Anxiety is a problem which can affect dogs as well as people. It can result in a lot of nasty symptoms which your dog could show by trembling, whimpering, vocalizing and running to hide amongst other signs. In some cases a nervous dog could even become aggressive. There are a number of different anxiety meds used to treat dogs including benzodiazepines, H1 histamine antagonists (Benadryl is one example), SSRIs and natural supplements.
Avoid jumping straight into treatment with synthetic medication. Treating your dog with natural remedies is usually the safest option with the fewest possible complications. It’s when natural options fail that you should begin to consider medicine. Here are our favorite natural remedies:
ThunderShirt is a type of dog jacket with special calming properties. There are no side effects because it is simply an item of clothing, but it is extremely effective at preventing anxiety. It works by placing a constant, gentle hugging pressure against a dog’s body, which causes feelings of safety and relaxation.
It works great on its own, but you can even use the jacket as conjunctive therapy by having your dog wear it while also using Zylkene or traditional medicines.
DAP (Dog Appeasing Pheremone) diffusers are devices which release a special type of scent known as a “pheremone” which helps to calm an agitated dog. You can buy versions which plug into a socket (much like an air freshener), or manually operated pheremone sprays. These devices have mixed results, but a number of owners swear by them.
Zylkene is a supplement which contains a type of protein known as casein which can be found in milk. This is believed to have positive effects for the majority of dogs and can help to create a sense of security and calm. Because the active ingredient is a naturally occuring protein no side effects are expected.
Zylkene has no known drug interactions which means it’s very likely safe to use alongside medicines such as Benadryl or Xanax if you need an extra boost, but always check with the vet first.
If natural solutions fail to provide relief there are a few different medicines you could speak to your vet about using.
H1 histamine antagonists such as Benadryl (the plain diphenhydramine formula) not only work for allergies, but also tend to induce drowsiness and calm in worked up dogs. These tend to be safer and have less complications than benzodiazepines and SSRIs. The dosage when using Benadryl is 1 mg/lb. You can read more about the use of Benadryl here.
Benzodiazepines work by enhancing the effect of GABA, a neurotransmitter. These drugs often have powerful effects but can also cause a number of complications and side effects. As an example, if you have been administering medicines of this type for a sustained period of time you will need to taper the dosage off slowly when you wish to end treatment in order to avoid adverse effects.
Which benzodiazepines can be used?
Xanax, Valium and Ativan are amongst the most commonly used medicines of this type. Ativan is usually a better choice than Valium for dogs with liver disease. The dosage will vary depending on the drug being used. Just to note, if you are using Xanax you should never exceed a daily dose of 4 mg.
SSRIs are drugs which block the reuptake of serotonin, a chemical which creates feelings of happiness and well-being. Blocking the reuptake of this chemical leads to greater serotonin activity in the central nervous system. These medicines are best known for helping adults with depression but they also work well for anxiety.
Which SSRIs can be used?
Reconcile (fluoxetine) is usually given at a dosage of 0.5 – 0.9 mg/lb once daily. Fluoxetine is the same ingredient found in Prozac.
How Safe Is Treatment?
ThunderShirt, Zylkene and training systems are safe and do not come with the risk of bad reactions. It is possible that Zylkene could cause mild gastric upset (diarrhea and vomiting) but this is also very unlikely and would mainly be a concern if unusually large amounts were ingested.
Benadryl with the active ingredient diphenhydramine is not yet FDA-approved for veterinary use but is still commonly recommended by vets and we believe it is safer for short-term use (for example, during fireworks) than benzodiazepines and SSRI drugs. Benzodiazpines have been associated with issues especially when treatment is stopped abruptly without following the weaning process. SSRI drugs can cause a dangerous condition known as “serotonin syndrome” if misused. The most common cause is when MAOIs such as Preventic Tick Collar are used in conjunction.
Pregnancy/Nursing: Some benzodiazepines have been associated with risks during pregnancy, for example, diazepam is considered Class C. Please speak to your vet about this.
Guidelines For Use
We recommend the following protocol:
1. Try to figure out and eliminate the root cause of anxious feelings.
2. If impossible, attempt to relieve symptoms by using natural solutions.
3. If this fails, book a consult with your vet to discuss medication options.
Natural remedies may be used in conjunction with other medicines. When using traditional medication be aware of the following:
- Do not abruptly stop treatment with benzodiazepines
- Never give a MAO to a dog being treated with SSRI drugs
When using traditional anxiety meds there are a few adverse effects to look out for. These can differ greatly depending on the exact drug you are using but here are some general sides associated with the most popular meds:
- Urinary retention
- Delayed reactions
- Dry mouth
- Loss of coordination
- Changes in appetite
* Serotonin syndrome can lead to serious complications including tremors, rapid heart rate, changes in blood pressure, vomiting and more. If you suspect this condition is developing you should seek emergency care.