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Your dog is probably on Prozac. Experts say that says more about the American mental health crisis than pets

STAT NEWS – Dogs, our sunny, selfless shadows, crave little more than a daily walk, a treat or two, and their human’s happiness. But increasingly, their own happiness is the topic of concern in veterinarian offices, dog parks, and internet forums.

Prozac prescriptions for dogs are on the rise, veterinarians across the country acknowledge, along with a myriad of cheaper generic mood stabilizers sold for humans but applied to pets’ separation anxiety, socialization fears, biting habits, or other problematic behavior.

That increase, experts told STAT, says more about the human mental health crisis in America — and the ready availability of inexpensive generic medicines.

Americans have reported more depression and anxiety in recent years, and everyone is talking more about it. But while behavioral specialists, therapists, and counseling services have struggled to keep up with the onslaught, relatively inexpensive antidepressants haven’t.

“The human world has become more attuned to mental health. Since Covid, we’re talking about it,” said Melissa Bain, a veterinarian focused on behavioral medicine at the University of California, Davis. “When we start to recognize things in humans, we recognize it in our dogs too.”

We need to talk about Buddy

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The apparent mental health crisis in pets comes in the midst of a very clear human one. Americans’ depression and anxiety rates hit record highs during the pandemic and keep moving upwards.

Prescriptions for mood stabilizers like Prozac and Zoloft surged during Covid-19 — on top of steady increases since the ’90s — sometimes triggering shortages of the medications.

Meanwhile, licensed providers are struggling to meet the demand for psychotherapy and other behavioral health needs, while federal regulators are pressing for more affordable access to these services.

“Mental health is a sock that [we] stretched out, not a rubber band,” said Ken Duckworth, chief medical officer of the National Alliance on Mental Illness. “People have not snapped back to a pre-Covid baseline … ”

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