10 Medications to Treat Anxiety in Dogs
Mental health, which has come more and more to the fore in people’s daily lives, is beginning to become relevant in the lives of the animals that live with us. For this reason, it’s common to find medications prescribed to treat anxiety in dogs, one of the most common health problems in homes.
However, the choice to medicate a dog to treat its mental disorders is subject to the same controversy as with humans: taking a pill can’t be the only solution. That’s why in this article, you’ll be able to understand this topic in depth, and learn about the most common drugs used to treat this condition. Don’t miss it.
What is anxiety in dogs?
Anxiety is a state of mind that you surely know all about, as everyone has experienced it at some time – that anxious feeling that appears when we perceive some potential future danger. Well, dogs experience it in the same way.
However, canines don’t have the necessary means to communicate to us exactly what is worrying them or what their feelings are. Because of this, we need to observe their behavior in order to determine if a dog has anxiety or not. Some of the most common symptoms are the following:
- Destructive behavior
- Defecation and urination inside the house (even if they know how to hold it until they go outside)
- Continuous vocalizations, such as barking, howling, or whining
- Not being able to be separated from their owner
- Hyperactivity, even if they have exercised during the day.
- Other abnormal behavior, such as pica, coprophagia, tremors, or possessive or territorial behavior.
What do I do if my dog exhibits any of this behavior?
If you suspect that your dog might have anxiety, the first thing you should do is go to the veterinarian. This is because, before making a mental health diagnosis, physical causes for the animal’s discomfort must be ruled out. If the professional determines that the dog is suffering from an anxiety disorder, the first thing they’ll do is refer you to a dog trainer or ethologist to begin therapy.
As in any species, dogs suffer from anxiety to a greater or lesser extent. For those more severe cases, where therapy with the ethologist doesn’t work, you can then resort to pharmacological treatment that can be used in parallel with the training.
There are several types of drugs to treat anxiety in dogs, and they can be used according to the characteristics of the disorder. In the following section, we’ll tell you about the active ingredients that are most commonly used in these types of cases.
Medications most commonly used for the treatment of anxiety in dogs
Although we usually think of the group of benzodiazepines (the most commonly used anxiolytics in humans, such as lorazepam), we can also consider antidepressants such as tricyclics. Let’s have a more detailed look at them.
- Alprazolam: Also known by its trade name, Xanax, this benzodiazepine acts as a nervous system depressant drug, helping dogs with situational phobias such as storms or pyrotechnics.
- Amitriptyline: This is a tricyclic antidepressant indicated for severe cases of separation anxiety. It increases serotonin and norepinephrine levels in the brain, thus improving mood. It isn’t suitable for diabetic dogs.
- Busopirone: This anxiolytic is useful for animals suffering from a generalized state of anxiety. Therefore, it requires continuous use to be effective, since it doesn’t have a very strong effect.
- Clomipramine: Tts trade name is Clomicalm. It’s useful for situational anxiety, such as phobias or separation anxiety. Several weeks of use are necessary to observe the therapeutic effect.
- Dexmedetomidine: This drug is a selective adrenergic receptor agonist, i.e. it has a sedative effect on the body. Although it’s usually used as a pre-anesthetic medication, it’s also prescribed for specific phobias to loud noises.
- Diazepam: Its trade name, Valium, is probably more familiar to you, as there is a veterinary version of this drug. It’s used both as an anxiolytic and as a muscle relaxant.
- Flouxetine (Prozac): Indicated for separation anxiety, this drug inhibits the reuptake of serotonin, thus allowing this neurotransmitter to remain longer in the brain, this increasing its effectiveness.
- Lorazepam: Belonging to the benzodiazepine group, this sedative depresses certain parts of the nervous system. It’s indicated for specific anxiety situations.
- Paroxetine: this is another serotonin reuptake inhibitor. However, this drug is prescribed when there are specific and destructive behaviors related to anxiety, such as aggression and self-mutilation.
- Sertraline: Like the previous one, this drug prevents serotonin reuptake. Its use is limited to cases of generalized anxiety with behavior that threatens the animal’s health.
Are medications to treat anxiety in dogs effective?
The controversy affecting this type of drug has to do with the fact that they’re often prescribed without being accompanied by psychological treatment. For this reason, most veterinarians and canine ethologists recommend that anxiolytics and other psychotropic drugs be administered only as a supportive treatment to psychological therapy.
On the other hand, some substances affect the dog’s usual behavior and, in many cases, they can take several weeks before you notice any positive effects. Many owners give up on the treatment before finishing them for this very reason. This, however, is very dangerous, as many medications require you to come off the medication gradually.
So, if you find yourself in this situation, remember to always rely on the professionals in charge. It isn’t always possible to find the right treatment for the dog straight away, but remember that each animal is different and that the important thing is to do everything you can to help it to have a stress-free life. Don’t give up, because there’s always a solution to overcome anxiety if we’re patient.
All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.
- Mundell, P., Liu, S., Guérin, N. A., & Berger, J. M. (2020). An automated behavior-shaping intervention reduces signs of separation anxiety–related distress in a mixed-breed dog. Journal of Veterinary Behavior, 37, 71-75.
- Kurachi, T., & Irimajiri, M. (2019). Preliminary study on the effects of attendance at dog training school on minimizing development of some anxiety disorders. Journal of Veterinary Behavior, 34, 13-17.