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Should You Use Trazodone to Manage Your Pet’s Anxiety-Based Disorders?

You know the routine.

You get up in the morning, walk and feed your dog, and go about your day. As you’re leaving your home, you look back at your dog and think, “Man, he’s got it good. The whole house to himself.”

Meanwhile, while you’re gone, your best friend is pacing the floors, whimpering, and generally acting like something terrible is happening. And to him, something terrible is happening: you left and he’s struggling to deal with it. Separation anxiety like this leads to behavioral problems such as barking and howling, urinating and defecating, tearing up the house, and, in extreme cases, chewing through walls or jumping from windows.

It would be nice if every pet could be free of fear and anxiety, and as pet owners, that is certainly our wish for them. But when anxiety becomes uncontrollable and uncomfortable, a safe, easily administered sedative is often the most humane treatment to help deal with this issue.

Trazodone is a medication used for behavior modification of dogs (and in some infrequent cases, cats). It is mostly used for separation anxiety and other anxiety-related conditions.

If your pet has moderate to severe separation or other anxiety-based behavioral issues, trazodone could help. It should be noted that some veterinarians and trainers think that using tranquilizers and tranquilizers alone for anxiety is not the best option, and could make the symptoms worse. These professionals recommend pairing tranquilizers with training and other anxiety solutions or behavior modification efforts to solve the anxiety on a basic level, instead of just tranquilizing it away.

Therefore, it is recommended that you discuss the use of trazodone with your veterinarian first. Here’s what you need to know before you have that talk.

Anxiety and Medication

The decision to administer psychoactive medications to your pet should never be taken lightly, but it can be a great way to keep your dog comfortable and keep you sane. Anxiety is an uncomfortable sensation, arising partially from an inability to control something. Humans know and understand anxiety and it’s much more than just not ‘feeling right.’

Try to imagine a situation that is so stressful that your dog would chew on metal bars all day or chew through drywall in an attempt to escape. That kind of behavioral distress is not just a bad feeling, it’s in many ways the equivalent of a painful physical condition. If not treated, your dog’s immune system can work less effectively, leaving him an easier targets for viruses, bacteria, or parasites he may encounter in his environment. Like humans, pets may become chronically-depressed and resulting behavioral problems can also become chronic issues.

It’s uncertain what causes separation anxiety, but it is exhibited frequently by dogs in shelter environments, suggesting that it can result from the loss of an important person or people in a dog’s life. Other possible contributing causes include a change of schedule or change of residence.

Separation anxiety is just one type of anxiety-based behavior disorder that your pet may exhibit. Your pet may show anxiety during thunderstorms or when there are loud noises such as fireworks or backfiring automobiles, or he may become anxious or even aggressive during veterinary visits.

Some dogs ‘flip out’ at the veterinarian’s office and cannot be examined, either because they become aggressive or simply make it impossible to be restrained for exam or treatment. Even when muzzled, some dogs simply cannot be safely restrained for certain procedures such as wound cleansing. In such situations, the dog will be placed under anesthesia or anesthetic restraint at the vet’s office. This is both more expensive and less safe than administration of a sedative, which you could do at home before the visit.

In any case, a sedative like trazodone is often the best way to calm these anxieties. It can even be used for lengthy car rides or periods where a dog must be rested while recuperating from injury or surgery.

Trazodone Usage

Trazodone is a serotonin receptor antagonist and re-uptake inhibitor (SARI). It is actually a human medication that is legally prescribed off-label by veterinarians. It’s very safe and has been shown to be effective through use by veterinarians and veterinary behavior specialists. Because of its general safety, it has a wide dosage range, meaning that it can be used daily or as often as every eight hours. Just as in humans, some dogs react more strongly to trazodone than others, so it’s important for the prescribing veterinarian to adjust the dosage based on your pet’s reaction.

With more generalized anxiety, trazodone will likely be prescribed for daily use in order to manage the issue. When the event that triggers anxiety can be predicted, as in fireworks, thunderstorms, or the owner leaving the house, trazodone can also be used on an as-needed basis.

Side Effects

Common side effects include vomiting and diarrhea, sedation, and panting. Some dogs will become excited or agitated on the drug, in which case it should be discontinued. A less common effect is serotonin syndrome, which frequently manifests as shivering, tremors, and ataxia. Symptoms generally subside once the drug is withdrawn and supportive treatment of symptoms is started.