Tranquilizers for dogs are something that dog owners may wonder about when man's best friend starts acting out. While dogs don't have to balance their checkbooks at the end of the month, nor do they have to deal with annoyances such as lawsuits or hearings, life can be stressful for them at times. There's nothing wrong in trying to help anxious dogs out and that can be done with medications. Interestingly, some of the medications to treat anxiety in dogs are the same as those used in humans. Veterinarian Dr. Ivana Crnec discusses anxiety and the use of tranquilizers for dogs and their side effects.
Treating Anxiety in Dogs
Although cute and loving, we must admit that dogs can be quite weird. While fearless in certain dangerous situations, they can be scared to death in otherwise safe situations.
For example a simple visit to the vet’s office for a painless procedure like a nail trimming can be quite stressful. The list of stressful situations is not limited to trips at the vet’s office. A plethora of situations and activities can act as stress triggers and consequently cause anxiety.
Anxiety is described as a feeling of nervousness or unease. Sometimes, a little bit of anxiety is perfectly normal and expected.
However, if severe or frequent, anxiety becomes a problem. In a nutshell, anxiety potentially decreases the quality of life of both the dog parent and the dog.
How to prevent anxiety in dogs? To prevent anxiety attacks, there are several over-the-counter options. Over-the-counter available tranquilizers are tranquilizers that can be purchased freely, without a medical prescription.
This group includes: medications classified as nutritional supplements – for example L-theanine and s-adenosyl-methionine, natural or synthetic pheromone formulations – for example sprays and diffusers that contain DAP (dog appeasing pheromone) and body wraps – which work by providing reassuring pressure.
Unfortunately, the above listed options are not universally effective. Each anxiety case is different and requires a different approach. However, almost all cases can be efficiently solved by using tranquilizers.
Use of Tranquilizers for Dogs
Before discussing when tranquilizers are useful and recommended, it should be well noted that they are short-term solutions. Due to their potential side-effects, and possible complications related to prolonged and frequent use, tranquilizers cannot be used to treat a dog’s bad behavior on a long run. In a nutshell, tranquilizers should be seen as a temporary solution to a problem that requires lifelong addressing.
With that being said, it is safe to assume that tranquilizers are indicated for: simple and painless medical procedures, grooming procedures (bathing, nail trimming, brushing, clipping), transportation purposes, preventing noise anxiety (fireworks, thunderstorms), avoiding aggressive behavior and avoiding hyperactive behavior.
Are tranquilizers universally safe? As with any other drug, complications and side-effects are a possibility. The most commonly observed side-effects include: sleepiness, confusion, changes in behavior and personality, decreased physical activity and decreased interest in physical activity, increased thirst, altered appetite (decreased or increased).
Not every dog put on tranquilizers will experience the same side-effects. Simply put, different dogs react differently. Some dogs will experience one or several side-effects, while other dogs do not experience any.
Tranquilizers are not something you should play with. They are a serious group of drugs and require careful and well-tailored approach. With that being said, it should be clear that it is unsafe to increase your dog’s dosage just because it seems like the tranquilizer is not working as expected. Instead, make an appointment at your vet’s and let him either adjust the dosage or change the type of tranquilizers.
List of Tranquilizers for Dogs
Tranquilizers are medicinal drugs efficient in reducing tension and anxiety. Due to their potency and potential adverse reactions and side effects, most tranquilizers are not available over-the-counter. The most commonly used dog tranquilizers that require vet prescription include: diazepam and acepromazine. Following is a list of tranquilizers for dogs.
Available in tablet form, this tranquilizer is commonly used to treat separation anxiety and certain cases of generalized anxiousness. As a tricyclic antidepressant medication, the amitriptyline alters the mood by stimulating release of hormones that induce happiness – serotonin and norepinephrine.
This mild anti-anxiety drug is particularly useful for dogs that become excited in social situations like interacting with other dogs. Available in tablet form, the Buspirone activates the serotonin receptors in the brain.
Popularly known as Sileo, this tranquilizer is efficient for addressing noise anxiety. As an alpha-2 agonist, the drug depresses certain parts of the brain thus reducing the level of anxiety that can develop. It comes as a transmucosal gel dispensed in a multi-dose tube. The medication is not intended for swallowing. Instead it should be squirted between the cheek and gum and then absorbed.
As a member of the benzodiazepine group of sedatives, diazepam (Valium) is most efficient if given at the earliest sign of anxiety. It is available in spray, tablet and liquid form. Highly absorbable, the diazepam works even if squirted into the dog’s nasal passages or rectum.
Although frequently listed as the most popular tranquilizer for dogs, the acepromazine mechanism is not fully understood. Its effects start taking effect 45 minutes after administration and last for up to 6-8 hours. Because acepromazine affects the heart functioning and it is metabolized in the liver, it must not be used for dogs with heart and liver problems.
Melatonin Based Drugs
As an active substance, the melatonin, does not cure phobia and anxiety on its own. However, it does calm the dog for several hours. When using melatonin based drugs it is important to pay attention to three important factors:
Proper dosing – a melatonin overdose can cause serious problems like vomiting, diarrhea and seizures
Adverse effects – in rare cases, the melatonin can make the dog even more excited
Canine formulas – melatonin based drugs formulated for humans must not be used in dogs.
Although primarily used as an antihistamine drug, the active substance – diphenhydramine acts like a mild tranquilizer as well. If using Benadryl it is important to avoid the liquid variant formulated for humans since it contains too much alcohol. Only the pill and capsule forms are considered safe for dogs. Give it for no more than two times per day.
The Bottom Line
As caring dog parents we always want to make our furry babies as much comfortable as possible. Nevertheless, although highly effective, tranquilizers must not be used on a regular basis. On the contrary, they should be seen as a last resort, only in cases where no other solution exists.
More often than not, anxiety, as a behavioral problem, can be efficiently addressed with adequate training. There is no denying that training takes more time and effort, but in the long-run is the safest option.
About the Author
Dr. Ivana Crnec is a graduate of the University Sv. Kliment Ohridski’s Faculty of Veterinary Medicine in Bitola, Republic of Macedonia.