Like people, dogs can have anxiety attacks or phobias. It is estimated that 17% of dogs 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 non-pharmaceutical products are available that may help relieve anxiety.
Specific Dog Anxiety Drugs
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:
- Benzodiazepines (BZs)
- 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. They can also be used in conjunction with other medications to treat severe panic for dogs with separation anxiety.
- Side effects: According to the ASPCA, the 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 your 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. Clomipramine is often used for cases of separation anxiety.
- 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 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 monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs), which include selegiline 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.
Trazadone is an antidepressant which can function as a serotonin antagonist and reuptake inhibitor. It is often used in conjunction with other drugs to provide the same benefits as a benzodiazepine. Trazodone is used for treating anxiety, fear aggression and other types of behavior problems in dogs.
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 effect on anxiety and simply sedates your dog so that it only appears to be less anxious, leaving the initial problem untreated.
Over-the-Counter Dog Anxiety Medication Options
There are several over-the-counter products that may also be able to help treat anxiety in dogs are available. Such medications to calm dog anxiety 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 mild canine anxiety. It is often used as an anti-anxiety medication for mild thunderstorm anxiety. It is available in a diffuser, spray, or collar, and has no side effects or interactions with medications. Under the brand name Adaptil, this dog anxiety medication is available over the counter at PetSmart and other pet supply stores.
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.
Composure 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.
In cases of very mild anxiety, your veterinarian may suggest using Benadryl. Benadryl has a sedating effect that can make your dog sleepier but does not actually alleviate anxiety so at best it can be a temporary, short-term solution.
Signs of Anxiety in Dogs
- Aggression toward people, dogs or other animals
- House training problems
- Excessive panting, drooling or licking
- Destructive behavior and chewing, especially around doors, windows, and crates
- Barking that is out of the ordinary as well as excessive whining
- Restless behavior with an inability to settle and relax
- Compulsive behaviors, including licking and chewing other objects or their own bodies
- Stressed body language including "whale eye," blinking, lip licking, overall erect, "alert" body posture or low, "flattened" body posture
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.