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More American Pets Are Being Prescribed Psychiatric Drugs

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Psychiatric medications such as Prozac are being prescribed more often to man's best friend to help treat a variety of conditions and behaviors usually found in humans.

In the United States, where people have left fortunes to their pets, spend extravagantly on their grooming, and even buy them plane tickets, pet meds are flying off pharmacy shelves, from Anipryl for sharper memory to Zoloft to ward off anxiety.

Just like their owners, dogs, cats and other pets can suffer from anxiety, depression and compulsive disorders. Last year, Americans spent nearly $7 billion dollars on pills for their pets and the sales growth is dramatic -- up 35 percent in just four years, according to David Lummis, a senior pet market analyst for Packaged Facts.

Dr. Nicholas Dodman, a pioneer in treating mental health of animals, is a veterinary version of a psychiatrist and a leading advocate of mind-altering drugs. He founded the Animal Behavior Center at Tufts University near in North Grafton, Mass., where he has treated a variety of conditions, including dogs who chase shadows or spin in dizzying circles, with the help of prescription medication.

"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," he said.

Horses led the way to prescribing medicine for domestic animals. About 30 years ago, Dodman said he and a colleague discovered they could treat compulsive behaviors with medicine known to change human brain chemistry. Dodman called it his "eureka moment."

"I went, 'now I've found that thing that I want to hold on to and I want to do for the rest of my life,'" he said. "You can control animals' behavior."

And Dodman has seen a parade of troubled animals since opening his center.

"I only use medicines if I think it will help," he said. "Some people will say, 'but I really wanted medicine,' and I say, 'your animal, your pet doesn't need it.'"

However, animal trainer Cesar Milan, better known as the "dog whisperer" on National Geographic's hit show, said he is skeptical of using psychiatric medicines on pets.

"Unfortunately, everybody is looking for the quick fix, for the 'I want to see dramatic change in my dog,'" he said.  "Often it's the human that's obsessive and it's the dog that's just imitating the behavior."

In most cases, Milan claimed, exercise, proper diet and tough love -- showing your pet who's boss -- can cure psychological problems in pets.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

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