I didn’t realize this until I’d spent a summer around dogs, but they’re like people in some very relevant ways. They get enthusiastic, they get angry, they feel down and icky, they misbehave and know it, they understand a small English vocabulary, and they look up at you adoringly whenever you have control over who gets chicken scraps and who doesn’t.
Let’s say you have a dog (let’s make him a mutt) named Barky (your six-year-old named him, not you). You’ve had him for five years, you love him and your kid does too, and you know quite well that lying in one place, resisting going out into the sunshine for walks, and eating very little is not at all normal behavior for rambunctious, cheerful Barky. He’s more than unhappy and you know him well enough to know that this is well outside the normal. You take him to the vet and nothing’s physically wrong, but the vet suggests that he’s depressed and might benefit from Reconcile, the Prozac for dogs.
What do you do? Your options include (this is not a complete set): reject the option because he’s a dog, not a human, and only humans feel real emotional pain and/or deserve treatment; reject the option because you ask about the side effects and decide they would be worse for Barky than how he appears to feel now; or accept the suggestion because you think that reducing pain, even animal pain, is desirable, and can be helped by medication. You can also go home and make fun of it. I know what I’d choose to do for someone I cared about, even if they weren’t human, or weren’t adults, or whatever we choose as the boundary line between living beings whose pain matters, and those whose pain we don’t consider real enough to matter. It wouldn’t necessarily be to give them psych meds (that really would depend on the expected benefit and side effects), but I wouldn’t reject it based on the notion that dogs cannot have serious problems or painful emotional experiences.
The availability of Prozac for dogs is unquestionably an attempt for Eli Lilly to expand their market. This is not different from other companies. When you see an ad for life-saving drugs, it’s because they want more people to get those drugs. When you see an ad for a new sports drink, it’s because they’re trying to get more people to buy it. And so on.
The question here isn’t whether drug companies are exploitative – we already know they are, so that’s not really a question – but whether we want to use their products to reduce suffering.