Animals have emotions that are very similar to humans, this psychologist argues in a new book.

Animals have emotions that are very similar to humans, this psychologist argues in a new book.

Compulsive disorders, depression, anxiety… They’re all too common in humans. But the animals in our lives can suffer from them, too. Veterinarian and research scientist Nicholas Dodman has treated animals with a range of psychological issues for years. These experiences led him to what he calls “One Medicine,” the idea that people and animals share the same neurochemistry, and that our minds and emotions are very much alike. From Elsa, the dog with PTSD, to Maxwell, the cat with depression-related anorexia, Dr. Dodman shares illuminating stories of treating animals suffering from a range of problems — and explains how they can teach us about human medicine.


  • Nicholas Dodman Director of the Animal Behavior Clinic at Tufts University's Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine and author of "The Dog Who Loved Too Much," "The Cat Who Cried For Help," and "Dogs Behaving Badly," among other books.


  • 11:06:53

    MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. Max suffered from depression. Marty from Alzheimer's. Max is a dog. Marty, a cat. We think of many issues affecting the mind and brain from OCD to PTSD and beyond as human afflictions, but veterinarian and researcher Nicholas Dodman says we share the same neurochemistry as animals and that our minds and emotions work in similar ways. In a new book, he documents some of his experiences treating animals and makes the case for a new understanding of our pets and how their brains operate.

  • 11:07:37

    MS. DIANE REHMHis book is titled "Pets On The Couch: Neurotic Dogs, Compulsive Cats, Anxious Birds and the New Science of Animal Psychiatry." Nicholas Dodman joins me in the studio. We welcome your questions, comments at 800-433-8850. Send us an email to Follow us on Facebook or Twitter. Dr. Dodman, it's good to see you again.

  • 11:08:08

    DR. NICHOLAS DODMANIt's very nice of you have me back on, Diane. Thank you.

  • 11:08:10

    REHMAlways a pleasure. Let's begin by clarifying what you mean by neurotic dogs, compulsive cats. Are you saying that human beings and these creatures we adore so much really share the same kinds of emotions?

  • 11:08:39

    DODMANAbsolutely. I think I knew that from a very young age, you know, as an uneducated 9-year-old. That was the feeling that I had that was, you know, taught to me by my mother, by watching her example. And then, with the wave of science that swept over with veterinary school, that sort of buried some of the thoughts for a while. But slowly, over the course of, you know, 46 year veterinary career and 35 years at Tufts, I came across case after case of animals with issues that looked, for all the world, like they were the animal version of an equivalent human condition.

  • 11:09:22

    REHMGive me an example.

  • 11:09:23

    DODMANWell, where I first got involved was with the compulsive disorders that, even in animals, I like to call obsessive compulsive disorder, OCD. A lot of my friends would not appreciate the word obsessive because they'd say, you know, how do you know an animal thinks. Well, I think they think and they look like they're obsessing so I call it by the name I think it is. But, you know, it started with horses. And in the early days, you know, the repetitive disorders that horses show, which, you know, all equestrians know as stall vices, like biting at the edge of the stall or going continuously around in circles or digging at the ground, these sort of things, they were called stereotypies, which is a sort of sterile word, really, because it just means a pointless, mindless, repetitive disorder.

  • 11:10:22

    DODMANAnd we studied these so-called stereotypies in horses not realizing the human implications at that time and then in dogs and then in cats. And then, it was a psychiatrist who I admire greatly from NIMH, Dr. Judith Rapoport who wrote a wonderful book, "The Boy Who Couldn't Stop Washing."

  • 11:10:47

    REHMOf course. I remember talking with her.

  • 11:10:51

    DODMANAnd she got back to her office and found all these phone calls, phone messages saying, my dog does that, my dog does that. Well, great lady that she is, she didn't just dismiss it as, you know, as -- which some would do. How stupid, how can it possibly be? It's an animal. She took it seriously, looked into it and showed that dogs with this compulsive wrist licking behavior known as acral lick actually responded to the same medications that are used to treat human OCD over exactly the same time course with exactly the same extent.

  • 11:11:28

    DODMANAnd through the '90s, she touted the animal as a model of the human condition. And then, really, the blinkers fell off most of us, certainly me, and went, oh, so that's what those repetitive disorders are. And all of a sudden, I saw them across the species and there were cats who were pulling their fur out, which is the equivalent of human trichotillomania. There were dogs with that licking disorder. There were horses. And everything fit that paradigm. And, in fact, you could look at it across the biological species from, you know, I had a chart in a textbook I wrote for a human psychiatry book and it had the various species down the side, their natural behaviors and the compulsive disorder that came from those natural behaviors when they went awry.

  • 11:12:15

    DODMANAnd it was a perfect fit. It just -- everything fell into place. Dr. Rapoport kind of left the OCD model stuff and has been very interested recently in ADD, which dogs also get. But she's remained interested in my work. I've always been interested in her work.

  • 11:12:32

    REHMIndeed. Now, does that mean that the same kinds of medications would work for an animal who perhaps suffers from OCD?

  • 11:12:46

    DODMANAbsolutely. So you know, originally, it was kind of almost a joke, especially with media that, oh, pets taking Prozac, you know. I mean, in fact, the first national TV slot I ever did was on Michael Moore's "TV Nation" entitled "Pets on Prozac" and it wasn't really as send-up. He did a very nice job. But it was just like, can you believe it? But the fact is, if you believe that dogs suffer from what I would call OCD and they can't help themselves, this behavior, which can end up in sort of self destruction and ulceration, deep infections, and they respond to Prozac or Zoloft or Paxil, I mean, why wouldn't you use a good treatment instead of the old ones that vets used to use that don't work?

  • 11:13:35

    REHMAre the dosages related then to size or species or what?

  • 11:13:44

    DODMANYeah, you do need to scale for the species. So, you know, if I was to pick a sort of middle of the road dose out a hat, it would be for an animal, which is probably higher than for a person is one milligram per kilogram of body weight. But, for example, if you're treating a bird like a parrot that has OCD in the form of feather-plucking, because of their high metabolic rate, you have to scale the dose up so they would take closer to 2.5 to 3 milligrams per kilogram of body weight.

  • 11:14:18

    REHMWow. Very surprising. And you have seen results of these medications at work.

  • 11:14:28

    DODMANAbsolutely. I mean, one of them was kind of surprising. I got sort of involved peripherally as the person to advise about Prozac for a polar bear in the Calgary Zoo. I think it was Calgary. And it was pacing mindlessly and they had lots of scientists studying it and the bear was filmed for, like, 17 hours a day and they said, would Prozac work with this compulsive pacing? And I said, it should do. And I scaled the dose for them for a polar bear. And bears, of course, are related to dogs. And the scale dose I came up with was one-half milligram per kilogram, which they tried and the effect was minimal.

  • 11:15:09

    DODMANSo we upped it to one milligram per kilogram and the bear stopped pacing without sedation.

  • 11:15:16

    REHMWithout sedation. That's a key point. You know, in your book "Pets on the Couch," you also talk about creatures with Alzheimer's. How do you know a cat may have Alzheimer's?

  • 11:15:36

    DODMANWell, a little jingle that we use to diagnose it in dogs and cats and other species would be -- well, it's an acronym, DISH. So D is for disorientation. I is for altered social interactions. S is for sleep disturbances, sometimes looking a bit like the human sundowner syndrome. And H is for you're losing the place in terms of the bathroom, which actually happens to people with Alzheimers, too, that they have accidents in places they shouldn't and end up wearing diapers and so on. So it's just from signs. And even in humans, there's no definitive diagnosis. It's really a post mortem diagnosis.

  • 11:16:20

    DODMANBut if you know the signs and you rule out other possibilities, you can make that pretty positively, that diagnosis and then you treat. And the treatment often works for a while, but the disease is relentless, will eventually catch up. But on post mortem, the changes in the cat's brain and the dog's brain and the big cat's brain -- as a matter of fact, I talk about one in the book that they have the same changes in terms of the accumulation of amyloid protein in the plaques and on the tangles of the protein called tau.

  • 11:16:57

    REHMIs there any medication that seems to help with these creatures?

  • 11:17:06

    DODMANWell, it's a little bit scattergun. Of course, the same scatter of drugs are used in animals as are used in people, but some drugs are designed to increase the neurotransmitter dopamine, which is the one that connects thought with action. So, let's say, for example, a monoamine oxidase inhibitor, which was an old fashioned type of antidepressant increases dopamine and that's reasonably affective in animals. I believe the trade name in humans is eldepryl. It's not quite as effective in them. But for dopamine, astro choline glutamate, the whole lot.

  • 11:17:45

    REHMDr. Nicholas Dodman, his new book is titled "Pets on the Couch: Neurotic Dogs, Compulsive Cats, Anxious Birds and the New Science of Animal Psychiatry." Do join us, I look forward to speaking with you.

  • 11:20:02

    REHMAnd welcome back. Renowned veterinarian Nicholas Dodman is with me. He has written many, many books. He is at Tufts University, where he's been director of the Animal Behavior Department of Clinical Sciences since the 1980s, where he actually founded the Animal Behavior Clinic. He's written "The Dog Who Loved Too Much," "The Cat Who Cried For Help," "Dogs Behaving Badly," and "If Only They Could Speak." His latest book is titled "Pets on the Couch."

  • 11:20:54

    REHMAnd Dr. Dodman will join us a few minutes past noon on Facebook to answer your questions. I'll be there with Maxi and we'll talk about Maxi's ailments, and we'll be streaming that so you can participate with us live. That'll be right after 12 noon. You also talk in this book about depression in animals. Give us an example. You talk about Max.

  • 11:21:38

    DODMANWell a lot of people wonder, you know, could an animal possibly be depressed, and the answer is a resounding yes, and oftentimes under the same circumstances that we would be depressed, for example bereavement, and it could be bereavement of a loved human companion or a fellow canine companion. And they go into this funk. You know, life seems to be gray. Things that interested them before, they're not interested in, they don't play very much, they sleep a lot during the day, they might be off their food and not want to go for walks, and they're just generally -- they lose weight. They're just generally not themselves, and it coincides precisely with the loss of this companion.

  • 11:22:35

    REHMYou know, early on in our marriage, my husband and I had two cats, and we had them for eight or 10 years, and then one of the two cats sadly was hit by a car, and the other did exactly as you say. He was a changed creature. Whereas previously the two had gone out together every single day to play together, to wander together, to come back together, now the remaining one really had very little interest in life for quite a while.

  • 11:23:19

    REHMBut I must tell you, he lived until age 23, so he was quite a cat. But that bereavement period lasted a long time.

  • 11:23:34

    DODMANI had one that -- a cat that went into such severe anorexia, meaning not eating, that actually it suffered a condition that cats get when they don't eat sometimes, it's called hepatic lipidosis, or accumulation of fatty tissue inside the liver, which interferes with liver function, can cause them to become jaundiced, and it oftentimes is fatal. And this cat was going in that direction.

  • 11:24:02

    REHMIn that direction.

  • 11:24:02

    DODMANAnd our ICU managed to salvage the physical side of things, and I treated that cat with an old-fashioned anti-depressant, amitriptyline, and it came out of its funk. It's only a case series of one, but the fact is I see these things all the time, and we do sometimes put things together in a series and publish them. But I know lots other things that I've not managed to pull series together on, and I write about some of those as stories in the book.

  • 11:24:27

    REHMYou talk about some really series diseases that we associate sometimes with genetics, for example epilepsy or even autism in creatures.

  • 11:24:45

    DODMANYeah, the autism was -- we sort of stumbled across that because for 30 years now I've been interested in tail chasing in dogs, which was originally described as a stereotypy, and then the bandwagon joined in, and it was called a compulsive disorder, but I was never totally happy with that diagnosis because they had some neurological things that were going on, too, seemed to be associated with seizures.

  • 11:25:13

    DODMANWe did some studies of brains, and there was hydrocephalus in a large number, that's water on the brain, enlarged cavities inside the brain, and it just really wasn't a clear-cut idea. So when we did our first genetic study on canine OCD, which proved positive, I didn't volunteer the bull terriers for it, even though they were dear to my heart, because I thought it was a, quote, dirty model.

  • 11:25:37

    DODMANSo we did a large survey of 333 bull terriers, comparing affected and control, and when we came to look at it statistically, comparing the two groups, affected and control, the things that emerged were perplexing to myself and a co-researchers, Dr. Alice Moon-Fanelli. We just sat in my office, I remember that day, and she said how are we going to explain the fact that the statistician tells us it's more common in males. How are we going to explain the fact that these dogs go into this sort of staring, trancing-type behavior? How are we going to explain this association with explosive aggression?

  • 11:26:10

    DODMANHow it -- and all of a sudden I said wait a minute, got the computer up, and we looked at autism, they were exactly the same signs. We tried to publish that in a highbrow journal, and they said just because it looks like it doesn't mean it is, and unless you come up with some biomarkers, some things you can measure, we're not going to believe you, we're not going to publish it.

  • 11:26:31

    DODMANSo we found out that in children with autism, they have high levels of a peptide called neurotensin and elevated levels of a sort of stress pair of hormone. Both these things we looked at in the bull terriers, and sure enough they were elevated. So we published a paper that was children with these things elevated, bull terriers with these things elevated and the signs, and a pretty decent journal called Translational Psychiatry, which is one of the Nature Series of journals, so it was accepted, peer-reviewed. Autism in dogs is on the map.

  • 11:27:06


  • 11:27:08

    DODMANAnd that was just looking at one breed because we always look at one breed.

  • 11:27:12

    REHMOh, I see.

  • 11:27:13

    DODMANIt doesn't mean that's the...

  • 11:27:13

    REHMYeah, you would have to stay with one breed, I would think.

  • 11:27:21

    DODMANEspecially for when we're doing the genetic studies.

  • 11:27:23


  • 11:27:23

    DODMANWhich is -- so we focused on Dobermans and bull terriers, and more recently we've got a cohort of German shepherds and light-chasing, tail-chasing German shepherds and light-chasing border collies, which are in line for analysis at NIH, as a matter of fact.

  • 11:27:41

    REHMNow Tourette syndrome is something you should explain first, how it appears in humans, but you have actually treated horses with Tourette's.

  • 11:27:59

    DODMANYeah, when we first found the first horse with it, we had no idea what it was, but we were called down into a barn in Connecticut to look at a very fine, very valuable breeding-quality Arabian stallion. I mean, he was valued in those days at $200,000, he was an expensive horse. But when he wasn't breeding, he would be in his still like the man in the iron mask, covered in a blanket to stop him from hurting himself.

  • 11:28:26

    DODMANHe would twitch and turn and twist and vocalize, and he literally had an iron mask on to try and minimize the damage in case the blanket came off. There was the muzzle, and the muzzle -- and we studied him in this big arena and using the only tool we had at the day, which was the drugs -- a drug called Narcan, which is very famous these days for treating opioid addiction. It's an opiate antagonist.

  • 11:28:57

    DODMANSo we treated the horse with that, and with increasing doses, the frequency went down. So we thought, well, it's very interesting. It's not quite a compulsive disorder. So we pulled together a large series of horses, I believe it was 57 horses, scoured the country, got all these records together, put them together, and like the bull terriers we came up with a list of signs that went together. And, you know, for example, it was -- involved a large head-neck motor tick. You know, they twist to one side, or something with head movement.

  • 11:29:31

    DODMANThey had what's called hemiballismus, which is one limb suddenly flying away, which is a feature of Tourette syndrome in people. They did a lot of sniffing. They were preoccupied with the periphery of their stall. They had problems with junctures going across a division from, say, inside the stall there's like a line, and now you're on a different surface, they had problems with that.

  • 11:29:55

    DODMANAnd long story short, when we looked at all the signs and compared them with Tourette syndrome in people, they were the same. So then we called in the Tourette Syndrome Association and showed them the horse and videotapes and whatever and a series of horses, and they said we totally believe you, and actually the first horse, Pepper Belle, who is in the book, this whole story, but Pepper Belle became an insignia for the Tourette Syndrome Association, and we went around schools in Massachusetts with this horse, Pepper, who was a winner, a quarter-mile, you know, a quarter horse who would win at quarter-mile.

  • 11:30:31

    DODMANThen he went to the high schools, and they had all the middle school and everything there, too, and he'd run around the school track pulling a sulky with the jockey on the back in all his beautiful silks. And they'd say what a wonderful -- they all wanted to pet Pepper, he was so wonderful. Then they showed video of Pepper winning races inside and then doing this strange bucking-, squealing-type behavior. And the message was just because you're not completely normal doesn't mean you're not a winner.

  • 11:31:01


  • 11:31:02

    DODMANAnd the kids got it.

  • 11:31:03

    REHMHow early did those symptoms show up in these animals?

  • 11:31:09

    DODMANWell that was another thing. So the average age of onset was 18 months. And you might say, well, that's not the same as people. Children tend to get it at the age -- seven is when it shows up. But actually 18 months on a horse's lifespan is exactly the same as seven on a human lifespan.

  • 11:31:30

    REHMSo treatment, again, similar, different?

  • 11:31:35

    DODMANSo the Tourette Syndrome Association kindly gave us a grant to study the drugs that are used to treat Tourette syndrome, including the Prozac-like drugs, but we had a scheme, actually. We had drugs that stimulated and blocked dopamine, drugs that stimulated and blocked serotonin. And actually on that study, which we published, every drug in the horse model, and it was a group of horses, it wasn't just one, worked in pretty much the same way as they do in humans, and we came to the conclusion that, you know, especially using a serotonin drug like Prozac or Chlorimipramine, these were probably a good background to sort of at least get things under control, and that pretty much is the standard treatment for Tourette syndrome in people.

  • 11:32:20

    REHMAnd it worked in the horse in what ways?

  • 11:32:26

    DODMANWell, there was one horse in there, I think it was the first horse we saw in that stable in Connecticut. I probably shouldn't mention his name. Oh, it's in the book, Migdal. So his mum allowed us to treat Migdal for longer, like three or four weeks, and the behavior dropped to sort of 25 percent of what it was. And then she took Migdal back home and continued the medication over the whole rest of the summer, and by the end of the summer he was barely showing the signs at all.

  • 11:33:00

    DODMANAnd actually when she discontinued the medicine for reasons of expense, he never got back to the original level.

  • 11:33:06

    REHMHe never did? That's what I wondered about, whether you're talking about reduction of symptoms to such a point where they kind of disappear in the brain.

  • 11:33:12

    DODMANSometimes you can, you know, go in there with a screwdriver and sort of turn something, and it stays turned, for a while at least. So I know for example in human OCD that people go to see their psychiatrist, and, you know, you're not put on it for, like, 10 days, like a course of antibiotics. If you're put on Zoloft, it's, so, let's try it for a year.

  • 11:33:46


  • 11:33:47

    DODMANAnd then they go back, and they say, you know, you're doing very well, would you like to try reducing the dose. They say, yeah, let's try it. And oftentimes it will return. The sad thing is that sometimes when you reintroduce it, you don't get the same benefit.

  • 11:34:00

    REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." There are lots of listeners asking about the causes of some of these behavioral issues and whether humans cause these by keeping animals in captivity.

  • 11:34:24

    DODMANWell, there's actually -- it's multiple causes, but we know for example that there is a genetic predisposition. So in that Doberman model, where we looked at a strange behavior, which is kind of really derived from suckling called blanket suckling or flank-sucking, we found a gene called neural cadherin, which is a brain -- it lives in the brain, it works in the brain, it works in centers relative -- relevant for it, since being confirmed in a different dog model and more recently by a friend of mine in South Africa in humans with OCD, same gene, sets you up for it.

  • 11:35:02

    DODMANBut it's quite true that you could have the genetic setup for the condition and not actually be triggered. So you do need this pressure cooker effect of life, and I think the same happens to people. So I guess -- I ventured in the book that the real hominids, for example the natives of Papua New Guinea who were living in the forest and living like real ancient humans, do not have the same -- their concerns are real. They're about where the next meal is coming from, personal safety. They don't get OCD. So we're really, as Desmond Morris would say, humans in the concrete jungle, and the pressures of modern life and the flickering computer screen and dodging cars and the traffic and, you know, marriages and divorces, we end up in the same pressure as the dogs who are kept in the house without the ability to fulfill their biological objectives.

  • 11:35:54

    REHMYou know, it's really stunning when you think about how closely we interact with these creatures and the extent to which they affect us, and we affect them, rather than have them living out in their natural environment. And yet we are told we give these creatures homes, especially ones who have been abused or neglected and whose lives are turned around, literally, by being brought into the home.

  • 11:36:39

    DODMANThat's true, their lives are saved, but there is a little subtle twist there, and that is it depends on the home they go into. So if you take the ever-so-common problem of separation anxiety, which affects quite a few adoptees from that situation, they're so pleased to finally have someone to depend on that they worry that they're going to left forever, you know, that kind of condition is -- it's a really tricky hardened nut of a question to answer.

  • 11:37:08

    DODMANBut those guys, they've had an abused life, they may have some genetic predisposition for it, and of course incidentally children get that condition, too.

  • 11:37:18

    REHMDr. Nicholas Dodman, his new book is titled "Pets on the Couch." When we come back, our lines are filled. We'll try to get to as many of your calls as we can. Stay with us.

  • 11:40:01

    REHMAnd welcome back. Time to open the phones. We'll go first to Molly in St. Johns, Mich. You're on the air.

  • 11:40:12

    MOLLYThank you so much for taking my call. This is a great show. Dr. Dodson (sic), my husband, like you, is a veterinarian, as well as a board certified family physician. And I'm a therapist. And we have a little dog whose behavior has us completely stumped. He's a little sheltie collie. And he becomes completely unglued after a strange constellation of sounds, such as eggs being cracked, beaters on a hand-held mixer cause him to have these behaviors. The shades being pulled and down, the ironing board…

  • 11:40:49

    REHMHow about the vacuum cleaner?

  • 11:40:52

    MOLLYDrives him wild.

  • 11:40:54


  • 11:40:54

    MOLLYHe attacks it. And he just -- he runs in circles, he barks. It makes it almost impossible to even bake with him because he is so upset every single time you crack an egg or use the beaters. And it feels a lot like an anxiety kind of disorder, but I just feel so badly for him because he is constantly in this state of really heightened anxiety.

  • 11:41:21

    REHMAnd let me ask you, have you talked to a vet about any prescription medicine for him?

  • 11:41:32

    MOLLYYou know, we've never considered. And as I said, my husband's in the profession, as am I. But -- in the field. We haven't talked about actually using any medication. And that's why I was so interested in the work of Dr. Dodson (sic) because I think he would benefit from it.

  • 11:41:50

    DODMANWell, I agree. We see quite a few of these cases. And I wouldn't say, you know, I see one every week, but it's not uncommon to have a dog that has multiple sound phobias that just really is -- becomes unglued with a collection, a plethora of sounds from, you know, the beeping of the fire extinguisher to the microwave to egg-cracking, electric machines and they just go completely (unintelligible).

  • 11:42:16

    DODMANWell, the fact is, there are so many things causing the problem you can't desensitize to all of them, which would be the, you know, for a fearful phobic-type condition that would be the gold standard. But when it's multiple phobias like that you have to make some -- you can avoid some of the things, obviously. You could take him out of the room when you're cracking eggs. But, you know, you're walking on eggs then. You're living a tricky life.

  • 11:42:39

    DODMANSo I think medicine is the right thing, as Diane suggested. I think that would be a good idea. You know, you could do something fairly innocuous. Like, there's a very side-effect free, anti-anxiety drug called buspirone that, I mean, really, it's so harmless. There's no sedation. There's no addiction. There's no withdrawal. There's no organ toxicity that I've ever encountered in using it for 30 years, I think, since 1996 or '97, I think, 1987. So, I mean, I wouldn't hesitate to put him on buspirone. And what size is he?

  • 11:43:20

    MOLLYI'm not exactly sure how much he weighs, but he's pretty small. He's a sheltie collie.

  • 11:43:25

    DODMANFor your husband's sake, about 1 milligram per kilogram twice a day.

  • 11:43:30

    MOLLYYeah, that sounds good. Well, the other part that's kind of interesting is it's far worse when I am involved. I'm sort of his alpha. You know, I feed him. And he follows me everywhere. Other people can crack eggs or use the beaters, it's mainly -- and he never does it at anyone else's house, but when I'm involved. And I -- we've wondered about him worried that something's causing me harm when he hears these sounds.

  • 11:43:57

    DODMANWell, you could -- that might be an attention seeking component to it, that he knows that mommy's gonna come to his rescue. So he acts out more. So you could try making a neutral sound like a whistle or something and then just exiting stage right, either just psychologically or physically leave the area where he's having his tizzies. And if that was involved at all it would be pretty much completely fixed in three weeks, with or without medicine.

  • 11:44:22

    REHMInteresting. Good luck to you, Molly. Let's go to Elkhart, Ind. Hi, Jackie, you're on the air.

  • 11:44:32

    JACKIEHi. I have a little Senegal parrot, about 22 years old, that I inherited from my folks. And he was a rescue parrot. He was bred for selling, but the people didn't treat him well. If he chirped, they whacked his cage with a broomstick.

  • 11:44:44


  • 11:44:45

    JACKIEBut the behavior that really interested me, he's adjusted to me. I'm the only constant that's been in his life all these years. And one day I found a picture of my parents sitting on a couch, laughing and happy. And I was putting that in Christmas cards to send to my cousins. And he flew to see what I was doing. And he looked at that picture. And I know he recognized my parents.

  • 11:45:06

    JACKIEAnd he looked at it for a little bit. And then he gathered himself up into as small a ball as he could, and he laid his little beak on that picture. And he kept saying, err, err, err. And, you know, they don't cry, they don't weep tears, but I know he was grieving for my parents. And I just thought that was, you know, interesting behavior.

  • 11:45:26

    DODMANWow, that is very bizarre. I don't think I've heard that story before. But certainly they can see very well. Birds have wonderful eyesight and amazing color vision. I'm sure he could pick them up. And, you know, there might have been some element of him picking up on your feelings also.

  • 11:45:45

    REHMInteresting. To John, in Pittsburgh, Pa. You're on the air.

  • 11:45:52

    JOHNThank you. I have a small dog, who two years ago had very bad seizures. And since then she no longer barks or wags her tail. She doesn't seem to recognize me. She can sort of see out of one eye. She cannot hear any longer. It's almost like -- she may have a brain tumor, which we can do nothing about. But it may be a combination of that and just some sort of cognitive disorder. And I want to know what is she feeling? Is she stressed out? Is she depressed, while all this happening? What -- is there anything I can do? I don't know if she even recognizes me any longer.

  • 11:46:39

    DODMANSo just tell me one thing. I missed how old she is now.

  • 11:46:43

    JOHNShe's -- well, she was a rescue so I'm not sure. But I believe she should be around 14 years old.

  • 11:46:51

    DODMANSo she's 14 years old.

  • 11:46:52

    JOHNShe's a Maltese poodle Shih Tzu mix.

  • 11:46:57

    DODMANMaltipoo with a Shih Tzu. So, also, is she on any medicine for the seizures?

  • 11:47:03

    JOHNYes. She's on a series of medications that control anymore seizures. And she has had no seizures in the two years.

  • 11:47:14

    DODMANI wonder if she might be over-medicated, you know, which would sort of obtund her if they were using, you know, the usual sort of drug of first choice for most vets would be phenobarbital. And…

  • 11:47:28


  • 11:47:29

    DODMAN…you know, if the dose is a little bit high, they can end up pretty much out of it. And then you see things that you're seeing now. And it happens in nursing homes to people, too, that they're overmedicated and they are actually falsely diagnosed with Alzheimer's. And in fact, when you get the medicines adjusted down, the person comes back. So you could speak to your vet about that. That blood level should not be over 30 for sure.

  • 11:47:50

    DODMANAnd there may be some better anticonvulsants that you could splice in that could get you, but on the other hand, it's certainly possible she could have a brain tumor. And it's certainly possible that there's something else going on. That one really would demand a very careful evaluation, perhaps an MRI.

  • 11:48:06

    REHMJohn, thanks for calling. Dr. Dodman, you had a rescue dog of your own, Jasper. Tell us about Jasper.

  • 11:48:19

    DODMANWell, Jasper's a dear sweet dog. He's -- when I got him, he'd been -- I think his owner was probably too busy to have a dog. That was the situation. So I mean, it wasn't -- she wasn't cruel on purpose, but she was a little thoughtless perhaps. And she would be at work all day and leave him in a small crate that was only big enough, really, for a puppy. I think it was his puppy crate, which, you know, wrecked -- he had -- end up with a scar on his back. And then she didn't feed him on a regular basis.

  • 11:48:52


  • 11:48:53

    DODMANSo he weighed about 45 pounds. He was in that crate, long story short, for 23 hours a day. And my daughter called me, 'cause she went to stay in that apartment, revisiting her alma mater Tufts University undergrad school, and said, Dad, Mom -- 'cause Mom's a vet, too -- you got to do something about this dog. We say, you know, unfortunately, I don't know what we can do. And we were actually contemplating, you know, cruelty reporting or something of that nature when suddenly something very fortuitous struck.

  • 11:49:22

    DODMANThe dog actually got into a whole bunch of Tampax and ate the lot. And with the intestinal obstruction, the owner now could not -- he weighed 45 pounds and he was voraciously hungry -- ate this material and started to vomit. The vet quoted $3,000 for the surgery, which actually is a pretty decent price. But she couldn't afford it. So she was gonna have him put to sleep. So we said, I'll tell you what, we'll take him, we'll do the surgery for nothing and we'll find the right home for him.

  • 11:49:52

    DODMANWell, the fact is there was no home that was good enough for Jasper. We really seriously did intend to place him in a -- with someone who had more time. But he grew, you know, to be my other dog, Rusty's best friend. And we grew to love him.

  • 11:50:06

    REHMSo you took him in after a long discussion with her. She didn't want to give him up?

  • 11:50:14

    DODMANShe didn't. And I had her -- both of her parents. It was her biological mother and her stepmother from Florida called and said, you know, really she didn't know what she was doing. It was just a difficult time for her.

  • 11:50:26


  • 11:50:27

    DODMANWe'll take the dog back to Florida and we'll -- one of us is a dog trainer. Anyway, we'll train the dog and then we'll give her in a year. We said, like, really, you know, if you don't have that sort of feeling that connects with an animal that you can actually allow that to happen, then you're not gonna get it. You know, you don't sort of suddenly acquire empathy.

  • 11:50:44

    REHMAnd you still have Jasper?

  • 11:50:48

    DODMANYes. I was just -- right before the show, I was calling my wife to say, how's Jasper? 'Cause he cut his foot the other day. I said, how's his foot. She said he's still a bit sore on it, but this, that and the other. I say, 'cause he's such a sweet dog. He's got these big, brown eyes. I'm not used to looking into the big brown eyes, 'cause Rusty's got amber eyes. But they're big black pools and he's black and tan.

  • 11:51:08

    REHMWhat kind of a dog is he?

  • 11:51:09

    DODMANCoonhound. He's probably a coonhound mix. But he's black and tan and he's got these fawn eyebrows and a beautiful muzzle, so expressive. And he looks like he's smiling all the time.

  • 11:51:24

    REHMSure, sure.

  • 11:51:24

    DODMANAnd he's such a cool dog. He's a little bit independent, but very affectionate, too. You know he loves you, but he's not one of these clingy dogs. The other one, Rusty's more clingy. Jasper's sort of independently in love with us.

  • 11:51:39

    REHMAnd how did they interact? How did they when you first brought Jasper home?

  • 11:51:44

    DODMANWell, we were worried. We thought that Rusty would have his nose put out of joint. And sure enough, he looked a little miffed for the first couple of days. Like, who is this other dog in my house, eating out of my bowl. Then after a while it was like, well, hey, he's all right. 'Cause Jasper's so low key. And incidentally, Jasper, who weighed 45 pounds when I got him, is now…

  • 11:52:05

    REHMNow weighs?

  • 11:52:05


  • 11:52:06


  • 11:52:06

    DODMANSo he was 40 pounds under weight, 'cause he's not fat now. He's deep chested. His, you know, cut -- you can see his abdomen going up. And he runs like the wind. But there was this skin and bone plate rack when I got him. And if I gave him a food treat he'd practically take my fingers off. Now, I can offer it to him, he knows there will be another opportunity, so he just takes it gently.

  • 11:52:26

    REHMThat's lovely. You know, I think we have no idea how many dogs there are like Jasper, how many cats there are in that same situation where people think they want an animal, but number one, have no idea of how to care for one and number two, have no time for that creature. Dogs and cats take time. I mean, any pet, any creature takes time and care and too many people don't know how. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Let's go to St. Louis, Mo. Hi, John. You're on the air.

  • 11:53:21

    JOHNHi, Diane. Thanks for taking my call.

  • 11:53:23


  • 11:53:25

    JOHNI have a question about a cat that I have. I think this cat was taken too young from her mother because when we got her she was very small. And she's always had a sort of ambivalent relationship towards affection. She very much wants to be petted and stroked and then she likes to finish it off with a good bite and clawing you. So I wonder if maybe getting taken away from her mother too early could have some sort of lasting emotional effect. And I'm particularly worried about it right now because I'm about to move her across country and I have to drive her 10 hours. And I don't want to incur any more psychological damage to this cat that I really have come to love.

  • 11:54:10

    DODMANWell, it's true that the early adoption can leads to all kinds of problems and, you know, nursing on ear lobes and fingers and over-attachment and sometimes, you know, even sort of a feisty type of aggression. Just to tell you a story, my own cat, Griswold, who's deaf, he was a bit bitey when I first got him. And he would roll on his side and ask to be petted. And I would pet him and then he'd nip. So every time I nipped I just stood back.

  • 11:54:36

    DODMANMy wife was a little bit more positive. She would actually tap him on the nose, bop, and then say, no. Of course he couldn't hear that, but he saw the look in her eyes, felt the touch on his nose. And we have stopped it and he doesn't do it at all. So that's a very simple treatment. But there's a lot going on with your cat. And more than we have time to talk about on the air.

  • 11:54:52

    REHMIndeed. And one last quick call, because you mentioned this earlier. Kurt, in Raleigh, N.C. If you can, be very brief, please.

  • 11:55:04

    KURTAll right. Thank you, Diane. Enjoy your show. Best wishes in the future. We have a cocker that's 18 months old, weighs about 34 pounds. And he was raised on a cocker farm. So the situation is he's been gnawing a lot. He sort of has sort of a rash. I've talked to the vet about changing his food. We're now feeding him salmon and sweet potato. And she also recommended doing fish oil. I guess my question is that an alternative to prescription drugs or is it really necessary for me to buy the fish oil from them at a much higher expense, then I can across the counter?

  • 11:55:33

    DODMANYou can buy fish oil over the counter. Just make sure it doesn't have too high a level of vitamin A in it, otherwise you can end up with hypervitaminosis A, too much is a bad thing. So pure fish oil or, you know, omega-3s are palliative when it comes to skin conditions. But it does sound like there's some allergy situation going on. There are allergy tests that, you know, a vet or dermatologist can do.

  • 11:55:58

    DODMANAnd actually, if you find out what the dog's allergic to and avoid it, it's a good idea. Most vets do what yours is doing. They go straight to the food thing, I mean, like the food trial. But in fact, only about 6 percent of all allergies are due to food. And only about 4 percent are due to protein. So that's a long shot. You're better to find out what it's allergic to, but there's some amazing anti-allergy drugs out these days. One of them, for example, is called Apoquel.

  • 11:56:27

    REHMDr. Dodman, you might want to make sure to get your website up.

  • 11:56:33

    DODMANOh, yes. We're doing a study, too long to explain all about it. But it's about the interaction of pets and people, the effect that you can have on your dog's behavior. And it's sort of really about the diad, which is the owner and the pet. You can read about on or com, D-R-D-O-D-M-A-N, or .com.

  • 11:57:01

    REHMAnd Nicholas Dodman, veterinarian has been my guest. His new book is titled, "Pets on the Couch." So good to have you here. Thank you.

  • 11:57:15

    DODMANSo good to be back. Thank you, Diane.

  • 11:57:18

    REHMAnd I hope you'll join us on Facebook after the show. Dr. Dodman's going to answer your animal questions on Facebook live. I'll be there, too, with my little dog Maxi, and certainly questions of my own. Thanks for listening, all. I'm Diane Rehm.

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