Thunderstorms, fireworks, and a variety of other things (such as being separated from their families) can cause dogs to experience anxiety. And because anxiety is probably just as unpleasant for dogs as it is for people, most owners are keen to help their dog avoid these feelings of worry.
There are a few different products that help reduce your dog’s anxiety, including tight-fitting garments and cave-like crates, but medications are also a potential solution in some cases. Trazodone is one of the more commonly prescribed anti-anxiety medications for dogs, so we’ll explain the basics of the medication below.
Trazodone was initially developed to help treat depression and anxiety in humans. First approved by the FDA in 1981, it soon drew the attention of veterinarians, who began experimentally using the medication for dogs in 2008. Fortunately, it worked quite well for most of the dogs studied.
Trazodone is only available by prescription, so you’ll have to get it through your vet. It isn’t FDA approved for use in dogs and cats, but veterinarians can legally prescribe it for your pet in what is referred to as “extra-label” use.
Trazodone – which is technically called trazodone HCl – is available in both generic and name-brand versions, such as Oleptro and Desyrel. There aren’t any veterinary formulations of Trazodone currently on the market, so pets must simply take those formulated for humans.
Trazodone is a type of medication called a serotonin 2a antagonist/reuptake inhibitor (SARI), which simply means that it helps raise serotonin levels in the brain.
Raising serotonin levels helps to increase the efficiency with which messages are communicated in the brain. For reasons that are not entirely understood, this often helps to reduce the symptoms associated with anxiety and depression.
Trazodone is generally used to treat several different types of anxiety in dogs, including:
Dogs that suffer from persistent anxiety are typically given the medication on a daily basis, while those who suffer from anxiety in response to a specific trigger are given the medicine on an as-needed basis. Trazodone usually begins working in about one hour, and its effects last for a total of four hours or so.
Veterinarians prescribe trazodone at a range of dosages, so you should always follow your vet’s instructions when administering this (or any other) medication.
Typically, vets recommend that owners give dogs between 2.5 milligrams and 15 milligrams of Trazodone per pound of body weight every 24 hours. For example, a 20-pound beagle would need somewhere between 50 and 300 milligrams of Trazodone per day.
Vets usually try to administer trazodone in the lowest effective dose possible to minimize the potential for side effects. They’ll usually try to start at a relatively low dosage and gradually increase the amount administered over time. It is also important to wean dogs off the medication gradually, to avoid withdrawal symptoms.
It sometimes takes several days for trazodone to work properly, so your vet will likely recommend that you keep administering it to your dog for at least two weeks before deciding that it is ineffective.
Trazodone is typically regarded as a fairly safe drug, but it occasionally causes a few side effects. Some of the most common side effects include:
Many of the minor side effects caused by trazodone will diminish over time, as your dog’s body adjusts to the medication. But, if you notice your dog exhibiting any of the side effects described above, contact your veterinarian and follow his or her advice.
Some dogs may also suffer a condition called serotonin syndrome while taking trazodone. Serotonin syndrome is a serious medical problem that results from excessive serotonin levels in the brain. Although somewhat rare, serotonin syndrome can prove fatal without treatment, so you must be sure to watch for its most common symptoms, including:
Contact your vet immediately if you notice your dog exhibiting any of these symptoms.
Unlike some other medicines that are dangerous for specific breeds (such as ivermectin, which can be dangerous for collies and their close relatives), trazodone seems to be safe for all breeds. It also has a large safety margin, so it is generally considered safe.
However, there are a few medical conditions that you should be sure to discuss with your vet before administering trazodone to your pup. For example, trazodone may exacerbate some heart problems – including, most notably, arrhythmias. Trazodone can also cause problems for dogs taking MAOIs or those who suffer from seizures or epilepsy.
Additionally, note that priapism has been noted as a side effect in a small percentage of human males who’ve taken the medication, so you may want to use caution when administering this to male dogs slated for breeding trials.
If you have a dog suffering from anxiety, speak with your vet about some of the possible treatments – including trazodone. It just may help your dog to feel a little better and relax.
Have you ever given your pup Trazodone? How did it work out? Did it help your dog feel better? Were there any troubling side effects?
Let us know all about your experiences in the comments below.
Ben is a proud dog owner and lifelong environmental educator who writes about animals, outdoor recreation, science, and environmental issues. He lives with his beautiful wife and spoiled-rotten Rottweiler JB in Atlanta, Georgia. Read more by Ben at FootstepsInTheForest.com.