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03/22/2005 Archived Entry: "Mood-altering drugs"

MOOD-ALTERING DRUGS. I've always been agin' em. I'm talking about the legal, prescribed kind here, not recreation.

Long before it became fashionable to diagnose every little human glitch as a treatable mental illness, I recoiled from the notion of drugging away problems. When I was a rotten teenager, doctors tried a couple of times to medicate my rebelliousness away, and I refused to take their pills. Got my first bad taste of what happens when you defy Authorities Who Are Determined to Help You For Your Own Good. I shudder to this day.

Once, later, I did take mood-changing meds for a couple of months, after a rolling riot of crises had knocked me down to a point where I literally couldn't function. But as soon as I got my good brain back, I dropped the drugs over my doctor's objection. That was almost 20 years ago, and the strongest thing I've put into my body since is aspirin. And occasionally a vitamin or supplement.

All that is prologue to confessing that I put one of my dogs on "puppy Prozac" last week.

Not really Prozac (though vets do prescribe that for animals now), but a veterinary medicine called Clomicalm, which is identical to the human medicine Anafranil (clomipramine hydrochloride). Clomipramine is a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) [EDIT: Although several Net sources said it was an SSRI, two experienced folk have informed me that it is a trycyclic and therefore much more prone to produce side-effects] and classified as an anti-depressant, though it's used in humans to treat obsessive-compulsive disorder and used in dogs to treat separation anxiety.

My dog didn't have separation anxiety, but she had become hyper, compulsive, and increasingly dog-aggressive until I was at the end of my rope. Every method of calming, training, isolating, etc. had failed. We couldn't progress in changing her behaviors because the moment I paid any attention to her, she flew into such a frenzy she literally couldn't grasp anything I said. Her reactions to all stimuli were extreme. After the last time she attacked and tried to maul a very old dog, I ran to the vet, wailing and tearing my hair.

I'm embarrassed to admit I resorted to drugging one of my family members.

But I'm also awed to acknowledge the remarkable change. At first I thought I was imagining it because she's still very much the same bounding, energetic, emotionally effusive golden retriever she always was. But after just a few days on clomipramine, she can now listen to me when I try to teach her something instead of just flailing around in a wild frenzy of overeagerness. She's learned several commands we could never make any headway with before. Sunday, I was able to brush her for the first time in months -- and pet her without having her flail about or immediately jump up. I can pet the other dogs without her thrusting her self in between in a frenzied demand for immediate and exclusive attention. She now comes over, just as she always did, but understands that she'll get attention in her turn.

Various compulsive behaviors are simply gone. She's not a calm dog by any means, but she no longer goes through endless repetitions of the same behaviors as if her life depended upon it. And so far no new attacks on other dogs.

So this is a very good thing, I thought to myself. But then yesterday afternoon when I gave her dose, I took a dose of the same size to see what it was like. I'm not sure what I was anticipating. Calmness and relaxation, I think, despite all the lists of warnings in the 4-point type that came with the bottle.

Urg. Fifteen hours after taking that single capsule, I'm still dry-mouthed and so vague I can't be sure I'm typing well. My nerves are jangled. My stomach uneasy. I didn't sleep all night due both to general jangling and to twitches and spasm in the muscles of my lower back. There seem to be no desirable effects. Just "side effects" (a misnomer if there ever was one, as nasty "side" effects can smack the center of your consciousness). It's going to take a lot of caffeine and a long walk in the woods to shake off the drowsiness enough to let me work.

I realize that everybody responds differently to drugs. And a doggie metabolism will respond differently yet. But I feel guilty for having done this thing to my beloved baby dog.

On the plus side, my vet says that clomipramine can often be a temporary aid. Use it just long enough to help the dog learn more positive behaviors, to see the benefits of calming down. Behaviors learned, the brain actually changes to end the hysterial and compulsiveness naturally. We're working very hard at that. Not just pill popping, but also rewarding all manner of non-hysterical, non-aggressive behaviors.

Still, it feels extremely strange to have done this. Life is filled with humbling Learning Experiences.

Posted by Claire @ 09:14 AM CST

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