Myth: Anxiety Medication Should Only be used as a Last Resort

I’ve written about medicating anxious dogs before, and it’s such an important topic that I want to touch on it again. There are so many misconceptions surrounding this subject.The idea that anxiety medication should only be used after everything else has been tried is so sad and harmful, and is a myth I encounter on a regular basis. Let’s clear up some of the fog surrounding this common misconception.

Photo by Heather

Photo by Heather

Before we get any further, please remember that I am not a veterinarian and I don’t play one on the internet. The information contained in this blog is not meant to diagnose or prescribe, and is only provided for your information. I’m drawing from my experience as a certified veterinary technician, canine behavior consultant, and the owner of an anxious dog to educate you, but your best resource is always going to be a licensed veterinarian.

So, let’s start with what we know. Advances in neuroscience and imaging technology have shown us that anxious or depressed people and animals often display significant physical changes to certain areas of their brain, such as the prefrontal cortex (responsible for planning and executing activities) and hippocampus (responsible for memory). We know that fear and anxiety are processed in the same part of the brain as physical pain, and that emotional pain actually shares some of the same neural pathways with physical pain. That’s why we talk about profound grief or panic “hurting” – it physically impacts our bodies.

This is huge. We know that panic and worry “hurt.” Why the hell would you not treat this pain? If your dog were bleeding every day, wouldn’t you treat the wound? Would you wait to splint a broken bone because you wanted to “try everything else first”? Would you wait to give a dog pain meds after surgery until you saw that he “really needed it”? The truth is that these medications can provide very real relief for dogs who need them, and doing so can be the greatest kindness you can offer to a dog who’s hurting in a very real way.

Q: But aren’t anxiety medications dangerous?

A: Yes, sometimes. Any meds can have dangerous side effects. However, I think we need to be very honest about the risk here. Anxiety medications can have negative effects, but so can pain medication, herbal supplements, heartworm preventative, flea and tick medications, and the diet you choose to feed your dog. Furthermore, if you are considering anxiety medication for your dog, you have to take into consideration the impact of prolonged, excessive levels of stress hormones on your dog’s body. I can guarantee that if your dog’s issues are such that you’re considering anxiety medication for your dog, your dog is already experiencing physical problems from their anxiety. In many cases, elevated stress hormones could be more harmful to your dog long-term than anxiety medication. This is a case where doing nothing is not necessarily any safer than trying medication for your dog.

Q: I’d prefer to stick to natural remedies…

A: Let’s settle this once and for all: natural does not mean safe. I see a lot of dogs who are on multiple herbs, oils, and other “natural” remedies with no concern for their safety ramifications. We have very little knowledge about toxicity, possible drug interactions (either additive or counteractive), side effects, or species-appropriateness for most of these remedies, and frankly, there is very little oversight regarding their safety for us, much less for non-human animals. Most modern medications have roots in herbal or other natural remedies. While the digitalis from a foxglove plant may be very helpful when used therapeutically for a patient with congestive heart failure, it can be deadly to a small child or dog. Arsenic and cyanide are “natural” compounds as well – that doesn’t make them safe. While melatonin, 5-HTP, or valerian root may help some dogs, the truth is that we don’t know that they’re any safer than a Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor or Tri-Cyclic Antidepressant, and any compound can cause issues.

Q: But, can’t training solve this problem?

A: Probably. I want to be very clear: medication alone will not solve most behavioral issues. However, repeated studies have shown that combining medication and training results in the fastest progress, and I would argue that this fact in and of itself is a good reason to consider medication for fearful, anxious, and aggressive dogs. There’s an underlying humane issue here. Medication can improve your dog’s quality of life while training is taking place and can make that training work more quickly and effectively. Just as using appropriate pain medication can decrease the amount of time it takes animals to heal after surgery, anxiety medication promotes emotional healing. This is a pretty big deal.

Q: Does my dog need to stay on meds forever?

A: Maybe, and maybe not. By far the majority of the dogs I work with are on anxiety medication for a short period of time. The medication helps to cut through the static of anxiety so that the dog is in a better place to learn. Once the dog is no longer fearful, anxious, or aggressive in the formerly triggering context, they are weaned off the medication and go on with their lives, happier and more balanced. That said, some dogs have a true neurochemical imbalance that needs to be treated. Just as a dog with hypothyroidism needs to be given thyroid supplementation, these dogs oftentimes need chemical help to regulate and maintain the levels of serotonin, norepinephrine, or other neurochemicals in their brain. For these dogs, anxiety medication may be a lifelong need.

Look, I’m not saying that every anxious dog needs medication. I’m not even saying that it should always be the first thing that we reach for or consider. However, it also shouldn’t be the last. After we’ve looked at environment and put together a training plan, we owe it to our best friends to be very honest about their current quality of life. If your dog is suffering, medication could give him some very real and very quick relief. Personally, I don’t want my dogs to be in pain, and I think we need to be aware that it is okay to consider medication as part of a balanced plan right from the start. It should not be the only thing that changes – medication is not a magic potion that will fix all of your dog’s ills. But it can be one important ingredient in your dog’s customized plan, right alongside management and training.

How do you feel about the use of anxiety medication as part of a behavioral plan to improve a dog’s quality of life? Have you ever used medication for a dog, or are you considering it for your current dog? Please share your questions, stories, and experiences in the comments section below!

139 responses to “Myth: Anxiety Medication Should Only be used as a Last Resort

  1. sara, oreo and chewy

    After years of trying every “natural” method on the market, my fearful pup is on zoloft, prescribed by a veterinary behaviorist. How I wish I started him on it when he first began showing signs of fear! He recovers from stress much more quickly now, and is much more responsive to training. He’s still fearful, will always be fearful, but he experiences far less stress than before.

    We did try prozac first, but that made him paranoid and groggy. Sometimes you have to try a few before you get the right fit/dose.

  2. Thank you, thank you for writing this. I think a lot of trainers feel that if a dog needs medications, it means that they are a failure & that just isn’t true. It may take several tries of different medications to find the right one for each dog. I’m working with one dog where we started with behavior mod first for about a month & the owner actually suggested medication & it has made a big difference in him. I don’t think we medicate often enough.

  3. We weaned Cracker off the clomipramine she was on for her SA due to changes in her thyroid, hoping that we would be okay on natural supplementation as she also has early renal issues. It was a no go. There were some concerns, being a kidney dog, that going back on meds would be harmful long term…I said to the vet: If we shorten her life by a year or two but she is miserable and scared witless and cannot be left alone for more than ten minutes…what kind of life is that? For her OR for me? We are now trying fluoxetine, will see how it goes.
    My dog’s quality of life is far more important to me, and to her, than it’s length.

  4. We rescued two pit mix puppies, brother and sister. Mischief and Mayhem were fine but then playing turned into outright fights, fights that did not resolve on their own. Several trainers later we went to Penn Vet Hospital’s behavior clinic. They helped fill the voids the non-doctor trainers were giving with the biological aspect of what was going on. Both dogs are on fluoxetine and trazadone. Both dogs can now play with each other and be near each other 95% of the time. We still have some guarding issues but we can now treat good behavior while they are next to each other. That NEVER would have happened at the beginning of this year. In hindsight, we now see that all of our previous rescues had varying levels of anxiety but we were unaware of it because it wasn’t at the level these two were at. So glad we took the step to go to VHUP.

    • what is the version of the meds are you giving/gave ..can’t find a version of the 2 of them wondering if you gave them 2 diff meds. Thanx.

  5. You make some very good points here.

    I know of a person who was told that the anti anxiety drug would change her dog’s behavior instantly and that when she wanted to, she could wean the dog off the drug “like that”. The drug did take some time to work (but it helped greatly) and when she decided to wean (at the vet’s direction) she did it instantly and the dog became worse, resumed reacting to and biting anything that moved. If anyone knows anything about anti-anxiety medications and antidepressants it’s that when you stop them without a weaning process, the withdrawal symptoms are horrendous. Because the client was not given the right information, both she and the suffered which is absolutely unacceptable in my books.

    My problem is not the use of anti-anxiety medications but manner in which some veterinarians seem to be prescribing them without much thought, client education or client follow-up.

  6. Thank you for this post. Almost 2 yrs ago I rescued a Tibetan Terrier/poodle mix (Peanut) who was extremely fearful/reactive (lunching, snarling) on walks and when people enter my house. I am working with a trainer and a vet/behaviorist. She prescribed paxil and it has been a tremendous help. Without it, you could tell that he wanted to listen, but was too upset to be able to do so. With the paxil, we have been able to use positive training techniques to have better responses. It is a slow process but I can’t imagine continuing it without the medicine. We can now pass people within viewing without him freaking out. Ultimately, we are working on being able to do that at closer and closer distances. Furthermore, the first time the behaviorist came out and did an assessment/plan, Peanut stood (in his crate) and barked like a maniac almost the entire time she was here. She just came out and reassessed recently and partially through the time, he was able to just lay down in his crate and go to sleep while we sat there. I realize this doesn’t sound like much, but it was HUGE in Peanut terms! We continue to work with Peanut and I am hopeful…without the meds, I was not very hopeful…so I am grateful for them and for the professionals that are helping me!

  7. I’m considering medication for my youngest dog, in fact I’m waiting for a little bit nearer to pay day so I can book the appointment with our vet. I have the backing of living with her for 7 months (will be 8 by the time we go), a behaviourist friend, and a training instructor friend too; and I know this is the right decision for Starr.

    • Just a follow-up on this, for anyone who is interested: Starr started medication last Wednesday morning, and almost immediately showed improvement. She is getting better, and now I will be able to properly help her learn about the world, and how it’s not really scary.

  8. My Aussie developed a severe thunderstorm phobia after being in a serious car accident. We went through every thing under the sun but it wasn’t until we tried alprazolam (sp?) or Xanax that we finally found something that would allow Lacey the peace of mind to be able to learn from the training I was trying to do. As with any tool, there can be abuse and misuse but used properly, the drug was tremendously helpful.

    • For thunderstorm phobia, try a chiropractor. The atlas (vertebra at the base of the neck) if it is out of alignment can affect function of the inner ear. In one alignment, we saw significant improvement in TStorm phobia-it disappeared!

    • How has this worked so far ? my dog is terrified and hides behind the toilet bless his heart.

  9. I do not agree with much of this article and it’s spoken as if a medical doctor would speak it. I am a human with anxiety issues and I’ve tried many anxiety meds and anti-depressants and the side effects were causing more anxiety than the anxiety. I have 3 dogs and one of them suffers from anxiety related to thunderstorms or fireworks. She only recently became that way in the last 2 years or so. The vet gave me anti anxiety medication for her. She’s to take one (takes 30 minutes to take effect. With myself I am very careful and usually take less of any medicine till I see how it affects me so we gave her 3/4 of a pill the first time. She almost fell down the stairs, was very lethargic for the entire 24 hours. Next time we gave her a half of one. Not as lethargic but definitely unsteady and her eyes drooped heavily for 24 hours. I won’t do that again. I just reassure her and pet her a lot to work through it and then she’s fine once the noise stops. I sure natural supplements for myself all the time and the side effects of those are nothing compared to a chemically made medication. Doctors hand out drugs way too easily when often lifestyle changes can fix the problem. Medication masks the symptoms. Every medication you take or your pet takes whether it’s over the counter (ibuprophen for people) or prescribed is toxic to your body. Medications can sometimes be necessary and are useful if short term as in antibiotic for an infection or short term pain meds. Prescribed meds are not from herbal supplements, they are chemically manufactured and at least with people doctors they make money off the meds as well as the pharmacology companies (hence all the med commercials on t.v.). My dog never reacted in the first few years of her life so something changed and medication is not good for her. If she was truly terrified of course I would medication her with the least amount of medication possible but it would be my last resort and that’s the way I feel about me too.

    • Hello,
      With regards to your dog and firework fear, you could try the thundershirt which is a coat, it was developed for humans initially for autistic spectrum disorder and such like………its like a hug in a coat and works on the dogs natural acupuncture points, it can also be used for fearful dogs along with behaviourist advice. We use it on our fearful reactive husky mix with some noted change, we also attend growly dog classes to enable more positive interactions with other dogs with similar problems, he is male and after advice we have had an implant put in to reduce testosterone levels to see if that helps him also. Would consider medication if no other option. Whatever an individuals choice it should be considered, but as all fearful dog owners know, we love our pets and wish them not to have harm come to them or them to do to others…………

    • For thunderstorm phobia, try a vet chiropractor. The atlas (vertebra at the base of the neck) if it is out of alignment can affect function of the inner ear. In one alignment, we saw significant improvement in TStorm phobia-it disappeared!

    • Research has shown over and over again that a high percentage of herbs and vitamin supplements, which are not regulated in the U.S., do not contain what they claim on the bottle. Some contain toxins. Studies also consistently show that most of them are not effective in humans. The placebo effect is very real for humans, and that is the reason why people can experience positive results with them. There is no placebo effect in animals, so they are not likely to be effective for them at all. Kava Kava is an example of a “natural” substance used in humans for anxiety that can be fatal due to its toxic effects on the liver.

      The author of this article is absolutely correct in encouraging owners to stay away from supplements and herbs, since they are unregulated. If you need further convincing, consider that the FDA only tests supplements and herbs AFTER they have resulted in reported side effects.

      Please note that the number one reason that pets – especially dogs – are put to death is because of behavioral issues. The author is also justified in recommending psychotropic drugs in combination with training/behavioral modification in pets early on if behavior modification is not enough.

      While we are on the subject of what is natural, it is important to remember that we have many pure bred dogs – designed by humans through selective breeding and not by natural selection – that have behavioral issues that arise from their DNA. We created many of these problems. We also work long hours in this country, often leaving anxiety-prone dogs alone without addressing their psychological needs.

      Most of the psychotropic drugs that are used in pets have been on the market for decades, and since all are FDA regulated, we know exactly what is in them. As a veterinarian this is the only medical treatment that I feel comfortable prescribing. An experienced veterinarian will discuss the benefit/risk ratio of each drug. Most are quite safe when used appropriately.

      As in human psychiatry, the decision to medicate should be an individual one, depending on the problem, response to behavioral modification attempts, and the environment that the dog is in. Americans in general live very busy lives and do not have consistent large blocks of time available for behavior modification. Most don’t have advanced skills in this area. Medications can fill the gap, and in many cases are the most humane way to go.

    • Are you SURE you dog received an anti-anxiety drug? Definitely ask your vet!! The side effects you are describing fit a drug called Acepromazine, which does nothing for fear and is just a sedative. If your vet did give you Ace for her, get a new vet. Just do some research on google!
      Here is another article as well

    • You need to do your research! Do you even know the NAME of the drug your vet prescribed for your dog? It sounds like a sedative NOT an anti-anxiety. Big difference!

  10. I completely agree. We took in my husband’s grandmother’s dog when she passed away. I truly think Benji would have been euthanized if he had fallen into the wrong hands. We tried every way possible to avoid using medication, but every time we left his presence he would tear holes in carpets, bed clothes…anything in his path. He chewed his way out of crates (actually bent bars on a metal crate and escaped) and we were scared to death we would come home some day and he would be badly injured. He also used to pace and walk back and forth over the tops of our heads during thunderstorms at night. Not knowing what else to do, (giving grandmother’s beloved dog up to someone else was not an option for us, as we grew to love the little guy very quickly), we asked our vet to try medication. We tried clomipramine first and it seemed to have no effect whatsover. I went back to my vet in tears asking for something stronger. He suggested Acepromazine (ACE) and it has worked miracles. He takes 1 pill in the a.m. and one in the p.m. and we didn’t even have to go to the maximum dosage to get results. We love our Benji boy and are thankful to have found a medication that works for him.

    • Be careful with Ace- it often makes dogs appear as though they aren’t anxious, but it’s simply masking it and the dog feels the same (or worse).

      (My dog and I are both on clonazepam PRN, in response to the original post)

    • Ace is not an anti-anxiety drug- it is a sedative. Not only are you making him a sleepy anxious dog, but you are also affecting his blood pressure- I am pretty surprised that your vet prescribed it for long-term use. It’s generally used for short-term relief, such as car trips or visits to the vet, and even most vets are starting to move away from it in favor of true anxiety-reducing drugs. You may feel better about Benji because he seems sleepy all the time, but trust me- he doesn’t feel any better.

  11. Thank you for this post. My big boy, Bruce is on anxiety meds twice daily. He takes amitriptyline. We adopted him at 1.5 years of age, and had him for 10 months before we started medication. He had made a bit of progress prior to, but has come leaps and bounds since. He remains a boy that does not go far from home, though. I tried “natural” things with him, including Bach’s Rescue Remedy and L-Theanine, to no avail. We also started feeding raw at the same time as we began medicating him, and I like to think that has helped some as well.

  12. Super Duper Post, will definitely be sharing it!!

  13. I rescued a large mixed breed that would eat my house literally every time I left. We tried a few medications and finally ended up on Reconcile or basically doggy Prozac (which we now actually get generic Prozac). We have tried to wean him off and he does not do well off of it. He is an absolutey amazing boy and i would not change any part of him, he is a sweet guy either way he just relaxes more and is much more comfortable in his own body.

  14. I had a dog many years ago whose brain was just not right (his mom was starved while pregnant and I fostered her and the litter.) Even at three weeks of age he growled when he was handled, and by four months of age, he was biting people and dogs, hard, with multiple, shifting triggers. We did try “everything” with him and although nothing completely stopped the aggression, Prozac made more of a difference than anything else we tried, reducing the bites by about 90%. Medication need not be the last thing tried, especially with dogs who are suffering immensely.

  15. Mary Bangs – from your description the medication prescribed for pet’s thunderstorm phobia was actually NOT an anti-depressant but a sedative. The most common sedative given in these cases in bygone years was always acepromazine (ACP)……this is a sedative that just sedates without completely knocking the animal out. ……also with this particular medication, the dose is very hit and miss, fortunatetly it is safe in terms of the dose rates suggested are not enough to overdose…..every animal will need a differnt dose even if the same weight and body mass
    We now are realising in times of anxiety, particularly thunderstorm, firework and other type phobias, ACP is not a good choice as while it does sedate, it also heightens the senses, therefore making the whole frightening experience far worse, especially since it means the animal is sedated and therefore unable to get away and hide.
    You also mentioned that this problem has “only occurred in the last two years” prior to that you say you dog was fine…….we now know that often behaviour and anxiety related things do creep up on animals and people. There does not have to be any sudden event to create the problem. Perhaps in the past you pet did still have a phobia but did not show any symptoms (as it is in an animals nature to not show vulnerablity) and over time her coping skills have gradually decreased.
    The author is correct…. natural doesnt mean safe. We have had to treat a number of animals with toxity issues because the owners have been giving natural supplements which have either counteracted against other medications, or the owners have given incorrect dosing

  16. Run A Muck Ranch

    Our Willy is hails from Afghanistan and arrived with PTSD among other demons. ‘Conventional’ dog training was perceived by Willy as threatening, so we had to be creative. The one thing we couldn’t make headway on was the stray voltage that was Willy when he ‘went off’ for no apparent reason. Fluoxetine was the best thing we could ever do for him. We did try at one point to wean him, but some of his demons came back. A lot of Afghanistan refugees end up PTS due to emotional issues. Though it pained us to have ‘failed’ and had to ‘resort’ to medicating, we have since swallowed our pride and realized it was the best thing for Willy. We only wish we had done it sooner.

    Since Willy came to us a 3 year old, it is possible he will stay on his meds for life. Once a year, however, we are supposed to try to wean him and see what happens.

  17. I agree with most of the article. At least my ‘trainer’ side does. I’ve medicated dogs with issues like separation anxiety and of course it helps a lot and I recommend to do it. But then, I go to other issues like a generalized anxiety and I doubt. I’ve been myself on that medications (anti-anxiety and antidepressant) and I might look well, but I wasn’t feeling well. They are ok for a crisis. You need them, so I guess our dogs need them too, but in the long run you have to put in a balance the pros and cons. I think that a good approach could be give them a try, and after a year or so WITH other training measures, quit the medication slowly. I wouldn’t put my dogs under medications for life. I chose not to do it on myself, and I don’t want it for them.

  18. Helene Chouinard

    My 4 years old dog is currently on Fluvoxamine. I started the treatment 5 months ago, after having struggled for more than one year with unsuccessful training. He had always been a little anxious, and quite a handfull to supervise, like many Jack Russell terriers, but after I moved to another home, he became even more reactive, aggressive towards my other dog, barking a lot, and our relationship was deteriorating.

    Then some of my friends suggested that I read a newly released book written by an eminent european veterinarian who is specialised in behavior problems. And it was a revelation to me. I understood from my reading that he was hyperreactive, that it was caused by a brain chemical disorder, and that it was genetic. I already knew that most of his litter had been euthanasied over the years (4 out of 6 dogs), so I greatly suspected the genetic part of it. Since I had consulted a few trainers, all of them working with positive reinforcement, but none of them seeing him as a dog in need of medication, I decided to consult the author of the book, in collaboration with a dog trainer who knew him well, and my own veterinarian. The specialised veterinarian told me that probably none of the trainers I had consulted really understood my degree of exhaustion regarding this issue. He helped me adjust the dosage, and I resumed the training. And over the weeks, he became more responsive. What a relief !

    I still struggle on some problems. I’m working on it, and at least, now, I can see some improvement. But we can’t erase 3 (and more) years of problems in a blink of an eye. It takes time and efforts.

    I don’t even know if I’ll be able to wean him completely one day. Sincerely, I doubt it. I had also tried all sorts of natural supplements and remedies over time, and each time I tried to wean him from those, il was back to his old habits. And according to the veterinarian, these kind of temperament, the hyperreactivity, tends to come back when we stop the medication, unless we are able to provide the dog with LOTS of activity and supervision.

    My only regret is that I waited for so long before I gave him that medication. But I didn’t know better, I had not met yet the person who could guide me through that process, and now, I have to “repair” over 3 years of anxiety and bad habits that were more and more engraved in his brain. So, when I read that waiting can be worst than trying all sorts of approches in order to avoid medication, I agree completely with that.

    • Helene ,
      What kind of medication did you get for your dog?
      and what are you feeding the dog kibble or fresh meat.
      I am told that also can make a big difference in behaviour.

      • Helene Chouinard

        He’s on kibbles. I feed him Acana, which is supposed to be good quality. I was also told that it could be better on fresh meat, but I don’t trust the already made raw diets on the market, and I don’t want to try to do it myself. I don’t have the energy to start on another “journey” triying to balance a good diet. And besides, I’m still not convinced at all it would make such a difference.

        He takes fluvoxamine, wich is “Floxyfral” I think.

    • Hi can you give me the name of the book. I have a problem dog I love very much. Gray

      • Helene Chouinard

        It is Joël Dehasse, the book is in french though. The title is “changer le comportement de mon chien en 7 jours”. Of course, I didn’t believe that it could take 7 days in my dog’s case, but in most dogs, when you do the training he is suggesting, I believe it can be quite efficient indeed. The only thing is, in my dog’s case, there is a physiological problem. Joel Dehasse is a veterinary behaviorist in Belgium.

        Update : my dog was still agressive with my other animals, and he was very protective of everything. One year later, I was still struggling with many issues. I met recently a veterinary behaviorist with my two dogs, (I finally had acces to one !), and she prescribed Tegretol also. He’s currently on Luvox and Tegretol. I had to lower the dosage of Luvox, because it was causing some strange side effects since the end of the summer (he was often shaking, and it felt like it was due to an increase in anxiety). We are on the process of figuring out the best combination and dosage of medication. Maybe Tegretol alone would be better. We don’t know yet.

    • Marianne Beene

      Hello Helene Chouinard, can you please tell me the name of the book you read? I have a family member with a Border Terrier that could use some good information that sounds like it might be available in this book. I can be reached at mfbeire at gmail. Thank you.

  19. THANK YOU. I’ve had several dogs with whom I’ve used anti-anxiety – two in particular. Molly had OCD – finally bit off the last half of her tail after gnawing it raw the day before. She went on several meds, including antibiotic, and a Thundershirt. With the Thundershirt, I saw a relaxed change within 5 minutes of putting it on. Her adopter recently took her back to the vet after she started chewing on a leg – back on Xanax. Will save her life. The second became extremely distressed in my multi-dog sanctuary after living most of her life as a single dog in a quiet home. We put her on Xanax, too; helped but did not cure. Last weekend she was adopted into a quiet home with one person and another senior Beagle. We look forward to her being WEANED off her Xanax – NEVER just stopped. As an RN, gives me shudders to think of just stopping an anti-anxiety or anti-depressant med.

  20. Pingback: Separation anxiety, Dog Aggression and Fear

  21. We adopted Roy, our Bull Terriër about 6 weeks ago. Roy was very stressful in the beginning, and his way of coping with stress escalated very quickly to “spinning or tail chasing”. It was his third family already and you could definitely see he just didn’t understand the fact he again had to get used to a new environment, new people, …

    We contacted a trainer, and he gave us some techniques to handle the spinning, but no techniques were handed to treat the cause of the spinning, his stress… We absolutely saw that the techniques just weren’t enough, he wanted to listen, but was too stressed.

    Our second trainer, after a very thorough diagnosis, advised us to give him Fluoxetine, or Prozac. We had our doubts, but he situation was unbearable, and we saw no improvement at all. So we tried. He’s been on the Fluoxetine for a month now and we see great improvements, in combination with training of course. It was the best decision I have ever made.

  22. Pingback: Medication or not? | Free psychology

  23. Great post Sara! I completely agree.

  24. You are seriously my favorite person in the world! This is spot on. Sunshine wouldn’t be just a normal shy dog today if it weren’t for the help of the correct drugs. We finally found a vet who knew what she was doing and wasn’t stingy with the meds. 24 hours later I had a completely different dog and we could start some training and make progress in leaps and bounds!

  25. You might look at “Prozac Backlash” (Simon & Schuster) by Joseph Glenmullen, M.D., Prozac Nation, and Prozac Diary which document tolerance, withdrawal syndromes and drug dependency and and other dangers linked to “Prozac-like drugs” – (SSRIs), which presents unequivocal evidence from a wide range of side effects that prozac type drugs impair the normal functioning of the brain,” Glenmullen says. … quoted from
    Its my view that canine distress is manifested when the attachment figure is unavailable and there is no escape.
    Also, Peter Breggin’s books provide alternatives to these drugs.

    • Helene Chouinard

      And what do you suggest with dogs that simply dont respond to any training and are driving their owner crazy ? I mean, I even thought about euthanasia… 4 out of 6 dogs in this litter have been not abandoned, but euthanasied already, at age 0 to 4 years old. The author you suggested have written about humains, not dogs… what do we do with dogs ?

  26. As the author of the original article stated – any medication, no matter how benign we think it is, has the potential to have a negative or adverse reaction…even something as simple as a gastro-intestinal wormer!
    We know there may be someone or some being somewhere that may have a reaction but at the end of the day, it is worth a try and if it helps and at the saves that animals life – awesome……… is crueler not to treat an animal that is suffering a miserable life though anxiety.
    and for the person that put up the link (that was a human study!) from the harvard magazine….good on you, I am sure you can find oodles of stuff working against the use of Prozac…..I can find just as many stating their benfits!
    People are entitled to make their own informed choices, you state “Its my view that canine distress is manifested when the attachment figure is unavailable and there is no escape” this view is highly simplistic and there is so much more to anxiety in all animal forms (including human)….. What qualifications do you even have to make such a statement. All the references you have listed (including Peter Breggin) are for humans – we are talking about dogs here…… these drugs are not given lightly in animals because we are always so aware of possible adverse reactions.

  27. Pingback: Separation anxiety, Dog Aggression and Fear

  28. My fear reactive dog sees a trainer and a behaviorist. His vet, his trainer and his behaviorist believe that medications will reduce his bite inhibition and do not recommend using them. Are there other options?

    • I am studying this very topic at the moment in a veterinary behaviour medicine I am doing through Sydney university and Dr Kersti Seksel.
      Yes there are concerns that giving anxiety meds might disinhibit aggression and other behaviours that might be hidden by the anxiety, however we also know most aggression is the result of anxiety anyway.
      So the suggestion is to try medications, you may have to try 2-3 types before you get the right one for your dog……carefully monitor your dog when giving the medication and if you feel the aggression is getting worse then you have to stop and try another one, after a recommende washout period
      Aggressive behaviour can be helped by medication if the aggression is due mainly to anxiety, the advice you have received is correct in a way. The medication must be used with caution but it is worth a go

  29. My fearful, anxious senior dog has come a long way since we adopted her two years ago, and I credit much of her progress to Clomipramine. That said, we’ve decided to try weaning her down to see how she does without it (or possibly on a lower dosage). We’ve gone from 80 mg/day to 60, and two weeks in, she’s been great–even better than she was at 80 mg. She’s still nervous with strangers, but she’s more outgoing with familiar people than she was two weeks ago. We also stopped encouraging her to interact with strangers a long time ago and ask people to ignore her unless she goes to them. That’s helped a lot, too!

  30. Helene Chouinard

    The only thing I can tell you is that I first tried Clomicalm with my dog, and I was told after that for agressive dogs like mine (agressive toward other dogs but OK with humans), Clomicalm was not the right medication, that il could increase agressiveness. Fluvoxamine was better fir his case. I don’t kow if that’s the reason why they told you that though.

  31. Helene Chouinard

    Oups, I wanted to reply to cathywitlox…

    • I think it was/is the right medication for my dog. My dog is the opposite of aggressive. She avoids the things she’s fearful of (people–she’s not at all afraid of dogs). We’ve never seen any aggression in her at all. She’s an incredibly gentle dog–just scared to death of strangers. We figure she was just never socialized.

      • Helene Chouinard

        Sorry. I got mixed up yesturday, my answer was for Pat who is talking about bite inhibition, but he had a better informed answer from the author of the article. ;)

  32. I had an older rescue who was phobic of pretty much all sounds (and probably had dementia as well) that I finally put on an SSRI (prozac) after counterconditioning and “natural” methods either failed or didn’t work at all. I had already had a lot of experience Counterconditioning fearful dogs and knew this was a special case pretty early on. The dosage took some manipulation, but all in all it was the best thing I ever did for that dog. All her problem behaviors vanished and she was happy. I made the mistake of letting the RX lapse for a few days and by the second day she was a mess again. I hadn’t realized how much she had inproved until her relapse! I have run into a couple dogs that I have suggested medicating. Its hard because you don’t know how the owner will respond to the suggestion. They often think you are either a crappy trainer or are saying their dog is broken beyond “normal” repair.

  33. Sara, great blog! It breaks my heart sometimes when people adamantly refuse medication for a dog that is clearly miserable due to its anxiety.

  34. ok, I can’t even spell my own name right!

  35. Our husky/boxer mix Jackson has just recently started freaking out prior and during thunder storms. We just put down our 9 yr old Rotti girl a week and a half ago. Jackson seems to be having depression issues now. He has crewed through plywood and gotten out of our fenced in backyard numerous times. We just put him on medication. The recommended dose was a little much, so we’ll cut it in half next time he needs it. It has made his life better and our goal is to make sure our fur babies are happy and healthy. Thank you for your service and website. Denise…NC

  36. As a person who cannot function without these types of medications, I urge everyone to consider the possibility that this is what the pet requires to be a happy, healthy pet.

  37. Wish I’d known and be able to be more pro-active with my last, highly anxious pup. Although I did everything I was aware of at that time, her life was pretty miserable because she was always frightened. My heart bleeds for her and my lack of knowledge at the time, though I tried my darnedest to make her feel safe. Thanks for spelling it out!

  38. Pingback: A Note About Meds | The Cranky Giraffe

  39. They are sponsored websites so the results of the search word.

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  40. I hope it’s ok that I post here. I have been researching inner ear issues (he doesn’t have vertigo) and it’s relationship to anxiety issues in dogs. I have a yellow lab mix that I adopted 7 years ago. He is now 10 and has been the calmest most lovable and needy (I stress needy) dog ever. He’s amazing. I travel a lot and a year ago we moved to a new house. He has been fine with both of these changes. Until about two months ago when unfortunately my husband had to leave him home alone overnight. I don’t know if it’s related but for the past two months he is a different dog. The anxiety level is so out of control that he is now on tranquilizers that I give him at dinner and before bed (a 1/4 pill each time). It really calms him down, otherwise he will tear through anything to escape or hide. It’s like there is a thunderstorm/lightning/fireworks in his head. You can see the fear in his eyes. He will chew and escape from a crate, destroy things even when I’m there and stand and pant for hours. He has had inner ear issues that my vet just can’t seem to clear up (I’ve been going to her for over 20 years so I do trust her). I’m at a loss. Could a chiropractor work? A thundershirt only slightly calms him. I sleep on the floor with him to comfort him, I have changed his diet to pork and vegetables (he’s allergic to poultry), a pet him and love him as much as possible. Sometimes I see my old boy back, but only for a few minutes. He’s not the same dog, he used to love his treats, his chew bones/rawhides, even ran into the house for his dinner after his walk. Now he doesn’t care, you have to coax him to eat his treats and drag him on his walks. Rescue Remedy does nothing. My heart is just breaking watching him go through this, not to mention what is does to us.

  41. Pingback: Thirty Days of Thanks Day 4: Acceptance | Faith, Trust, & Foster Pups

  42. My two year old terrier lhasa mix suffers from fear agression after being attacked in a doggie daycare. When I asked his veterinarian about possibly using medication she told me it would lower his bite inhibition and cause him to have less control and be more likely to bite. She suggested more training. I am using counter conditioning to try to help him but his fear is real and he cannot control himself. I would like to try the use of medication on him but don’t know who to go to. I have seen behaviorists; one says he needs better training; one says she has never seen a dog with such unpredictable anger and is not sure how to proceed. Today he tried to bite me for the first time when the doorbell rang. Hopefully someone here has been in a similar situation and can offer suggestions.

    • Some medications will do that, but some might not. Perhaps find a vet/vet behaviourist who is well-versed in behavioural medication who you can get a second opinion from.

  43. Hello there, I think your blog may be having browser compatibility problems.

    Whenever I look at your blog in Safari, it looks fine however when opening in IE, it has some overlapping issues.
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  44. Pingback: Odd Behavior Doesn't Always Mean There's A Problem | karenjeffers7

  45. I have just put my dog onto Prozac. His anxiety was so out of control when we left for work that he would scratch at the front door for hours. One day I came home to find blood everywhere. He must have scratched so much he ripped a nail, but he kept going. My question is the side effects that might occur. Has anyone had problems with behaviour becoming worse in their dog? He is such a sweet natured boy, I would hate to see him become aggressive or suffer any other way.

    • further to my earlier post. My dog has been on his medication for over a week now. He is a much calmer, happier dog. He is no longer scratching the door, he is no longer licking himself until he gets sores. He seems more contented in himself. I am happy I made the decision

  46. Pingback: Depression drugs doled out as cure for simple sadness, warns expert | karenjeffers7

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