Psychiatric drugs for combating kennel induced anxiety and aggression in animal shelters

by Kelsey Pettit

Fluoxetine, better known by the trade name Prozac™, has been used for many years as a medication for human depression. Less well known is the use of fluoxetine in the veterinary field as a treatment for aggression and other behavioral issues.

Fluoxetine is a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI). Instead of serotonin resorption into nerve endings in the brain, the SSRI function allows the chemical to remain longer. Serotonin is often thought of as the “feel-good” hormone, but is involved in many different processes in the brain, including memory, learning, and reward responses. Higher serotonin concentration in the brain softens aggression in some animals.

Anxiety in dogs can interfere with learning mechanics in the brain. Serotonin levels may be lower in animals with anxiety but are important for learning and cognition. Anxiety may be difficult to mitigate through obedience training or socialization alone.

Psychiatric drugs are oftentimes used in shelter medicine to alleviate certain behaviors. Whether an animal previously lived in a home, or has been stray its whole life, an animal shelter is drastically different from the animal’s “normal.” It is for that reason that dogs and cats can exhibit behavioral and personality changes while at a shelter.

Kennel stress can