If your dog quivers and paces during thunderstorms or becomes queasy on car rides to a perceived fearful place like the veterinary clinic, the remedy is not as simple as giving him an anti-anxiety medication.
Recognize that a one-pill-cures-all-anxiety medication is not currently available for dogs.
“Anxiety issues in dogs are complex, and it is not like, say, a person who may need to take insulin for diabetes,” says Dr. Lisa Radosta, a board-certified veterinary behaviorist who operates the Florida Veterinary Behavior Service in West Palm Beach and Coral Springs, Florida.
Equally helpful is to provide your veterinarian with specific facts—not opinions—and, if possible, share short videos of your dog demonstrating concerned anxious behaviors.
“Stating that your dog is crazy is not very helpful to your veterinarian in trying to make a diagnosis and identify possible solutions,” she says. “Try being specific, such as ‘My dog barks at every truck that passes through the window’ or ‘My dog runs to the bathroom to hide when a storm approaches.’”
Treatment Strategies For Anxious Dogs
In general, effectively treating behavior issues in dogs may require any or all of these strategies:
- Assessing the dog’s physical health, as the anxious actions may stem from an undiagnosed disease
- Changing the environment to reduce the identified behavior triggers
- Incorporating behavior modification methods that take time
- Prescribing medication to change the neurochemistry in the brain to minimize anxiety in a dog
Let’s take a closer look at five of the most popular dog anxiety medications.
This is a sedative and tranquilizer. Brand names include Xanax, Niravam and Alprazolam Intensol.
“This is a quick-acting medication good for pre-dosing right before a predictable scary event, like a short Florida storm,” says Dr. Radosta.
Best use: Alprazolam works best when given 30 minutes to an hour before a known event that would cause your dog to panic or become anxious. Instances where its use is not recommended include giving to dogs who are pregnant, lactating, geriatric or dealing with serious kidney or liver disease. Consult your veterinarian.
Best way to administer: This medication is in tablet or liquid forms. It begins working quickly with effects ending within 24 hours.
Possible side effects: Some dogs on this medication may act sleepy or extra hungry or stumble a bit.
If you skip a dose: Do not double dose. Just give the right amount for the scheduled next dose.
Interactions with other medications: Exercise caution if your dog is currently on such medications as antacids, blood pressure medicine, fluoxetine and tricyclic antidepressants. This is only a partial list. Your veterinarian can advise whether drug interactions are a concern for your dog.
This is a tricyclic antidepressant. Brand names include Clomicalm, Anafranil, Tranquax and Zoiral.
“A popular brand, Clomicalm, for example, is approved for use in dogs with separation anxiety, fear anxiety and stress,” says Dr. Radosta. “As a tricyclic antidepressant, it is intended to target effects.”
Best use: This medicine has been approved for use on dogs dealing with anxiety, aggression and obsessive-compulsive disorders. Instances where its use is not recommended include giving to dogs who are pregnant, lactating, geriatric or who have heart issues, diabetes and liver disease. Consult your veterinarian.
Best way to administer: Clomipramine is usually given as a capsule or tablet, but sometimes it is given in liquid form. It is recommended to follow up with food and make sure your dog has access to fresh water while taking this medication.
Possible side effects: Some dogs may experience constipation, diarrhea, dry mouth, vomiting or have a waning appetite, fatigue or have trouble urinating.
If you skip a dose: You can safely wait to give the medicine at the next scheduled time. Never double a dose.
Interactions with other medications: Clomipramine should not be given if your dog is also taking a tricyclic antidepressant or a monoamine oxidase inhibitor (including some flea collars). Exercise caution if your dog is also on NSAIDs, SSRIs, tramadol or trazodone. This is only a partial list. Tell your veterinarian about your dog’s diet and any drugs, supplements, vitamins, etc., so you will know if drug interactions are a concern for your dog.
Best known by the brand name Prozac (as well as Reconcile and Sarafem), this is an antidepressant medication.
“This medication is used for dogs facing longer-term problems or who have general anxiety where it can be hard to predict when to pre-dose for stressful situations,” says Dr. Radosta. “Dog owners need to know that the Reconcile has been recently approved as a brand.” She recommends using the brand rather than a generic. “Reconcile is not expensive,” she adds, “and your dog deserves the best.”
Best use: Fluoxetine is prescribed to help dogs with separation anxiety and other behavior issues. Instances where its use is not recommended include dogs on medication to treat seizures, puppies younger than 6 months old, pregnant or lactating females and pets with liver disease.
Best way to administer: This medicine is available in tablet, capsule and liquid forms.
Possible side effects: It is recommended to give with food to reduce the chance of a dog vomiting or having stomach aches. Some dogs may become sleepy, shake, pant and experience diarrhea.
If you skip a dose: Strive to give the next dose when scheduled and do not give any extra doses.
Interactions with other medications: Discuss the possible concerns with your veterinarian if your dog is wearing a flea/tick collar or taking insulin, NSAIDs, anticoagulants, tramadol, tricyclic antidepressants or trazodone. This is only a partial list. Discuss all your dog’s medications (flea/tick, supplements, vitamins, prescriptions and OTC drugs) and diet with your veterinarian to determine whether drug interactions are a concern for your dog.
This is an anti-seizure and pain medication. Brand names include Aclonium, Equipax, Gantin and Neurostil.
“This is a jack-of-all-trades-and-master-of-none anxiety reliever,” adds Dr. Radosta. “This is a fear-reliever with low incidents of side effects, so it should be a medicine not to be afraid of. It can really be a lifesaver. It is well-tolerated, and it works very well in cats.”
Best use: Gabapentin is often prescribed “off-label” to dogs by veterinarians and used to treat anxiety and as an “add-on” to treat pain, reports Dr. Robin Downing, founder of the Downing Center for Animal Pain Management and director of the Windsor Veterinary Clinic in Windsor, Colorado. Instances when its use is not recommended include for pregnant, lactating dogs or ones with kidney disease.
Best way to administer: This medication is available in capsule, table or liquid forms and can be given with or without food. Best time to give is right before mealtime.
Possible side effects: Gabapentin can make some dogs sleepy and wobbly when walking. But this is a short-acting drug that is out of the dog’s system within 24 hours.
If you skip a dose: It is safe to wait and give the medicine at the next scheduled time. Never double a dose.
Interactions with other medications: This is a relatively safe medication, but be sure to alert your veterinarian of the other medications that your dog is taking, especially antacids, hydrocodone and morphine.
This short-acting antidepressant has become popular among veterinarians to help dogs deal with anxiety, noise phobias and stress. Brand names include Desyrel and Oleptro.
“After a veterinary publication ran a good study on trazodone, many veterinarians started prescribing it, and it has become the drug du jour,” says Dr. Radosta. “Trazodone’s intended targeted effect is to sedate your dog or make your dog sleepy — and not act like a four-legged zombie.”
Adds Dr. Downing, “Most dogs will be relaxed and calm after taking trazodone, but some can resemble a person who is a bit tipsy after drinking alcohol. So, please do not let your dog swim, run, hike, fetch, climb or do other activities that require balance and focus while on this medication.”
Be aware that while trazodone is not approved for use in companion animals by the US Food and Drug Administration, it is often prescribed in tablet form by veterinarians in what is called an “off-label” drug for dogs and cats.
Best use: Give as needed to help your dog deal with a stressful situation, such as veterinary visits or incoming thunderstorms. The peak effect can take up to three hours and the effects can last up to 24 hours, depending on the dog. Instances when its use is not recommended or should be used with caution include dogs with heart, kidney or liver concerns or pregnant dogs.
Best way to administer: After your dog swallows the pill, provide him food to hasten the absorption of trazodone in the body and to prevent a queasy stomach.
Possible side effects: Some dogs may experience constipation, diarrhea, vomiting, upset stomachs, dizziness or dilated pupils.
If you skip a dose: If that happens, do not double up on the next dose.
Interactions with other medications: Trazodone partners well with gabapentin. But drug interactions can occur if your dog is also taking diuretics, anti-hypertension drugs to control blood pressure, anti-vomiting drugs, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) or Tramadol, an opioid used to manage pain. This is only a partial list. Talk to your veterinarian about whether drug interactions are a concern for your dog.
Storing Your Dog’s Medications
For all of these medications, veterinarians recommend that you store them in their original, airtight containers in a kitchen drawer or another place out of paw’s reach and always away from direct sunlight or the humidity inside a bathroom.
In the event your dog overdosed or displays any serious reaction to the medicine, promptly contact your veterinarian or the nearest emergency veterinary hospital. You can also reach out to veterinary toxicologists available 24-7 at the ASPCA Poison Control Hotline by calling 888-426-4435 or the Pet Poison Helpline at 855-764-7661.
“I don’t view medication as a last resort in treating emotional disorders in pets,” says Dr. Radosta. “I see it as kind and loving. How long will your pet need to be on this medication? Sometimes it is for the rest of his life or sometimes it is only for six months. Medications proven safe for use with animals that alter mood can increase the quality of life of our pets. They deserve it.”