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- Not a substitute for professional veterinary help.
Even the calmest, most easygoing dogs can get anxious from time to time. They might express this fear in a number of ways, including having accidents, whining, hiding, or destroying furniture and other items in your home.
Plenty of things can trigger anxiety in dogs, like vet visits, grooming, and other travel. Your dog might also feel afraid during thunderstorms or fireworks or when spending time alone. And of course, as a pet parent, it’s only natural you’d want to soothe their distress. So, you might wonder if any medications could help ease your dog’s anxiety.
Yes, as a matter of fact: If your dog experiences extreme anxiety in certain situations, your veterinarian may recommend trazodone to help them feel calmer and more relaxed.
Trazodone is an anti-anxiety medication often prescribed by vets to ease short-term anxiety in dogs and cats. It can help your dog to cope with stress and recover after surgery or other difficult events. But it doesn’t just improve their well-being. It can also improve your peace of mind. After all, you’re less likely to worry about your dog when they’re calm and content.
Below, get the details on how trazodone works, when your vet might recommend it, and other alternatives to relieve anxiety in dogs.
How Does Trazodone Calm A Dog’s Anxiety?
Although originally developed as an antidepressant for humans, trazodone is also safe and effective for dogs.
Like many other antidepressants, trazodone modifies the amount of serotonin in the brain. Serotonin is one of the so-called “happy hormones,” or brain chemicals that play a role in mood and well-being. For example, experts theorize that low serotonin levels may play a part in anxiety and depression.
There’s one major difference between trazodone for humans and trazodone for dogs. People can take this drug long-term. Dogs, however, should only take it for a short period of time, emphasizes Dr. Rebecca Greenstein, Veterinary Medical Advisor for Rover and Chief Veterinarian at Kleinburg Veterinary Hospital.
In other words, your vet will usually only prescribe it for occasional use, like before grooming or vet visits, or when you’re taking your dog on a trip. They may also prescribe it for a period of several days after surgery.
When Should I Give My Dog Trazodone?
It may take up to two hours for trazodone to kick in, so you’ll want to give it to your dog about two hours before the trigger event. For example, if you know the 4th of July fireworks will start at 9 p.m., you’ll want to give your dog the pill around 7 p.m.
If the stressful event is a longer one—like a trip, for example—or your dog is recovering from surgery, you’ll typically give this medication every eight hours. Just keep in mind that trazodone doesn’t affect every dog in the same way. It may take effect sooner or later, depending on your dog’s size and other factors. It may help to do a practice run a day or two before the event, so you can note how the drug affects your dog.
Your vet will give you specific dosing instructions, since trazodone may last between six and 12 hours, depending on your dog. They’ll likely start you on the lowest recommended dose, Greenstein says, but if your dog needs a higher dose, they can make adjustments.
Trazodone comes as a small white tablet, and you’ll give it to your dog by mouth. If your dog doesn’t want to take the pill, you can try putting it in a pill pocket treat. Greenstein also recommends offering a small snack at the same time.
Possible Side Effects of Trazodone for Dogs
Generally, dogs tolerate trazodone well. It has an advantage over other anti-anxiety medications, since it poses the lowest seizure risk and generally involves fewer side effects.
That said, the drug does come with some risk of side effects, including:
- Excessive sedation, which may slow their breathing and reaction times
- Lethargy, or a lack of energy
- Vomiting, diarrhea, and other signs of stomach distress
- Dizziness or staggering
Call your vet right away if your dog experiences any of these symptoms while taking this medication.
The most common side effect, according to Greenstein, is that it may not be not effective at a lower dose for a particular dog. So, if the dose your vet prescribes doesn’t seem to help your dog, it’s best to call and let them know right away.
Serotonin syndrome in dogs
Another potentially serious side effect is serotonin syndrome. Rarely, some dogs may develop this condition when taking more than one medication that affects serotonin levels at the same time. Examples of these medications include tramadol, fluoxetine, and clomipramine.
If your dog has dilated pupils, difficulty breathing, or tremors and shivering while taking any of these medications, you’ll want to take them to a vet immediately.
Other Drug Interactions and Precautions
Your vet may recommend combining trazodone with other medications to help relieve anxiety-based behaviors. Make sure to let your vet know about any other medications your dog takes.
Your dog shouldn’t take trazodone if they take any monoamine oxidase (MAO) inhibitors. Examples include selegiline, which treats cognitive issues, and amitraz, which treats mange.
Also let your vet know if your dog has any kidney, liver, or heart problems.
Trazodone can cause an allergic reaction, so your vet may not prescribe it if there’s a chance your dog could be sensitive to it.
Are There Alternatives to Trazodone?
If trazodone doesn’t seem to help calm your dog’s anxiety, you have alternatives to try.
Greenstein says a medication like acepromazine may be another option. Vets commonly use this tranquilizer for both cats and dogs, but you’ll need to use them only with very close supervision from your vet, according to Greenstein.
You can also try non-medication options like calming supplements or pheromone diffusers.
Supplements, or calming treats, contain ingredients like L-theanine, which may have a soothing effect on your dog. Pheromone diffuses release synthetic chemical signals that may help your dog feel more relaxed.
These alternatives may not work for extremely anxious dogs. But they can offer a place to start for dogs with mild anxiety. Just note you’ll typically need to give supplements on an ongoing basis before you notice any effects. In other words, they may not necessarily help in a crisis situation.
Trazodone may be a good option for healthy dogs who experience short-term anxiety during specific events, like fireworks, travel, and trips to the vet or groomer. Your vet may also prescribe it after surgery to help keep your dog calm while they heal. It doesn’t treat long-term anxiety.
As with any medication you give your pet, make sure to let your vet know how your dog responds, along with any side effects they experience. They can adjust your dog’s dose or suggest a new medication, if needed.
But the best way to help your dog feel better lies in finding and addressing the cause of your dog’s anxiety, whether that’s separation from you, meeting small children and strangers, or anything else. From there, consistent training may do more to help soothe your dog’s distress for good.