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Medications for Treating Dog Anxiety

If your dog suffers from anxiety - whether fear-related, separation anxiety or age-related - you may be wondering whether anti-anxiety meds could help your dog to feel happier and more relaxed. Today our Seattle vets discuss some of the most common medications used to treat dog anxiety. 

Types of Anxiety Seen in Dogs

There are 3 main types of anxiety that our Seattle vets see in dogs:

Fear-Related Anxiety

Anxiety rooted in generalized fear can be triggered by almost anything including loud noises, strangers, the introduction of new (unknown) animals, new visual stimuli such as hats, staying in a strange/new environment, specific situations such as a trip to the vet’s office, car journeys, or having to walk on slippery floors. Some dogs experience fear-related anxiety for just a short while then adjust and relax, but other dogs will continue to feel anxious whenever they encounter the triggering stimuli.

Separation Anxiety

It is estimated that about 14 percent of dogs suffer from separation anxiety. These pups are unable to relax and settle down when left alone or separated from their primary caregivers. Symptoms of separation anxiety typically include undesirable behaviors such as urinating and defecating in the house, destroying furnishings, clawing at doors, destroying shoes or other items belonging to their primary caregiver, and barking.

Age-Related Anxiety

Cognitive dysfunction syndrome (CDS) in elderly dogs can result in age-related anxiety. If your canine companion is suffering from cognitive dysfunction syndrome their basic brain functions such as memory, learning, perception, and awareness will sharply decline, (much like symptoms of early Alzheimer’s disease in humans). Understandably this decline in brain power often leads to confusion and anxiety in senior dogs.

Signs of Anxiety in Dogs

There are a number of symptoms common to dogs suffering from these types of anxiety including:

  • Uncharacteristic aggression
  • Repetitive or compulsive behaviors
  • Pacing and circling
  • Urinating or defecating in the house
  • Restlessness
  • Drooling
  • Panting
  • Destructive behaviors
  • Depression or gloomy demeanor
  • Relentless barking

Treatment for Dog Anxiety

If your dog is showing signs of anxiety there are a number of treatments you can try.

Behavioral Training & Counterconditioning

Counterconditioning is a training method that seeks to change your dog's response to the anxiety causing stimuli by encouraging a good behavior to replace the negative anxious behavior through positive reinforcement.

Desensitization introduces the anxious pup to very small doses of the anxiety producing stimuli in low intensity. By repeatedly exposing your anxious dog to small doses of the stimuli while rewarding even the tiniest positive behaviors your dog may be trained out of their anxiety driven behaviors.

These techniques take time, patience, and love to encourage. Check YouTube for videos from reputable trainers on how to reduce your dog's anxiety-related behaviors or ask your vet to recommend a good dog behavioral trainer in your area.

Anti-Anxiety Meds for Dogs

For dogs experiencing severe symptoms of anxiety, anti-anxiety meds, SSRIs, or anti-depressants may be helpful. Below are some common dog anxiety medications that could be prescribed by your vet to help soothe your dog's anxiety related symptoms.

  • Alprazolam (Xanax) - Typically prescribed for moderate to severe situational anxiety to help dogs who become anxious during thunderstorms, but it may also be used for other types of situational anxiety. Administered in pill form this medication is most effective when administered before the anxiety producing stimuli occurs (ie: the arrival of a visitor or thunderstorm), or as early as possible.
  • Amitriptyline - May be prescribed for dogs suffering from separation anxiety or generalized anxiety. This drug is considered an antidepressant and works by increasing the levels of serotonin and norepinephrine, which help to improve mood. Amitriptyline is not suitable for pets with diabetes.
  • Buspirone - Can be prescribed for dogs who suffer from anxiety brought on by social situations such as interactions with other dogs. This medication needs to be given continually in order to be effective and is not suitable for specific situational anxieties such as visitors to the home or thunderstorm phobias.
  • Clomipramine (Clomicalm) - Particularly helpful for dogs suffering from separation anxiety and situational anxiety, Clomipramine can also be prescribed for other types of anxiety in dogs. This medication needs to be given for up to 2 months before determining whether it is beneficial for your anxious dog.
  • Dexmedetomidine (Sileo) - Used to relieve situational anxiety such as noise phobias and aversions. This drug works by reducing activity in certain parts of the brain, resulting in reduced anxiety levels. Dexmedetomidine should be given at the earliest sign of anxiety or before the triggering noise event, if possible.
  • Diazepam (Valium) - This medication can be an effective anti-anxiety medication, muscle relaxant, appetite stimulant and seizure-control drug for dogs. Diazepam can be helpful in treating dogs with panic disorders such as severe noise aversion or phobia if given in advance of an event known to trigger anxiety. 
  • Fluoxetine (Reconcile or Prozac) - FDA-approved for the treatment of separation anxiety in dogs, this medication can also be used to treat other forms of anxiety and behavior issues in dogs such as compulsive chewing, circling and self-mutilation. Fluoxetine works best when combined with behavior-modification training.
  • Lorazepam (Ativan) - Used to treat dogs with situational anxiety, this medication should be administered in advance of the anxiety triggering event. This medication can be administered in pill or liquid form and works by depressing activity in certain parts of the dog's central nervous system.
  • Paroxetine (Paxil) - Suitable for the treatment of generalized anxiety and anxiety-related behaviors in dogs. This medication may be prescribed for a range of anxiety-related behaviors, such as fear of noises, self-mutilation including pulling fur out and compulsive licking, or in some cases aggression.
  • Sertraline (Zoloft) - Prescribed to dogs suffering from generalized anxiety, separation anxiety, thunderstorm phobia and fear-based aggression. This medication is an SSRI that works by increasing the amount of serotonin in the brain.

If you feel that your dog could benefit from anti-anxiety medication it is important to have your vet perform a comprehensive examination to determine whether an underlying health condition may be causing your pup's anxious behaviors. During your dog's examination talk to your vet about your dog's anxiety symptoms and discuss treatments that may work best for your pooch.  

Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.

Does your dog show signs of anxiety? Contact our Seattle vets today to book an examination for your four-legged friend. 

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