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Are Dog Anxiety Medications Right For Your Dog?

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Have you ever wondered if your dog needed anxiety medication? Just like people can experience debilitating anxiety and need professional support, the same is true for dogs. Anxiety medication prescribed by your dog’s veterinarian can be used to treat a variety of canine anxiety conditions from daily anxiety to situational anxiety, such as thunderstorms or fireworks. When used properly under the guidance of a veterinarian or veterinary behaviorist, and in conjunction with behavioral modification training, anxiety medication can significantly improve an anxious dog’s quality of life, and even help him work through anxiety triggers.

When to use dog anxiety medication

Anxiety is a natural emotion that all people and dogs face. The problem for dogs is when anxiety begins to impact their lives negatively. Dr. Christopher Shapley, CVA of the NorthStar VETS Integrative Medicine team, explains that anytime a dog’s quality of life is impacted by anxiety it’s time to speak with your dog’s veterinarian to discuss treatment options. In many instances, anxiety mediation will be tried for dogs who struggle with anxiety. He notes that symptoms to watch for that may indicate your dog is struggling with anxiety include:

  • constant pacing
  • destructive behavior
  • chewing or licking obsessively
  • inappropriate elimination.

If dog owners are seeing symptoms of anxiety, explains Dr. Antje Joslin, veterinarian for Dogtopia, it’s important to seek professional help from your veterinarian right away. She notes that taking a wait-and-see approach to handling your dog’s anxiety can negatively impact both your life and your dog’s life because anxiety doesn’t get better on its own. In addition, Dr. Shapley advises that if left untreated, dogs living with constant anxiety can lead to endocrine and metabolic diseases as well as self-mutilation.

Don’t punish your dog for being fearful

Having a dog with anxiety can be stressful and overwhelming. Remember, your dog isn’t willfully acting out or misbehaving, he is having a real mental health crisis.  If you find yourself getting frustrated by your dog’s anxiety, reach out for support. As stressful as it can be to have a dog with anxiety, it’s important to never punish your dog for his fear or the behaviors associated with it. Punishing a fearful dog doesn’t help to change his emotional response to a situation. Instead, punishing fearful dogs can make their fear worse and can lead to additional behavioral problems including aggression.

Over-the-counter dog anxiety medication

There are a variety of over-the-counter anti-anxiety treatments and supplements available through pet stores. Sometimes vets and owners decide to try over-the-counter treatments before prescriptions, especially for mild anxiety. Dr. Joslin says some of the supplements she recommends to clients include Solliquin chews, zylkene and composure chews. She also advises that some of her clients find that Adaptil collars have provided some relief. Generally, though, if you have a dog with severe anxiety, over-the-counter supports are not going to treat or eliminate the anxiety. If you are considering over-the-counter anxiety medication for your dog, it’s still best to do so under the guidance and supervision of your veterinarian.

Dog anxiety medication options

For dogs who struggle with severe anxiety that is debilitating and impacting their life, a veterinarian may recommend prescription medication. Your vet will likely run blood tests to assess your dog’s health before prescribing anxiety medication.

Dr. Joslin says that a variety of the same psychiatric medications that are used with people are commonly prescribed to dogs. Some of these types of dog anxiety medications are:

She emphasizes that dog owners should never attempt to self-medicate dogs with their own psychiatric medication.

Dr. Shapley says that other common prescription medications for dogs suffering with anxiety include:

  • Fluoxetine
  • Alprazolam
  • CBD

In the proper dosage, these medications can help to combat the effects of anxiety, allow dogs to work through their panic and be less distressed.

What are the side effects of dog anxiety medication?

Although anti-anxiety medication can be life changing and life saving for some dogs with debilitating anxiety, there can also be side effects from the medication. Dr. Shapley explains that common symptoms for dogs on prescription anti-anxiety medications include:

  • anorexia
  • constipation
  • lethargy
  • vomiting
  • diarrhea

There can also be behavioral side effects to anxiety medication. Dr. Shapley says that some prescription medications lower a dog’s bite inhibition and can increase irritability. If you notice any change in your dog’s behavior on medication, talk with your veterinarian immediately.

Dr. Joslin says that other symptoms include risk of seizures and that possible side effects should always be thoroughly discussed with your veterinarian before your dog begins taking any anxiety medication. Medication is not a one-size fits all approach and it may take trying multiple medications and different doses for your dog to experience the maximum benefit.

Create a care team for dogs suffering from anxiety

If your dog suffers from severe anxiety, get him help right away in the form of a care team (veterinarian and trainer), who may recommend dog anxiety medications. ©Julia Christe/Getty Images

Ideally if you have a dog suffering from anxiety, your veterinarian and a qualified dog trainer will work together to assess the home environment and determine the best training and medication plan for your dog. It’s important to have the right professionals supporting you and your dog.

Anxiety medication is not a magic pill that will fix or cure your dog of his panic. Rather, anxiety medication is about helping to get your dog to a place where behavioral and emotional change can take place through positive reinforcement training. Some dogs can be on medication short term, whereas others will need medication management for life.

Dr. Joslin encourages that treating canine anxiety is most effective with a multi-modal approach. She explains that this may look like prescription medication, working with a veterinarian, certified trainer and veterinary behaviorist. Together that team will be able to assess your dog as well as home dynamics and other triggers.

Veterinary Behaviorists are highly specialized veterinarians. These vets have obtained board-certification with a specialty in behavior and are a tremendous asset to a treatment team for dogs suffering from anxiety. Your veterinarian will be able to provide a referral to the closest veterinary behaviorist or you can look for one via the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists search tool.

Seeking anti-anxiety medication for your dog shouldn’t be taken lightly. Dogs shouldn’t be medicated for normal canine behaviors even if they are inconvenient. If, however, you feel like your dog is showing symptoms of anxiety, seek support right away. If left untreated, canine anxiety can and generally does get worse.

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