- Not a substitute for professional veterinary help.
Calm, peaceful, and content: these are all words we want to use when describing our dog when at home, going to a vet visit, or while traveling. So what should we do when we find ourselves using words like fearful, anxious, and destructive?
Especially, during times of separation, seasonal fireworks, car rides, or thunderstorms, our furry friends may suddenly exhibit signs of fear and anxiety resulting in accidents, destruction of property, and sleepless nights for you. In dealing with anxious behavior, the main objective is to reduce your dog’s anxiety and increase their well-being. And, of course, you also benefit when your dog is calm, peaceful, and content.
How do we get there? A prescription anti-anxiety medication, along with a behavioral modification training program, could make considerable improvements in your pet’s ability to cope with stressful events. This article will talk about a specific anti-anxiety medication, called Trazodone*, that could be helpful in those anxious times.
Trazodone HCl was first developed as an antidepressant for humans and used off-label for insomnia and post-traumatic stress. Since this medication has proven effective with a relatively safe profile, it has also been shown to be effective in dogs. It’s commonly prescribed to dogs (and cats) for anxiety, fear, and other anxiety-based behavioral disorders. It comes as an oral white tablet in different concentrations.
It is a Serotonin 2A antagonist/reuptake inhibitor and works by keeping Serotonin in the brain’s synaptic spaces for longer where it has an effect on mood. Serotonin is the “feel-good” neurotransmitter that’s associated with an increased sense of well-being and decreased aggression. When we have an imbalance of Serotonin in our brains, it’ll have an effect on our mood and behavior. Trazodone helps to maintain a healthy normal balance of Serotonin in the brain.
The main objective of Trazodone administration is to minimize anxiety in short-term situations, as needed, or for generalized anxiety, administered daily. It’s also used for keeping patients calm during vet visits or while confined after orthopedic surgery.
It can be given to pets who are afraid of thunderstorms or fireworks. Trazodone is also given for separation anxiety-based behavior disorder with behavior modification training and it can be combined with certain other medications at your vet’s discretion to help relieve anxiety-based behaviors.
It’s best to give Trazodone before the trigger happens so that your dog is already calm when it begins to work. For example, if your dog is noise-averse and it’s 5 pm on July 4th, it’s a good time to start administering the Trazodone before the fireworks start instead of after the first boom.
Another example is before a vet visit: if your dog is usually fearful at the vet, a dose of Trazodone before you get ready to go will allow the medication to work in time for the car ride.
The time of onset and how long it lasts does vary from dog to dog, so it will be informative to do a practice test a day or two before a potentially fearful event, so you can optimize the timing. Trazodone is given every 8 hours and as needed based on the dog’s weight and response.
In a recent study, Trazodone was found to be well-tolerated with minimal side effects in dogs.
Possible side effects include sedation, lethargy, gastrointestinal symptoms (vomiting and/or diarrhea), ataxia, priapism (prolonged erections), increased anxiety, and aggression. However, these symptoms are uncommon.
An unlikely but serious side effect called Serotonin Syndrome can occur when Trazodone is combined with other serotonin-enhancing drugs such as Fluoxetine and Clomipramine (anti-depressants). If you notice tremors/shivering, dilated pupils, or difficulty breathing, these can be signs of Serotonin Syndrome and you should take your dog to the vet immediately.
Trazodone has the advantage over other anti-anxiety medications of having the lowest seizure risk and fewer adverse effects.
Trazodone can cause an allergic reaction, so dogs who are potentially hypersensitive to it should not be given this medication.
If your dog is on any MAO (monoamine oxidase) inhibitors such as Selegiline or Amitraz (used for mange treatment and tick control), then they shouldn’t be given Trazodone. Also, if your dog has any kidney, liver, or heart problems, then you should discuss using Trazodone with your veterinarian.
Any medication you administer to your pet can serve as a tool to enhance their well-being. Using an adjunctive medical therapy such as Trazodone, with a behavioral modification program is recommended for results in behavior changes.
With active communication with your vet about dosing, reporting any side effects, and consistency in your training, you’ll increase the likelihood of a positive outcome.
Resources for behavioral modification can be found at the following sites:
- Dr. Sophia Yin: Resources on Dog Behavior
- The Animal Behavior Society: Directory of Canine Behaviorists
- The Dog People: Dog Behavior Articles