The first thing to know is what types of anxiety medications are safe for use on dogs. While some have similar branding to drugs commonly used by humans to treat stress and anxiety, they may, in fact, have drastically different formulations. This is because many of the medications designed for humans can prove to extremely dangerous if they are ingested by canines. The main cause of this is damage done to the central nervous system of the dog, as the same chemicals that have a mild sedation effect in humans will often cause extreme suppression of nerve functionality in dogs. This can result in vomiting, diarrhea, convulsions, extreme changes in behavior and mood, as well as the eventual collapse and possible death of the dog due to a heart attack or breathing difficulties. Many of the substances present in anti-anxiety pills may also cause damage to the dog’s liver and kidneys, which can allow other toxins to enter the bloodstream and result in organ failure.
Because of these effects, many of the commonly known drugs used to treat stress (such as Prozac and Lexapro) are off-limits, with only medication that your vet has specifically recommended for your dog being viable for use. Note that there are a large number of possible drugs that a vet may prescribe to treat your dog’s anxiety, but they will largely fall into the categories of SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) and sedatives (that simply lull the dog into a calm state), as well as some homeopathic remedies. Some of the most common anti-anxiety drugs that you are likely to encounter are sertraline, diazepam, and buspirone, with these being some of the staple medications vets will prescribe in order to tackle a wide variety of stress-related conditions.
The first of these – sertraline – works in a manner very similar to the SSRIs that are prescribed to humans, reducing the dog’s levels of felt anxiety and stress to lower levels by elevating the amount of serotonin being released into the bloodstream. This will result in the dog becoming less responsive to stimuli that would otherwise cause it a great deal of distress, but can also lead to other behavioral changes. This means that you should monitor your dog closely for the first few weeks that they are taking the drug, as this is when any changes and side effects may be most apparent. You should keep in mind that SSRIs are quite potent medications and the potential dangers posed by improper dosages and the sudden cessation of treatment can be severe.
Diazepam, meanwhile, is designed to calm the dog by acting as a sedative. However, the drug does not usually result in drowsiness, instead it allows the dog to go about its routine as normal but with a slight inhibition of its central nervous system’s ability to automatically trigger the release of stress hormones. It also prevents rapid involuntary muscle movements, meaning that the drug has become a popular way of treating nerve damage and even some heart conditions in humans. Note that because of this effect, the medication may prove unsuitable from dogs that are suffering from health conditions that result in muscular weakness, as the drug can worsen such symptoms, producing problems such as breathing difficulties.
The third drug, buspirone, is regarded as somewhat less potent than the other alternatives that are on offer, as it takes several weeks for its effects to become particularly pronounced. This is because its mechanism of action is reliant on the dog maintaining a consistent level of the drug in its system for some time. Buspirone acts in a similar way to SSRIs, as it primarily exploits serotonin as a means of combating anxiety, though instead of increasing the chemical’s production, it instead makes the dog’s brain more sensitive to it. Additionally, the medication can result in increased levels of dopamine in the dog’s system. Due to its slow-acting nature and low toxicity, vets may prefer to use buspirone on dogs suffering from relatively mild cases of anxiety. You should also know that the drug has very few common side effects and presents almost no withdrawal symptoms if treatment is suddenly discontinued, making it a good match for many animals suffering from unrelated health problems.
To conclude, medication can be a good way to combat your dog’s anxiety if it is becoming a debilitating facet of their everyday life. However, it pays to be aware of the potential dangers and pitfalls of using anti-anxiety medications, as well as the threat posed by drugs that have not been prescribed by a veterinary professional. Commonly, your vet will try to encourage the use of behavioral therapy and slow exposure to stress factors in order to help your dog overcome its problems by itself, with a pharmaceutical solution being a last resort. As always, it is best practice to consult with a vet before deciding that your dog is suffering from a particular problem and trying to pursue a course of treatment.