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The Viagra Is for the Dog. Really.

Viagra for dogs? Of course, but it's not for what you think. Stop thinking what you're thinking right now!

 |  Jul 17th 2012  |   5 Contributions


Dogster's managing editor, Vicky Walker, recently relayed a query from one of her friends:

I just came from the doctor and pharmacy. At the pharmacy there was a lady waiting for her prescription to be filled. In her lap was a rather listless Collie mix dog. I felt such compassion for the dog, who looked so cute but sad. She told me that her dog has heart problems and was 14 years old. She was waiting for five Viagra pills, prescribed by her vet. She also said the dog was on two other "people pills."

Using Viagra to stimulate the dog's heart -- I've never heard of that. Have you?

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Prescription bottle by Shutterstock.com.
Indeed, I have.

The story of Viagra is one of Pfizer getting lucky. Its famous effect was discovered accidentally.

In the 1990s, researchers at Pfizer synthesized and studied sildenafil as a potential treatment for high blood pressure and angina (a common and painful heart condition). In terms of these desired uses, the drug yielded limp results. However, during initial clinical trials, men taking the drug reported an uplifting side effect.

The side effect stimulated Pfizer to take a hard look at the drug; it was determined that marketing the drug for the side effect could lead to firm profits. The company came up with one of the all-time best ever drug names -- one that evokes the concepts of virility, vitality, and the, um, gushing and flowing majesty of Niagara Falls, while not in and of itself sounding vulgar. Viagra was born, and it had a large and lasting impact on Pfizer's bottom line.

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Brown dog with pills by Shutterstock.com.
Although Viagra came up short in the treatment of angina or systemic hypertension, it turns out that it does have a potent impact on a relatively uncommon condition called pulmonary hypertension, which is not unheard of in dogs. In fact, over the years I have had about a dozen patients who were diagnosed with the syndrome and therefore took the little blue pills. Most dogs on Viagra also require other cardiac medications, so it's not uncommon for dogs to take a few other "people" medicines along with their Viagra.

I have not yet had a client report any issues with Viagra causing its famous side effect in dogs. (Nor have the female canine companions of dogs on Viagra complained about being relentlessly pursued.) But, to be honest, I have gone out of my way not to ask about these matters. That sort of knowledge would be, plain and simple, too much information.

However, there is one universality of Viagra use in dogs, and it is well demonstrated in the original query. Something about Viagra makes dog owners talkative. It seems that every person whose dog takes the medication tells their story to everyone at the pharmacy every time they go:

"The Viagra is for my dog. Honestly, it's for the dog."

Got a question for Dr. Barchas? Ask our vet in the comments below and you might be featured in an upcoming column. (Note that if you have an emergency situation, please see your own vet immediately!)

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