Addiction is a nasty and all-consuming mental health issue that affects not only people but pets, too. Seemingly innocent prescription drugs after surgeries or even certain treats for pets can leave your little furry friend in a world of addiction. Then there are the stories of critters in the wild getting tipsy—South African elephants drunk on marula fruit, or the vervet monkeys in St. Kitts stealing sips of tourists’ cocktails. It sure sounds like they’re feeling enough of an effect to seek out a buzz.
Therefore, it’s important to understand how pets become addicted, how to prevent it from happening, and what to do if you suspect your pet has become dependent on some substance.
Setting the Stage for Addiction
Addiction is a well-understood topic in both humans and animals. Whether it’s a physical addiction to a drug, or a mental addiction to some form of stimulus such as watching TV, the matter is clear; your pets can become addicted to just about anything you can. That includes watching TV, eating certain treats, medications prescribed by the vet, and more. However, some of these are undoubtedly less serious than others, so where does addiction among pets begin?
Although the nuances of addiction may differ widely from animal to animal, one thing is unilaterally common. The release of dopamine following the activity is largely linked with addiction. If that animal constantly seeks out that behavior in order to release dopamine, then addiction can begin to form. According to Dr. Hitoshi Morikawa, associate professor of neuroscience at the University of Texas Austin, “drugs do the job better than natural rewards.”
At the same time, actions you do, like giving your dog or cat praise for an activity, can lead to the reward and pleasure center firing off signals that train your animal to continue that behavior. After some time, your animal will then begin to form a neural pathway in the brain which associates that specific behavior with the reward. This is typically why a dog learns new tricks: their brains are being programmed to perform that action for a reward.
Another important aspect to understand is that animals, like humans, also seek out mind-altering states of consciousness. In one study, researchers concluded that birds, rodents, and other mammals are all affected by the desire to reach the “high” associated with many drugs. This means that after a vet visit, if your pet is prescribed painkillers, for example, then your pet will actively seek out the effects of those painkillers since they release dopamine in the brain and therefore, your pets can become addicted.
How to Prevent Addiction in Pets
Now that you understand the circumstances of addiction in pets, you can better learn how to prevent it from happening in the first place. While some addictions like seeking out attention aren’t always harmful, others like reliance on certain medications are. If your pet has been prescribed medication with addiction potential, then seek advice from your vet. Which kinds of meds have a high addiction potential? Mostly painkillers in the opioid class, sleeping medications, and cough suppressants. Should you bring any of those home for your pet, make sure to speak with your vet about preventing addiction.
At the same time, you need to be aware of your pet’s behavior and environment. If you leave the TV on all the time, for instance, then your pets can become addicted to watching TV, as odd as that sounds. One vet, Noelle La Croix, DVM, Dip ACVO, says that dogs can perceive television programs just as fluidly as normal life and begin watching TV religiously. This is a more recent trend because newer technology allows TVs to use higher frame rates, which allows dogs to perceive the program better as compared to lower frame rates in older TVs.
Non-addictive Alternatives and Prevention
You may be wondering what, if any medications or treatments may be available for pets who need help. In the case of chronic conditions, or for pets who are becoming older, then joint pain and other issues are inevitable. In that case, there is hope. According to Consumer Reports and other research, there are alternative medications that offer relief and other health benefits without the risk of physical addiction. DGP for Pets, made of all-natural ingredients, may be an option.
Aside from using safe alternatives, it’s up to you to stop addiction from occurring in your pets. Often this means making sure your own personality is non-addictive in nature. If you struggle with addiction yourself, then it may be a good idea to consider a private rehabilitation center. Not only will you manage possible addictions, but you’ll help ensure your pet lives in an addiction-free environment.
Patrick Bailey is a professional writer mainly in the fields of mental health, addiction, and living in recovery. He attempts to stay on top of the latest news in the addiction and the mental health world and enjoy writing about these topics to break the stigma associated with them.