Like people, dogs can have anxiety attacks or phobias. According to the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists, 17% of dogs are estimated to suffer from separation anxiety, while phobias, aggression, and compulsive disorders are also commonly related to an underlying anxiety disorder. There are medications and other options for canines that suffer from anxiety.
What Are the Options?
While the popular myth is that anxiety medication should only be used as a last resort to treat anxiety in dogs, that is a misconception that can lead to greater anxiety for your canine friend. On her blog, Certified Veterinary Technician and Certified Professional Dog Trainer Sara Reusche indicates that anti-anxiety medication can help to provide quick relief from your dog's anxiety while additional behavioral modification and training steps are initiated. Additionally, many products are available that may help relieve anxiety that are not pharmaceuticals.
As with any prescription medication, you should consult your veterinarian about your pet's individual symptoms and treatment needs. Although several medications are used to treat anxiety, they can primarily be grouped into three different categories, based on their mechanisms of action. According to the DVM360 website, these prescription medication categories include:
Tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs)
Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs)
This class of drugs includes diazepam (Valium), alprazolam (Xanax), chlordiazepoxide (Librium), lorazepam (Ativan) and clonazepam (Klonopin). According to Plumb's Veterinary Drug Handbook, the exact mechanism of action for these medications is unknown, but may involve modulation of serotonin, gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), or acetylcholine levels in the central nervous system.
- Usage: All the benzodiazepine drugs start to take effect quickly, but work best when given before an event that is likely to induce anxiety. They are commonly used to treat storm or firework phobias.
- Side effects: According to the ASPCA, side effects of this class of drugs can include increased appetite, sleeplessness, sedation, or increased anxiety.
- Cautions: They are not recommended for use with aggression-related behavior problems and can also affect learning and memory, so they may need to be used only for short-term treatment.
- Monitoring: Your veterinarian will usually recommend blood work to monitor the liver and kidneys while you dog is receiving a benzodiazepine medication.
The tricyclic antidepressants are medications such as amitriptyline (Elavil or Tryptanol), clomipramine (Clomicalm or Anafranil), doxepin (Aponal), imipramine (Antideprin or Deprenil), desipramine (Norpramin or Pertofrane) and nortriptyline (Sensoval). Plumb's Veterinary Drug Handbook reports that these drugs work by increasing serotonin and norepinephrine levels, causing sedation, and increasing anticholinergic activity.
- Usage: These drugs are most commonly used for dogs that have anxiety in more frequent and day-to-day situations. They may take two to three weeks to become effective, and one particular tricyclic antidepressant may work better than another for any specific dog.
- Side effects: The most commonly prescribed TCAs for dogs are clomipramine and amitriptyline. Side effects can include increased thirst, increased urination, diarrhea, or vomiting.
- Cautions: The ASPCA reports that these drugs can have dangerous interactions with amitraz, a commonly used flea and tick repellent.
- Monitoring: As with the benzodiazepine class of medications, monitoring of the liver and kidneys is usually recommended.
Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors
The drugs in this category that are used in dogs include fluoxetine (Reconcile or Prozac), paroxetine (Paxil), sertraline (Zoloft) and fluvoxamine (Luvox). According to the British Small Animal Veterinary Association's Small Animal Formulary, these medications work by increasing serotonin availability in the central nervous system.
- Usage: SSRIs can be used to treat fear disorders, compulsive behaviors, and separation anxiety. Like the tricyclic antidepressants, SSRIs may need to be administered for a few weeks before they are effective. It is important to make sure that you don't miss a dose.
- Side effects: The most commonly prescribed medication in this class for dogs is fluoxetine, which is formulated in several different sizes. According to Veterinary Partner, side effects can include lethargy and sleepiness, decreased appetite, stomach upset, or increased aggression.
- Cautions: These medications should not be used in combination with monamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs), which include selegilene and certain flea and tick products containing amitraz.
Buspirone is the only serotonin agonist type of medication used in veterinary species. According to the British Small Animal Veterinary Association's Small Animal Formulary, it works by increasing serotonin levels, but through a different mechanism than with SSRIs. This drug can take three weeks to become effective, and side effects include sedation, low heart rate, and stomach upset, although the drug is typically well-tolerated.
According to an article on DVM360, it is not always possible to treat your dog's anxiety disorder with a single drug. There are several options available for safely combining medications to help achieve the desired effect for your dog. Always consult your veterinarian about specific side effects and concerns for the exact combination of drugs that your dog is prescribed.
A Note on Acepromazine
Historically, acepromazine is a drug that has been frequently used to treat anxiety in dogs. It is a phenothiazine tranquilizer, and can be used as part of an anesthetic protocol, or for dogs with respiratory disorders. According to PetMD, it has fallen out of favor for use in the treatment of canine anxiety because there are newer, more effective drugs now available. It may also cause unwanted side effects, including increased noise sensitivity, dysphoria, or prolonged sedation. Acepromazine has minimal effectiveness on anxiety and simply sedates your dog so that it only appears to be less anxious, leaving the initial problem untreated.
There are several over-the-counter products that may also be able to help treat anxiety in dogs area available. These could include pheromones, nutraceuticals, or supplements.
D.A.P.- Dog Appeasing Pheromone
A pheromone is a natural substance produced by an organism that can elicit a social response in another member of the same species. D.A.P. is commonly recommended by veterinarians and behaviorists to help treat canine anxiety. It is available in a diffuser, spray, or collar, and has no side effects or interactions with medications.
This supplement contains extracts of Magnolia officinalis and Phellodendron amurense, and was shown to be 60% effective in a study of noise-related stress. There are no reported side effects, and it is available as a chewable tablet. Harmonease can be purchased from several sellers, including some veterinary offices or online retailers.
Anxitane contains an amino acid, L-theanine, that works on the nervous system of your dog, to help keep it calm and quiet. It should not be used for severe anxiety disorders, or in animals in which aggression is a component of their behavioral disorder. It is made by Virbac Animal Health, and is formulated as a flavored, chewable tablet.
Compusure is a chewable supplement similar to Anxitane. It contains L-theanine, but also has two additional ingredients. Thiamine is supposed to help the body build other amino acids that help to restore the nervous system's neurochemical balance. The proprietary C3 (colostrum calming complex) works to reduce stress and improve cognitive function. There are no reported side effects, and dogs seem to like the flavor.
What Else Can You Do?
Often, dogs with anxiety disorders may not respond to only one type of treatment. Remember to consult your veterinarian if you have concerns about the medications or supplements that your dog is taking. Behavioral modification techniques are also vital to the overall treatment of anxiety in your dog.