By MEL MARTIN
IT WOULD seem our pets are becoming mentally unstable, but drugs are not always the answer, according to Dr Jim Tucker of Coffs Harbour Veterinary Hospital.
Newcastle animal behaviour consultant Robert Stabler told the Australian Veterinary Association annual conference on the Gold Coast that a rising number of Australian pooches and moggies are being sedated by anti-depressants.
He says about three to six per cent of dogs and cats are diagnosed with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder ? a similar figure to humans.
And Dr Tucker says boredom has a large part to play in such behavioural problems.
"Dogs are often left alone when everyone in the household works. They're confined to areas that are too small, and not exercised enough," he said. "They're bored, with nothing else to do, so they develop behavioural problems.
"They become destructive, dig holes in the backyard or bark incessantly."
Dr Tucker said anti-depressants could overcome the neurotic tendencies, but were not necessarily the solution.
"The most recent drug used (Clomicalm) is often quite successful," Dr Tucker said.
"Certain breeds will chase their tail for example, and that can be a serious problem. They can hurt themselves, so these dogs often need to be on it.
"But it's no good just putting the dog on the drug and expecting it to solve all the problems. It doesn't correct the problems that lead to the situation.
"Dogs like to be around people. They want to be with us as much as possible and follow us around."
Dr Tucker's advice is that when home, people should make sure they spend time with their pets and give them plenty of exercise, and when not around they should make sure their best friend has something to play with, like bones or toys.
"There are even babysitting services and playgroups if people can't give them the time and exercise they need," he said.
But even the best-behaved owner can affect their pets' mental state unknowingly, according to Dr Michael Featherstone from Blue and White Veterinary Clinic.
"A lot of behavioural problems are generated by anxiety," he said.
"And owners instil behaviour in their pets by letting them carry on and talking to them in a kind voice, which the animal perceives as encouragement."
And Dr Stabler says even our state of mind can upset the balance.
"Sometimes people are anxious, and after a stressful day at work they pass it on to their animals who might start chewing on stones or pacing," Dr Stabler told the conference.
"The dog might smell their owner's adrenalin or see body language change and may try to get attention by running around in circles.
"And then it makes it worse when the animal gets attention that way."