According to a new study from Zaragoza University in Spain, dogs who growl, snap and bite are not necessarily aggressive by nature – and could simply be suffering from depression.
A study of family pets found that badly behaved canines tend to have lower levels of serotonin than calmer, happy pets. The study authors say the discovery could lead to new treatments for canine aggression and even increased use of pet Prozac, not that Prozac for dogs doesn’t exist already. In 2007, the drug company Eli Lilly launched a beef-flavored form of Prozac aimed at dogs suffering from ‘separation anxiety’. (Hey, maybe they can start making candy versions of Prozac for us!)
The researchers tested blood samples from 80 dogs referred to two veterinary teaching hospitals after their owners complained that the animals were aggressive. When the blood was compared to samples from 19 normally behaved dogs, the researchers found that snappy, angry animals had lower concentrations of serotonin.
The lowest readings came from dogs whose anti-social behavior appeared to be an attempt at self-defense. The snappiest dogs also had higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol, the researchers report in the journal Applied Animal Behaviour Science.
It is hoped the findings will make it easier to diagnose doggy depression, which could be treated with antidepressants. But what do vets think are the reasons why some dogs get depressed? Not enough walks or too many hours left alone each day. So, before feeding our pets some pills, perhaps we can take better care of our canine family members.