Medication for anxious dogs

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Many owners of dogs with behavioural issues can be hesitant to consider medication for anxious dogs, instead hoping training alone will help, or that their dog will grow out of it.

Unfortunately, for most dogs with anxiety disorders (and I have two, so I know) it just gets worse. Often impacting on their ability to join in family outings or co-exist with their owners harmoniously.

Training and behaviour modification on its own for dogs with higher levels of anxiety is rarely successful, as the anxiety actually prevents the dog from taking in new information, including how to be calm.

Anxiety Disorders are caused in part by a problem with how the brain functions. Low levels of chemical messengers such as serotonin, NA and dopamine, affect how messages are transmitted and received and therefore how a dog thinks and feels. Leading to increased feelings of anxiousness and worry over seemingly small things.

It is a without a doubt a medical problem that can not only cause behavioural issues such as excessive barking, destructiveness, aggression, fear and separation anxiety, but it can also affect other organs such as the bowel and skin.

In the same way that a person with diabetes requires insulin, dogs with anxiety disorders require medication to help their brains function correctly. The way I explain the need for medication for anxious dogs to my clients is that unlike us, a dog can’t be taught positive self-talk by a psychologist so without the correct chemical balance in their brain they just won’t have the tools to escape their anxiety.

Medication for anxious dogs that are most frequently used include Fluoxetine, commonly known as Prozac, and also Clomipramine. These drugs increase the levels of chemicals in the brain that are responsible for promoting feelings of calmness and well-being.

It can take a couple of months to see improvement depending on the individual animal’s response and the application of behaviour modification exercises. This is not a medication to just stop and start so you should always talk to your vet about any concerns you might have.

In some cases, where certain triggers or situations that set off the anxiety, such as thunderstorms, grooming or a trip to the vets, short acting medications that take between 30 to 90 minutes to work such as Clonidine and Trazodone are prescribed.

Sometimes they will be given in conjunction with Fluoxetine for maximum impact and together can really help an anxious dog learn to trust the world around them and learn alternative responses with the right training so they can cope when feeling unsure.

If you do suspect your dog has anxiety please do speak to your Vet, or ideally a Vet Behaviourist about medication for anxious dogs, in addition to an experienced trainer that uses positive reinforcement training. Positive training methods are vital for dogs with anxiety.

Dr Melissa Meehan is a highly experienced and respected veterinary surgeon with over 14 years experience. Dr Melissa obtained her Members in Small Animal Medicine through examination in 2008 and now runs her own veterinary ophthalmology service.

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