environment or occupation. He began treating psychiatric patients with natural ingredients and medications. Despite his efforts, mental illness remained a harsh stigma for centuries afterward, with patients often living in degrading conditions.
Over 100 years ago Charles Darwin professed that animals can endure forms of mental illness similar to those of humans. Although mental illness in animals is not yet a categorized science or field of research, many researchers and veterinarians have become pioneers and have made a commitment to help animals. Much research is now being conducted by scientists and veterinarians worldwide, and many are aided by animal owners themselves. These pioneers have made great strides in identifying issues of mental illness in animals. Even diagnosing and treating a mental illness in humans is sometimes difficult, but due to the fact that these furry patients do not have a voice, scientists and doctors are compelled to adapt adroit ways to find answers, although the effort is often challenging and laborious.
In the early 1980’s a veterinarian named Nicholas Dodman noticed a dog in the animal behavioral clinic that appeared to be anxious. Dodman’s intuition provoked him to give the dog an anti-anxiety drug and history was made. The dramatic improvement of the dog was extraordinary. What Dodman experimented with that day opened the floodgates and has freed us to be more open in discussing the mental health of our pets. Dodman later said, “There’s absolutely no doubt that psychiatric medicines that work on people also work on pets. I mean we’ve shown it over and over again, ad nauseum.” In current research, dogs have been trained to lie motionless in an fMRI scanner and neuroscientists have finally seen inside the brain of man’s companion and best friend. It is not surprising that the results show that pets exhibit a level of awareness that will have us reconsidering the way in which we treat our pets. An opinion article posted in the New York Times by neuroeconomics professor Gregory Burns discussing these recent studies concludes that “dogs are people, too.”
We must agree that our pets can suffer from some of the same types of illnesses as humans do and that these mental illnesses can sometimes be life-threatening. We need not just to own these pets but also to own up to the fact that we are responsible for some or most of the discomfort they endure and the behaviors and illnesses they exhibit. We have a responsibility to our furry friends to explore ways to avoid the creation of mental issues and to make their lives more comfortable by treating these illnesses as best we can should the need arise. Although pill popping puppies (PPP) or pill popping kitties (PPK) are catchy phrases, we do not want pills to become a catch-all treatment. We want the practice of pill popping for our pets to be only administered if all other means of treatment are exhausted or if a life-threatening situation exists.