Pets on the Couch: Neurotic Dogs, Compulsive Cats, Anxious Birds, and the New Science of Animal Psychiatry, by Nicholas Dodman, DVM

This is a delightful book written by a specialist in animal behavior. Nicholas Dodman is a veterinarian who immigrated from the UK and is now doing research at Tufts University.

He talks in the book about the difficulty of working with other scientists due to a bias that makes them refuse to concede consciousness to animals. The resistance to “anthropomorphizing” animals, he says, began with Descartes and continues throughout medical communities and even with some fellow veterinarians.

Dodman takes tremendous care to make his case that evolution preserves successful adaptations in animals and carries them forward, so that a dog’s brain, though smaller, looks nearly identical to a human brain, and that a multitude of animals have similar organ structures to humans. He says he argues for a deeper understanding of our pets (and the animals we breed for farming) not to diminish human beings but to exalt the other species.

Dodman then takes various case studies showing why drugs used in humans (and tested in other animals beforehand) can be effective in pets who exhibit anxiety, PTSD, hyperactive disorder, and even Alzheimer’s. He explains what drugs seem to be effective in helping aggressive animals and those suffering separation anxiety, and even details some herbal remedies that seem to work well. He also details work he’s done with Temple Grandin.

He includes stories of mostly successful treatments for everything from birds to horses, and talks about proper nutrition and exercise as part of treatments. Some of the ailments are surprising, such as some behaviors being associated with seizure disorders or hypothyroidism.

The book is interesting and inspiring. Dodson obviously loves the work he’s in and his animal patients and writes with real heart keeping technical talk to the bare minimum. Worthwhile for any pet owner, but particularly valuable for anyone who has a problem pet with plenty of ideas to discuss with your own veterinarian.