When I adopted Lana, I had no idea I was bringing an anxious dog into my home. The shelter dogs that had been in my family all my life were happy-go-lucky, confident creatures. Sadly, this isn’t always the case.
Due to her experiences before I met her, and her genetic makeup, Lana (along with 30% of dogs) suffers from canine anxiety. Her anxiety manifests in reactivity toward other dogs as well as fear in new situations. After exploring many of our options, experimenting with multiple treatments, and talking to our vet, I opted to put Lana on doggy Prozac. Here are some reasons to consider medicating your anxious dog.
Symptoms of anxiety in dogs
First, let’s go over symptoms. Anxiety can take many forms and is different for each furry friend. A situation that might seem normal (you going to work) can send an anxious dog into a spiral. Make sure to take note of your dog’s body language and history when thinking about their anxiety. Some symptoms include:
- Fearful body language. Watch for excessive panting, whale eye, tucked tails, and even trembling.
- Vocalizations. An anxious dog may bark, whine, or growl.
- Aberrant movement. Is your normally calm dog pacing? Is your happy an active dog trying to hide? A change in their usual behavior is a good indicator of anxiety.
These symptoms may be subtle or very obvious, but it’s important to note any changes you see in your furry family member. When you notice these changes, take a look at what’s going on around you to see if you can figure out your pet’s unique triggers. Anxiety can manifest in:
- Reactivity. A reactive dog barks, lunges and otherwise makes tons of noise when they see a “trigger” (bikes, other dogs, people in hats etc). Reactivity is rooted in fear, and the dog has learned to make itself big and loud until the trigger leaves.
- Separation anxiety. A dog with separation anxiety can’t stand to be left alone. They may bark the entire time you’re gone (even if it’s just to the bathroom) and some dogs even destroy walls in their distress.
- General anxiety. A dog with general anxiety may be frightened of loud noises, strange people or situations, or other dogs. These dogs react inwardly, cowering and trying to avoid the thing they’re frightened of.
Treatments for canine anxiety
So what can you do if your dog is suffering from anxiety? With Lana, we tried a lot of different things before testing out Prozac. Some of these included:
- Exercise to take the edge off. If you don’t have the time during the day, you can always hire a local dog walker.
- Rescue Remedy is a natural formula reported to have a calming effect.
- ThunderShirts calm dogs with gentle pressure.
- Crate training provides a safe space for your dog and can build confidence.
- White noise or music to distract your dog from scary noises.
- Games and training to build confidence and your bond.
When Prozac makes sense for your dog
While all of these options had some visible success, Lana was not making as much progress as I hoped. Her general anxiety went down the longer she was in my care, but her dog reactivity was not changing at all.
I discussed my options with our vet, and after a required blood test, we were sent home with a prescription.
If you’ve tried training and other anti-anxiety solutions for your dog with little success, it might be worth a conversation with your vet. Prescription medication could be on the list next, including Prozac.
How Prozac works for dogs
Prozac is the brand name for the drug Fluoxetine, which belongs to the group of antidepressant drugs called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs).
Fluoxetine slows down your dog’s metabolism of serotonin, which means that this “feel-good chemical” lingers in your dog’s brain. Over time, this effect increases feelings of happiness and decreases anxiety and depression.
Don’t forget, though it works wonders, Prozac is not an instant fix. It takes time to find the correct dosage and takes a few weeks to reach peak effectiveness.
Just as with humans, don’t think of an anti-depressant as a cure-all that works in isolation. Rather, it’s a tool in your pet parent toolbox. I’m still working every day to desensitize Lana to other dogs and I know we’re making faster progress because she is on Prozac.
We love our pets and want them to be happy. That’s why it’s so hard when your dog is prone to anxiety. By thinking carefully about your dog’s needs and triggers, and in consultation with your vet, you can determine if medication right for your pet.
At your appointment, make sure to discuss possible side effects and counter-indications, and to continue with followup appointments to monitor your dog’s progress. (Note that this medication should not be given to pregnant or lactating dogs.)
Prozac isn’t for every dog, but it is a powerful tool for those that suffer from intense anxiety. Lana and I are sure glad that we tried it.