We’re very fortunate to have a holistic vet who helps us as holistically as possible when it comes to issues. For instance, Egypt would often act out aggressively when I adopted her. More than once, her aggression put someone in urgent care. In fact, when we first met Dr. Erika Halle, she was sent to us because the local cat clinic was having problems treating Egypt, and they hoped that treating her at home would be easier on her. It ended up being a true blessing to us because Dr. Erika introduced us to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and dramatically improved Egypt’s quality of life, as well as the lives of any human around her, by prescribing Egypt Chinese herbs. With Egypt’s behavior changes from the herbs, I was suddenly sold on herbs as treatment and became even more closed minded to pharmaceutical medications. Several years later, however, a recent behavioral problem with Leda, a young Labrador mix, reopened my eyes to the value of pharmaceuticals.
When a member of our human family had to leave to handle her father’s affairs after his sudden passing, Leda’s anxiety, which was normally very manageable, increased dramatically. She became more nervous and spent a lot of time watching outside. I also learned, while monitoring them on our indoor cameras, that she had developed separation anxiety. It was mild; she randomly barked every few minutes and spent a lot of time pacing between windows, but it was definitely present and had the potential to become much worse.
With sudden behavior changes, it is important to immediately contact your veterinarian, so I took the advice that I give clients and contacted Dr. Erika. She immediately worked on changing her herbs, but it could take time for them to help. With the possibility of worsening behavior, the behavior becoming a pattern, and the neighbors complaining, I had to face the fact that Leda may need pharmaceutical help.
After discussing the changes in the environment, the stakes with neighbors, and the changes I had implemented at home (more training, enrichment, and decompression) we decided that Leda would benefit from a low-dose medication for anxiety. It turns out that the introduction of this medication immediately improved Leda’s quality of life. Normally anxious, Leda would get too excited during training sessions, which would slow her progress; however, with the new medication, Leda improved dramatically and started learning much faster. Her separation anxiety improved quite a bit as well but is something that we will continue to work on with a certified separation anxiety specialist and Dr. Erika.
We want to do our best for our pets, and my past experiences with behavioral medications prescribed to a roommate’s cat had totally destroyed my confidence in using them. Even when my pets have had major surgeries and required crate rest, I used sedatives as little as possible and did nose work sessions with them since those are relaxing and don’t require movement. However, I had to change my mind and look at the bigger picture. Leda’s separation anxiety helped me open my mind, and our veterinarian, who we have been seeing for many years, helped me see that pharmaceuticals are sometimes necessary and can be beneficial.
To conclude, when we see sudden behavior changes, we need to talk to our pet’s veterinarian. It’s important to document your observations and to be very honest about any changes in the household and environment. If your veterinarian recommends medication, it’s important to use them as prescribed. This, however, is only part of the picture. As pet guardians, we should work on improving our pets’ environments and routines as well. Decompression walks can help with a lot of behavior issues. Other ways of helping include enrichment activities like food toys, training, and games. Our pets’ mental and physical health is our responsibility, and ignoring an issue doesn’t mean it will go away. A trip to the veterinarian to rule out major problems is always justified.