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14 Medications for Dog Anxiety

Image: Josh Carter
Image: Josh Carter
Image: Josh Carter
Image: Josh Carter
Image: Josh Carter
Image: Josh Carter
Image: Josh Carter
Image: Josh Carter
Image: Josh Carter
Image: Josh Carter
Image: Josh Carter
Image: Josh Carter
Image: Josh Carter
Image: Josh Carter
Image: Josh Carter
Image: Josh Carter

Treating Your Dog's Anxiety

By Jennifer Coates, DVM

 

Just like people, dogs suffer from different types of anxiety. Pet parents know that something has to be done to help our anxious dogs, but are faced with so many treatment and medication options that making an appropriate choice feels almost impossible. Let’s take a look at what dog anxiety looks like and the most common types of medications and other treatments used to treat it.

Common Symptoms of Anxiety in Dogs

Close observation of behavior is the best way to determine whether a dog has anxiety. Some dogs become anxious only under specific conditions (like during thunderstorms) while others suffer from a more generalized form of anxiety. When dogs are anxious, they tend to display some combination of the following symptoms: tense muscles, trembling, panting and attempts to escape the situation (which may lead to destructive behavior). Additional symptoms, like inappropriate urination, may be seen.

 

The first step in easing a dog’s anxiety is to make an appointment with your veterinarian. Many diseases are associated with symptoms that look identical to those seen with canine anxiety. Once your veterinarian has given your dog a clean bill of health, he or she can help you choose between the following types of medications and treatments that are commonly used to treat anxiety in dogs.

Alprazolam

Moderate to severe anxiety often responds best to a prescription anti-anxiety medication. This is not a quick fix, however. Dogs usually need to be treated for about four weeks before the effectiveness of the medication becomes fully evident, and treatment needs to continue for at least two months after an adequate response is observed. Some dogs can eventually be gradually weaned off of anti-anxiety medications while others require life-long treatment.

 

A veterinarian who is knowledgeable in behavioral medication is best able to determine which anti-anxiety medication is most likely to be successful based on your dog’s particular situation.

 

One such medication, Alprazolam, is often prescribed to help dogs who become anxious during thunderstorms but may also be used for other types of situational anxiety. It is a member of the benzodiazepine class of sedatives that work by depressing activity in certain parts of the central nervous system (the exact mechanism of action hasn’t been identified). The drug is most effective when given at the earliest sign that a dog is becoming anxious or even beforehand, if possible. Alprazolam is dispensed in the form of tablets or liquid and is given orally, either with or without food.

Amitriptyline

Amitriptyline may be given to help dogs with separation anxiety or more generalized anxious tendencies. It is a tricyclic antidepressant medication that works, in part, by increasing the levels of the neurotransmitters serotonin and norepinephrine, which affect moods within the brain. Amitriptyline is dispensed in the form of tablets that are given orally, either with or without food. Dogs should be gradually tapered off of amitriptyline if they have been on the medication for more than a week or two.

Buspirone

Buspirone is typically prescribed to help dogs who become anxious in social situations, for instance in their interactions with other dogs. It appears to work as a mild anti-anxiety medication because, in part, it activates serotonin receptors within the brain. Buspirone is dispensed in the form of tablets that are given orally, either with or without food.

Clomipramine (Clomicalm)

Clomicalm is FDA approved for the treatment of separation anxiety in dogs. It can also be prescribed for other types of anxiety. It is a tricyclic antidepressant medication that works the same way as Amitriptyline.  Clomipramine is dispensed in the form of tablets that are given orally, either with or without food. 

Dexmedetomidine (Sileo)

Sileo has recently been approved by the FDA to help dogs with noise aversion (like anxiety that develops in response to thunderstorms or fireworks). It is an alpha-2 agonist that works, in part, by depressing activity in certain parts of the brain, which results in reduced anxiety levels, among other effects.

 

The drug works best when given at the earliest sign that a dog is becoming anxious or even beforehand, if possible. Sileo is dispensed in a multi-dose tube as a transmucosal gel. The medication shouldn’t be swallowed but is absorbed through the mucus membranes when squirted between the cheek and gum.

Diazepam

Diazepam can be given to dogs in advance of an event that is known to cause anxiety. It is a member of the benzodiazepine class of sedatives that work by depressing activity in certain parts of the central nervous system (the exact mechanism of action hasn’t been identified). The drug is most effective when given at the earliest sign that a dog is becoming anxious or even beforehand, if possible. To treat anxiety, diazepam is usually dispensed in the form of oral tablets or liquid (given with or without food) but may also be given by injection or even as a liquid squirted into a dog’s rectum or nasal passages.

Fluoxetine (Reconcile)

Reconcile is FDA approved for the treatment of separation anxiety in dogs. It can also be prescribed for other types of anxiety. Fluoxetine is a member of the Selective Serotonin-Reuptake Inhibitor (SSRI) class of medications that work by increasing the amount of the neurotransmitter serotonin in the brain. The drug is available in the form of tablets, capsules, or liquid to be given orally, either with or without food. It is generally recommended to taper dogs off of fluoxetine if they have been on the medication for two months or longer. 

Lorazepam

Lorazepam can be given to dogs in advance of an event that is known to cause anxiety. It is a member of the benzodiazepine class of sedatives that work by depressing activity in certain parts of the central nervous system (the exact mechanism of action hasn’t been identified). The drug is most effective when given at the earliest sign that a dog is becoming anxious or even beforehand, if possible. To treat anxiety, lorazepam is usually dispensed in the form of oral tablets or liquid (given with or without food) but may also be given by injection or even as a liquid squirted into a dog’s rectum or nasal passages.

Paroxetine

Paroxetine can be prescribed for a variety of anxiety-related behaviors. It is a member of the Selective Serotonin-Reuptake Inhibitor (SSRI) class of medications that work by increasing the amount of the neurotransmitter serotonin in the brain. The drug is available in the form of tablets or liquid to be given orally, either with or without food. It is generally recommended to taper dogs off of paroxetine if they have been on the medication for two months or longer. 

Sertraline

Sertraline can be prescribed for a variety of anxiety-related behaviors. It is a member of the (SSRI) class of medications that work by increasing the amount of the neurotransmitter serotonin in the brain. The drug is available in the form of tablets or liquid to be given orally, either with or without food. It is generally recommended to taper dogs off of sertraline if they have been on the medication for two months or longer. 

Nutritional Supplements

Some dog owners have found that certain types of nutritional supplements help their dogs become less anxious. The following active ingredients have some scientific evidence to support their usefulness:

  • L-theanine – Nutritional supplements that contain L-theanine (like Anxitane or Composure) are thought to work by increasing serotonin, dopamine and gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) levels in the central nervous system.
  • s-adenosyl-methionine (SAMe) - Nutritional supplements that contain SAMe (like Denosyl or Novifit) are thought to work by increasing serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine levels in the brain.

Nutritional supplements like these are most likely to be successful in cases of mild to moderate anxiety and have few side effects.

Homeopathic Treatments

Some people question the effectiveness of homeopathic treatments, but some owners do use them and often are satisfied with the results they observe. Homeopathy is based on the theory that “like treats like,” in other words, treatment centers on stimulating the body’s inborn ability to respond appropriately to stressors. Homeopathy gets around the problem of potentially making matters worse by diluting the active ingredients to the point where the solution is only “remembering” their presence.

 

Rescue Remedy is a popular homeopathic treatment for anxiety in dogs that is made from an extremely diluted combination of five flower essences—Star of Bethlehem, Rock Rose, Cherry Plum, Impatiens and Clematis. Homeopet Anxiety Relief drops are another popular option. The active ingredients in this preparation are numerous and include Calcium phosphate, Jimson Weed, and Valerian root.

Pheromones and Calming Aids

Pheromone therapy is another good option when dogs are only mildly anxious. Dog-appeasing pheromone is a version of the hormone canine mothers produce to calm their puppies while they are nursing. Products containing dog-appeasing pheromone are available as diffusers, sprays and collars.

 

Calming aids like The Anxiety Wrap or Thundershirt provide consistent deep body pressure, which seems to help some dogs with anxiety. These products are most useful when dogs become anxious only under particular conditions, like when a thunderstorm is approaching or they have to get into the car for a trip to the veterinary office.

Behavioral Modification Protocols

In all but the mildest forms of dog anxiety, combining one or more forms of treatment (prescription medications, nutritional supplements, pheromones, etc.) with a behavioral modification protocol offers the best chance of success. Behavioral modification for anxiety typically involves teaching dogs to remain calm when they are exposed to mild versions of their triggers, rewarding them, and gradually increasing the intensity of their exposure as long as they remain calm.

 

If you are unsure of why your dog is acting in a certain way, talk to your veterinarian or a veterinarian who specializes in behavior problems. He or she can make a diagnosis and if needed, recommend behavioral modification protocols and prescribe appropriate medications. 

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