TIME TO REMOVE THE STIGMA RE: Mental illness in pets | Centre for Veterinary Education

TIME TO REMOVE THE STIGMA RE: Mental illness in pets

Photo: Getty Images. Image from SMH’s Good Weekend article Pets on Prozac written by Mark White

Was your initial reaction to this statement ‘you’ve gotta be joking’? (Or something more colourful… which involved a few beeps?)

You’re probably aware that mental illness is being increasingly recognised in humans. The causes of illnesses such as depression, anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder or aggression may have some environmental component but often they have a genetic basis as well.

You may know someone, a close friend or family member, taking medication such as Prozac to deal with anxiety or depression issues which are having a debilitating effect on their daily lives.

Why should pets be any different?

In fact, the medications humans are taking to deal with their mental health issues have been tested on lab animals first to see if their moods were altered by them. So, if society is willing to take medications tested for their efficacy in animals, why are some people sceptical about using those same animal-tested drugs on their veterinary patients? Especially if training has not helped and behaviour modification and change of environment are not successful in helping their pet.

Owners, like parents, understand that loneliness and separation anxiety are powerful emotions which, for pets left alone 5/7, can have disastrous consequences. Pets in 2-pet households can also embroil themselves in physically abusive relationships. Non-pet owners may find this concept laughable, but owners experiencing this frustrating and injurious problem certainly do not.

Unconscionable numbers of pets are euthanased for behavioural problems

The numbers are sobering: 26% of dogs and a staggering 47% of cats surrendered to the RSPCA in 2011-12 were euthanased. Many of these animals were euthanased because of their behaviour or a misunderstanding of the normal behaviour of animals.

Surely these numbers alone cry out for a different approach to try to prevent some of these deaths? Enabling a pet to first be calm then allows them the opportunity to re-learn behaviour, especially destructive behaviours causing actual physical harm.

Animal behaviour and welfare issues are increasingly taking the spotlight in our society. All vets, vet nurses and anyone working in animal welfare should be abreast of the issues and the range of latest treatments available. Recognising this, the CVE is offering a 50% discount for all Vet Nurse enrolments at the upcoming Small Animal Behavioural Medicine Conference in Sydney on Monday 20 Feb to 24 February 2017.

The CVE has assembled an amazing panel for this conference...


Read Sarah’s Top 3 Tips

  1. Emotional health issues in pets have a detrimental effect on the quality of life of the animal and their owner – providing a behavioural medicine service in general veterinary practice is an important way to safeguard companion animal welfare
  2. Behavioural medicine is a branch of internal medicine and should be approached in the same way – successful  treatment relies on making an accurate diagnosis
  3. Emotional health issues require a multimodal approach – behavioural modification, medication, pheromone therapy and nutraceuticals can all play a role and  should be considered on a case by case basis.


Read Kersti’s Top 3 Tips:

  1. Don’t ignore the early signs of anxiety – you can recognise it at the first consult – they do NOT grow out of it – save them from a life of distress by treating early
  2. Medications are not always needed but they should never be the last resort!
  3. Prozac (fluoxetine) is only one medication that can help. But if it does not help doubling the dose is not the answer.

FMI, including daily rates, & to ENROL visit:




Engagement Communications Specialist

Lis celebrated 25 years working for the CVE in July 2016. Building a strong CVE professional community has long been a key focus, to which end she completed a Masters of Marketing at the University of Sydney in 2016. Her capstone consulting project was based around surveying veterinarians in Australia and overseas to discover how they experienced the CVE both as a membership organisation and participants in continuing professional development. Lis was awarded the Australian Marketing Institute Prize for Best Consulting Project in 2016 for the most outstanding research project in her graduating class. The vast volume of data generated in this research project is being used to assist the CVE to adapt, improve and innovate to ensure that membership remains as relevant and as accessible today as when Tom Hungerford and colleagues first established the CVE in 1965.