Claire Black: 'Every pet I've ever owned has had, one way or another, some kind of mental health issue'

'THE cat's on Valium." I'm not sure what the proper response to a declaration such as this is, but I'm going to take a wild guess that it's not a guffaw so loud that several people in close proximity spill their drinks.

Of course, it's not funny. I know that. There was no mistaking the facial expression of said cat's "mummy" - it was despair, not "I've just delivered a punch-line, please feel free to laugh long and loud".

The problem was that I was slightly hysterical, having already been told two days before, by another friend, with another cat, that their feline pet was also on a mood-enhancing drug. I'm not going to lie, I put the blame at the door of our pill-popping, pathologising culture and believed that these kitties most likely needed a good dose of catnip and a game of chase the foil ball and that would be that.

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But now news reaches us, courtesy of Now magazine, that Jennifer Aniston's dog, Norman, went missing overnight and has returned, not with fleas as we might've expected, but with a personality disorder requiring intensive therapy and drug intervention.

Basically, people, what we have here is an epidemic. Yes, I understand that two cats in Leith and a pampered pooch in LA do not, on the surface, seem to make a strong evidence base but don't dismiss this so quickly.

I can't speak for Norman, although presumably his therapist is going to try at some point, but in the case of the cats there were clear catalysts which precipitated these crises. One had to become accustomed to being an indoor cat after several years of being an outdoors one. Consequently, he just needed something to take the edge off. The other, having started to carry out her own form of dirty protest - this despite having her own en-suite (I kid you not) - was put on something as much for her owners' benefit as her own.

So what is going on? What better place to look for answers than my own pet owning experience?

Disturbingly, what I now realise is that every pet I've ever owned has had, one way or another, some kind of mental health issue. Terry the terrapin (1981-81 - I think it was three months) threw himself off his plastic moulded tropical island landing upside down and, unable to right himself, drowned.

Mortimer the hamster (1982-4) suffered from wild mood swings and anger management issues. The manifestation of this was that he bit everyone who tried to touch him and developed a range of obsessive compulsive behaviours: bar-gnawing, running on his wheel, eating sunflower seeds. Then there was Samantha and Tinkerbell, mother and daughter guinea pigs, (1985-89).

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Of a nervous disposition, these two developed a skin condition which may have come from a mite in their bedding, but now that I think about it, it seemed eerily like a stress-related flaking. Common sense would have it that pets are good for our well-being. Our heart rate lowers as we pat their furry little heads, our stresses disappear as we tickle their tummies. But the question that must now be asked is what do we do for them? I'm afraid it's not looking good.