Addressing animal psycho-pathologies

Dr. Abrar Ul Haq Wani

Psychiatry is the branch of medicine devoted to the diagnosis, treatment and prevention of mental, emotional and behavioural disorders. There are cornucopias of abnormalities that are affective, behavioural, cognitive and perceptual.
Psychiatry treats mental disorders which are conventionally divided into three tiers that is mental illness, severe learning disabilities and personality disorders. Talking about the animal psychopathology, it is the study of mental or behavioural disorders in animals.
Historically there has been an anthropocentric inclination to emphasize the study of animal psychopathologies as models for human mental illness. If we talk about the behavioural disorders in animals or pets its very much similar to human psychiatric disorders.
So, one of the newest additions to the field of psychiatry is directed at working with our furry friends.
Nowadays, pet psychiatry is a growing field in which professionals are tasked in dealing with pets showing troublesome behaviours which have become so extreme that they are now impacting upon their owner’s happiness and welfare.
The example of such behaviours includes aggression towards humans or other animals, compulsive behaviours, inappropriate elimination, soiling, hyperactivity or symptoms of fears and phobias. Pet psychiatry looks towards medical as well as behavioural interventions.
It is quite widely accepted now that domestic pets can suffer from mental health issues that are very similar in nature to that of humans. There are varieties of animal psychopathologies like eating disorders (for example Activity anorexia, Thin sow syndrome, pica) studied in domestic, farm, lab and pet animals. Activity anorexia is one of the eating disorders seen in primates and rats which are very much similar to human anorexia nervosa or hyper gymnasia.
In this condition, rats begin to exercise excessively while simultaneously cutting down on their food resulting in excessive weight loss, and ultimately death. Dogs have been shown to display similar rates of depression to humans.
The most common anxiety disorders studied in pets include Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), Separation anxiety disorder (SAD), Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) and Post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
In GAD the animal shows constant and crescent reactivity, alertness and exploration and a great motor activity that interferes with a normal social interaction.
The Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) is a recognized disorder by animal psychiatry and one of the most disabling. In animals OCD is divided into three categories, first is the conflict behaviour like (cannibalism, urine suction) followed by empty behaviours (for example licking, self mutilation) and stereotyped behaviours (licking nose and lips, yawning, circling, tail chasing, snapping at the air etc). Scientists have located chromosome 7 in dogs that confers a high risk of susceptibility to OCD.
Canine chromosome 7 expresses in the hippocampus of the brain, the same area where OCD is expressed in human patients. Similar pathways are involved in drug treatment responses for both humans and dogs, offering more research that the two creatures exhibit symptoms and respond to treatment in similar ways.
This data can help scientists to discover more effective and efficient ways to treat OCD in humans through information they find by studying obsessive compulsive disorder in dogs.
As far as aggressiveness is concerned the American psychiatric association doesn’t consider aggressiveness in humans as a separate diagnostic category but it’s one of the most frequent problems in dogs.
Aggressiveness also studied due to some medical problems like intracranial neoplasm, cerebral hypoxia, endocrine disorders, rabies, canine distemper, hydrocephaly, intoxication due to metals.
Medication in pet psychiatry is accompanied by behavioural teaching, counselling and modification with an ultimate aim to wean the pet off the medication. Pet psychiatrists usually get involved after a pet has been thoroughly assessed by a veterinarian to ensure there is no medical reason for such behaviours.
The work of a pet psychiatrist involves extremely close working with owners and often involves team working techniques to achieve best outcome.
For the discovery of psychiatric medicaments animal models have been central since 1950 for the discovery of such drugs in order to treat the serious disorders such as depression, anxiety disorders, and schizophrenia. Brain being one of the most complex organs contains thousands of distinct types of neurons which put up the challenges to brain research.
So, for this a new technique called optogenetics which permits us to manipulate individual types of cells and circuits is now introduced which is having a powerful implication for understanding brain disorders. This technology involves the insertion of genes into particular neurons in the brains of mice.
This new technology has already contributed to the analysis of many circuits that play a role in normal thought and emotions, as well as in brain disorders. There are laundry lists of drugs used to treat psychiatric disorders in animals like Tricyclic antidepressants, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (Fluoxetine, Paroxetine), Benzodiazepines (Diazepam, Lorazepam etc) and atypical antidepressant.