If you’ve ever felt anxious, you know how hard it can be to breathe and focus. It becomes difficult to think clearly and make decisions. For dogs, anxiety is like that too. Anxiety in dogs can lead to pacing, panting, drooling, and even vomiting. It can also cause excessive barking when there’s no real threat present. This article reviews the best medications for anxious dogs.
You and your dog need to find the best medication for their needs so they can feel better again. There are many different medications available that work for different causes of anxiety in dogs with varying degrees of effectiveness, so let’s explore the top 5 medications for anxious dogs and find out which ones may help you and your pup most!
What is anxiety in dogs?
A dog's anxiety can manifest in a variety of ways. Vocalization, destructive behaviour, drooling, pacing, house-soiling, fleeing, aggressiveness at the time of departure, and depression are all examples of anxiety in dogs. Many cases of anxiety in dogs can be treated successfully. This is good news for pet owners, as anxiety can be very stressful for both the dog and the owner. Recognizing that a pet is not coping well is the first step, and there are many medications available to help dogs with their anxiety problems. After understanding the most recommended medications for anxious dogs you can make the right decision for yourself and your dog!
What are the 2 most common types of anxiety in dogs?
Dogs with separation anxiety experience panic and distress when left alone, as well as some other behaviours such as house-soiling and destructive behaviour at the time of departure or upon return. Many medications, such as anti-depressants, can help manage this kind of anxiety in dogs.
Thunderstorm and noise phobias
Thunderstorms and noise phobias can be very distressing for some dogs. Thunderstorms are a common cause of noise fear in dogs, but some dogs may be frightened by fireworks or loud bangs of noise. These medications can help reduce the fear and anxiety that some dogs experience at the time of one of these events.
What are the common medications for anxious dogs?
Before we begin, it's critical to understand that good anxiety treatment for dogs necessitates careful management, behaviour modification, and drug therapy. With all medications for anxious dogs, it is important to incorporate a behavioural modification strategy to be successful and have a good outcome.
1. Fluoxetine (Prozac®)
Fluoxetine is a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI). This results in increased levels of serotonin in the brain. Fluoxetine is well tolerated by dogs and can be dosed once or twice daily and needs to be given for at least 6-8 weeks before deciding whether it is helping your dog.
2. Clomipramine (Clomicalm®)
Clomipramine is a tricyclic antidepressant (TCA) medication. It is typically prescribed in the treatment of compulsive disorders, including separation anxiety disorder in dogs. Many veterinary professionals recommend clomipramine for treating at least some cases of separation anxiety in dogs because it is an effective medication for this condition and tends to be better tolerated by some anxious dogs than medications such as fluoxetine. Clomipramine needs to be given twice daily.
Trazodone is an antidepressant medication. It is believed to act on serotonin uptake in the brain and has a calming effect. Trazodone typically isn't used as often as medications such as fluoxetine or clomipramine because it tends to be less effective than medications that affect serotonin levels, but it can be effective for some dogs. Trazodone has a wide margin of safety in dogs but it is best to be used as adjunctive therapy to fluoxetine as the efficacy when used as sole therapy is low.
4. Benzodiazepines (Alprazolam, diazepam)
The most common drug of choice for dogs is alprazolam. Benzodiazepines are medications that often have a sedative effect on dogs. They have a short half-life and therefore a better used for acute anxious episodes or to complement the effects of fluoxetine or clomipramine. Benzodiazepines, like all psychoactive drugs, increase hunger in dogs. The dog will be more interested in a food-based chew toy at the time of the anxious occurrence (e.g., a stuffed kong, bone, etc.). Watch for temporary aggression around food items after dosing.
Gabapentin specifically enhances GABA activity, resulting in sedative effects. It reduces the release of excitatory neurotransmitters (i.e., glutamate) and is most commonly used as an analgesic drug for dogs. Use in dogs with anxiety has been limited, but there have been a few studies indicating it may be useful for some dogs, especially if the dog suffers from chronic pain. Gabapentin can work well when combined with trazodone for both acute and delayed anxious events. Gabapentin is particularly useful in cats with stress and anxiety disorders.
As is true with humans, no one medication works for everyone. What works wonders for one person might be ineffective in another. And as such, different medications or medication combinations may need to be tried before one that is successful is identified. Because of the amount of time needed to determine that a medication is effective, this may mean 4–6 months of trying different medications or medication combinations. The goal of using these medicines is to get them into the dog before there are any behavioural, physical, or physiological indications of distress.