Pet owners turn to pills to alleviate behavior issues

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Its estimated that 2.8 million pet owners give their pets medications for anxiety, depression and compulsive disorders.

Just like humans, our four-legged friends are being prescribed popular drugs like Prozac, Xanax and Valium.

One of the patients is Jake, a three-year-old German Shorthaired Pointer that has bounced around to five different foster homes. He had severe separation anxiety and fear of thunderstorms. But thankfully, he ended up in Cindy Wiklund's home.

"I think he was on the road to euthanasia before I took him, and I decided when I took him on it would be his last stop,” said Wiklund.

Once left alone, he tore the house apart trying to get out, Cindy knew she had to do something.

Across town Doby was fine for 10 years then suddenly four years ago, developed severe separation anxiety and like Jake, was very destructive when left home.

His owner, Cynthia Yin, wanted to keep Doby since he was part of the family, but knew something had to change.

Both owners turned to Dr. Wayne Hunthausen, a veterinarian and animal behaviorist. He says sometimes when behavior modification doesn't work, drugs can help control the problem behavior.

Dr. Hunthausen says the anti-anxiety drugs have a wide margin of safety but understands people have concerns.

"They think it’s going to change the pet’s personality for the worse; they'll become lethargic, don't want to play anymore, that's usually not the case," he said.

Medications can help separation anxiety, noise phobias like thunderstorms or fireworks, compulsive disorders like excessive licking or circling and aggression.

Using anti-anxiety medications actually may be life saving for the pet. According to the Veterinary Medical Association, about half of the six million cats and dogs that end up in shelters are given up because of behavior problems. So helping families deal with the behavior can prevent that from happening.

Both owners saw a dramatic improvement in their pets after they started medications, exercise and behavior modification techniques.

Cynthia Yin says Doby is much more manageable.

"He's 90 percent better than he was before, he still has a few behavioral issues now, but I know what it is and we can deal it," she said.

And Cindy Wiklund says she feels Jake is like a completely different animal!

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