Anxiety Medications for Dogs

Sometimes dogs may suffer from debilitating anxiety that has been refractory to your attempts to soothe them and your veterinarian may prescribe medication to help. Combined with positive reinforcement, you should also engage the services of an experienced trainer. Some medications are also used to treat human anxiety disorders, but you should only use those prescribed by your veterinarian for your pet as these medications can have negative side effects.

Medication alone is not enough and your veterinarian will give you the advice to help encourage positive behavior modification in your pet. It usually takes about 4-6 weeks before you may notice significant changes in your dog's behavior and will need a minimum of 8 weeks treatment AFTER this point; so most medications are definitely not a quick fix. Your veterinarian may be able to advise weaning your pup off this treatment, but some pets with severe anxiety disorders may require treatment for the rest of their life. 

KarmaPets has calming treats for your dog that might be able to help, but if you find that your dog has a rather more serious case then we will discuss some of the most commonly prescribed anti-anxiety medications for dogs.

black dog beside christmas tree

Diazepam

Diazepam is more commonly known as Valium and veterinarians use it for a variety of disorders in dogs. A benzodiazepine, this sedative suppresses activity in some parts of the central nervous system, though we have yet to fully identify the exact mechanism of action. These include anti-anxiety, muscle relaxation, control of seizure activity and to stimulate appetite in old or ill pets.

The primary type of anxiety that diazepam is prescribed for is situational anxiety or panic disorders such as noise aversion or phobias. Your pet may be prescribed diazepam reduce anxiety associated with fireworks or severe storms.

If possible, you should give diazepam before the start of an event that they will find distressing. If not, you can also give this medication at the earliest indications that your dog is becoming anxious. Tablets or liquid to be given with or without food is the most common forms of diazepam used to treat anxiety. There are also some injectable and other forms used to treat other disorders.

Alprazolam

More commonly known as Xanax, alprazolam calming treat situational anxiety, primarily thunderstorm related anxiety. Another benzodiazepine, the main uses are anti-anxiety, sedative, muscle relaxation and reduction of seizure activity.

Similar to diazepam, alprazolam is most effective when given to your dog at the earliest signs of anxiety or if possible, beforehand.

Alprazolam is given in the form of tablets with or without food.

Clomipramine

Perhaps better known as Clomicalm, clomipramine was the first FDA-approved anti-anxiety treatment for dogs. This medication is used to treat separation anxiety and some other types of situational anxiety. A tricyclic antidepressant, this drug increases the levels of serotonin and norepinephrine in the brain which influences mood. Unlike benzodiazepine sedatives, clomipramine needs to be given for up to 2 months to determine whether it is helping a pet.

Clomipramine is given as oral tablets that can be given with or without food.

Fluoxetine

Better known as Prozac, fluoxetine is also FDA-approved to treat separation anxiety in dogs but is also used to treat a number of behavioral disorders including compulsive chewing, self-mutilation or aggression.

Fluoxetine is a selective serotonin-reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) which increases the amount of serotonin in the brain, thus affecting mood. Serotonin is often called the 'happy hormone'. A behavior modification protocol must also be in place to allow this medication to be effective.

Tablets, capsules and liquid forms of fluoxetine are available to be given with or without food.

Dexmedetomidine

Another FDA-approved medication, dexmedetomidine helps pets with situational anxiety disorders, particularly noise phobias. Similar to diazepam and alprazolam, this medication should be given before or at the earliest signs of anxiety where possible.

As an alpha-2 adrenoceptor agonist, dexmedetomidine depresses activity in some parts of the brain which reduces anxiety levels and causes varying degrees of sedation.

This medication is given as a transmucosal gel which shouldn't be swallowed but is absorbed across the mucous membranes between the cheek and gums. Dexmedetomidine can affect humans, so you should wear waterproof gloves when administering this medication to your pet.

Lorazepam

Lorazepam is possibly better known as Ativan and another member of the Benzodiazepine sedative class.

As with other sedative medications, lorazepam should be given before the event that may induce anxiety in your pet, or at the earliest signs of anxiousness.

Lorazepam is available as both tablets or liquid to treat anxiety and can be given with or without food.

Sertraline

More commonly known as Zoloft, sertraline is another SSRI which helps to regulate mood in similar ways to fluoxetine. Sertraline is used to treat a number of anxiety-related disorders including separation anxiety, fear-based aggressive behaviors, and noise/thunderstorm phobias. Your veterinarian may also prescribe sertraline for a dog with generalized anxiety.

Similar to fluoxetine, sertraline should be given for at least 4-6 weeks to fully determine whether it's assisting your dog's anxiety. This medication should also be tapered and not stopped suddenly as some severe negative effects may be seen.

Tablets and liquid forms of sertraline are available to be given with or without food.

Amitriptyline

Used to manage separation anxiety and generalized anxiety disorders, amitriptyline is a tricyclic antidepressant that works in a similar way to clomipramine. If your pet has diabetes or seizures then they should not be given this medication.

Tablet forms are available to be given with or without food and similar to clomipramine should be given continuously for a number of weeks before beneficial effects may be evident. Tapering of amitriptyline is strongly recommended if your dog has been receiving the medication for more than 7 days to minimize negative side effects.

While a number of these medications are also used to treat humans, you should never give your pet one of your own medications as the doses are significantly different in pets and overdose is a serious concern. Your veterinarian may advise some over the counter medications such as diphenhydramine, also known as Benadryl for mild cases of travel anxiety but only give these under veterinary care.

Medications are generally the last resort in treating anxiety disorders in pets and should always include behavior modification protocols to minimize the duration of treatment required.