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Alprazolam (Xanax®)

By: Dr. Nicholas Dodman

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  • Behavioral disorders in dogs and cats are frequently the reason for veterinary visits. Unacceptable or dangerous animal behavior problems are unfortunately also a common reason for pets' surrender and euthanasia.
  • Lately, veterinarians have placed greater emphasis on training and behavior, and specialists working in the field of animal behavior have increasingly adopted drugs employed in human behavior modification for use in domestic animals. Alprazolam is one of those drugs.
  • Alprazolam is a mild tranquilizer used to reduce anxiety in dogs and cats. It is classified chemically as a benzodiazepine tranquilizer. Other drugs in this class include diazepam (Valium®) and clorazepate (Tranxene®).
  • Alprazolam is considered a controlled substance. Accordingly, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) of the United States (and similar regulatory agencies in other countries) strictly control these drugs. Controlled drugs are classified into categories ("schedules") based on abuse potential. These drugs require prescription by a veterinarian with an appropriate DEA license, and any refills are tightly controlled and regulated.]] and is a prescription drug. Alprazolam can only be obtained from a veterinarian or by prescription from a veterinarian.
  • Alprazolam is not approved for use in animals by the FDA but may be prescribed legally by veterinarians as an extra-label drug.

    Brand Names and Other Names

  • This drug is registered for use in humans only.
  • Human formulations: Xanax® (Pharmacia and Upjohn) and generic equivalents
  • Veterinary formulations: None

    Uses of Alprazolam

  • Alprazolam is used to treat anxiety in dogs and cats.
  • Specific uses of alprazolam include treatment of thunderstorm phobia and other phobias, separation anxiety, and situational fears (such as car travel and veterinary office visits).
  • Like other benzodiazepines, alprazolam may be used as a muscle relaxant, anticonvulsant or appetite stimulant. It might also be useful for treatment of irritable bowel syndrome.

    Precautions and Side Effects

  • While generally safe and effective when prescribed by a veterinarian, alprazolam may cause side effects in some animals.
  • Alprazolam should not be used in animals with known hypersensitivity or allergy to the drug.
  • Alprazolam should also be avoided in patients with muscular weakness or glaucoma. Alprazolam should be used with caution in animals with liver disease.
  • Alprazolam may interact with other medications. Consult your veterinarian to determine if other drugs your pet is receiving could interact with alprazolam. Such drugs include other central nervous system depressants, digoxin, phenytoin and theophylline.
  • The most common side effect is excessive sedation and loss of motor control, but these effects occur at doses greater than those needed for its anxiety-reducing effect.
  • In some animals, alprazolam may cause a paradoxical reaction, and may cause excitement or worsen aggression.
  • Long-term treatment with alprazolam can lead to physical dependence, which can result in undesirable behavior changes if the drug is abruptly discontinued.

    How Alprazolam Is Supplied

  • Alprazolam is available as 0.25 mg, 0.5 mg, 1 mg and 2 mg tablets.
  • It is also available as a solution containing 0.5 mg per 5 ml or 1 mg per ml.

    Dosing Information

  • Medication should never be administered without first consulting your veterinarian.
  • The typical dose range for alprazolam in dogs is 0.01 to 0.05 mg per pound (0.02 to 0.1 mg/kg) given orally every 12 hours.
  • In cats, the dose is 0.125 to 0.25 mg per cat as needed up to every 12 hours.
  • The duration of administration depends on the condition being treated, response to the medication and the development of any adverse effects. Be certain to complete the prescription unless specifically directed by your veterinarian.

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