Dogs suffer from anxiety for a number of reasons. However, not all dogs have the same level of anxiety.
There’s the normal tail-between-the legs type of fear, and then there’s the kind of anxiety that has your 90 pound dog trying to climb on your shoulders.
If you have a dog with anxiety, you know what I mean.
The thing is, we don’t want our dogs to suffer but we don’t always know when anxiety-provoking events are going to happen. That leaves us at home looking for a way to help our pets anyway we can.
Maybe you look around and realize you have your own Xanax. Is it safe for dogs? If so, how much do you give?
The answers to these questions can be found in this post. Keep reading to better understand the risks and benefits of administering Xanax to dogs.
Anxiety Medications – All About Xanax
Are prescription anti-anxiety medications safe for dogs? More importantly, is it safe to give your own anti-anxiety medication to your dog?
It’s tempting sometimes!
The last thing we want is to have our beloved dogs endure anxiety. Anxious dogs are miserable. Sometimes it seems they just want to escape their own skin to feel better.
As a loving pet owner, it makes sense that you want to help them. The question is, how?
What is Xanax? (Brand name Alprazolam)
Xanax is a benzodiazepine tranquilizer. It works by suppressing the central nervous system (CNS) while enhancing certain neurotransmitters in the brain.
Yes, it works to control and manage anxiety in the short-term.Unfortunately, it can have negative consequences if taken over the long-term.
This is true for humans and pets.
Technically, Xanax isn’t something to be afraid of. It has it’s place in veterinary medicine. However, it really does take a veterinarian to weigh the risks against the benefits of writing this prescription.
Why Can’t I Give My Dog Xanax?
Technically, you can, although it isn’t recommended.
Dosing animals is different than dosing human beings. Whether your dog is very small or a giant breed, you can’t just guess how much to give him/her.
Not enough Xanax and it might not work. Too much Xanax could produce disturbing side-effects (see below). In addition, Xanax can cause risky drug interactions.
Drug Interaction Risk
Giving your dog a powerful prescription medication designed for human use has its risks. Yes, a veterinarian could prescribe it, but only after a thorough examination.
The veterinarian will likely want to determine whether your dog has any underlying conditions first. The reason is to ensure there is minimal risk for kidney or liver damage.
In addition, it’s important to understand that certain diseases and conditions can contribute to anxiety. Sometimes treating the underlying condition can resolve the anxiety.
Conditions that may contribute to anxiety could include:
- Heart Disease
- Thyroid Disease (Hyperthyroidism)
- Respiratory disorders
A veterinarian will also be able to assess the risk of interactions between other medications.
A veterinarian needs to examine your dog to rule out underlying reasons for anxiety.
Even when underlying disorders are ruled out, the veterinarian may recommend alternative options for treating anxiety.
Why Xanax is Prescribed for Dogs
Xanax is usually prescribed to treat panic attacks in dogs. What we call “panic attacks” are usually the result of a dog’s anxiety to loud noises, separation anxiety, fear of men, fear of vehicles, etc.
Veterinarians may also prescribe Xanax to treat seizures (as an anticonvulsant), for post-traumatic stress, depression, irritable bowel syndrome, and loss of appetite.
Xanax is approved for use in people by the Food and Drug Administration to treat anxiety disorders and depression caused by anxiety disorder.
When used in veterinary medicine, it’s considered to be prescribed “off label”.
Other types of sedatives include Valium (diazepam), Ativan (lorazepam), and Klonopin (Clonazepam).
Xanax Side Effects
It has to be mentioned again that your veterinarian should be the only person prescribing Xanax for your dog.
Dosages will vary depending on your dog’s weight and possibly other factors.
Side-effects of Xanax could include the following:
- Clumsiness (loss of coordination)
- Dry Mouth
Sleepiness is a common side effect of the medication
In some cases, dogs may suffer an allergic reaction. Symptoms could include:
- Facial Swelling
- Sudden Diarrhea
Some dogs on Xanax may exhibit aggressive behavior after taking the drug. They can also become hyperactive.
When these events occur they are considered a paradoxical effect. In other words, the result is the opposite of what you would expect from this type of medication.
Withdrawal Symptoms of Xanax
It’s unlikely that your veterinarian would prescribe Xanax long-term, especially when there are safer alternatives. It’s still important to note the risk of withdrawal symptoms in people and/or animals.
Medications like Xanax can create a physical dependence over a relatively short period of time. In order to minimize withdrawal symptoms, your dog should be weaned from the medicine.
This should be a slow process over time that allows your dog’s body to adjust to increasingly smaller doses.
Withdrawal symptoms may include:
- Light sensitivity
- Shaking or tremors
- Rebound anxiety
Types of Anxiety Disorders in Dogs
When dogs are anxious, it sometimes manifests in behaviors like:
- excessive barking
- eliminating in the home despite the dog being fully trained
- destructive behavior (particularly when left alone).
Panic disorder is an umbrella term used to describe a variety of mental health conditions. Some of these conditions could include:
Storms can affect dogs in a number of ways. Dogs may sense the change in barometric pressure that occurs before a storm.
They feel the shift in electric fields, sense the darkening skies, and hear the crash of thunder long before we do.
Sadly, frightened dogs may put themselves in harm’s way. An attempt to dig through drywall could leave them vulnerable to electrical wiring.
Panicked dogs have been known to jump through windows, escape through opened doors, and bolt from the house in an effort to get away.
Dogs that are afraid of sudden, loud noises will also be heavily affected by things like thunder storms, fireworks, traffic, motorcycle engines, etc.
Sounds that you or I take for granted (the shrill sound of a fire detector, for example) can be unbearable for a dog. Not only can loud noises physically hurt a dog’s eardrum.
According to the Center for Animal Welfare Science, “Exposure to sounds above 140 dB can cause immediate damage and physical pain.”
For reference, the sound of an ambulance siren is about 120 db.
Situational anxiety can happen to any dog at any time. Just because a dog has always been okay with car rides, for example, doesn’t mean he/she won’t be spooked by something else the next time.
A bump in the road, hitting the brakes, an unusual noise, and any other series of events could trigger a dog’s anxiety.
In some cases, whether on the road or not, a dog picks up on their owners anxiety.
This leaves your dog worried that he/she is not in a secure environment. That feeling then contributes to more anxiety and grief.
Dogs need consistency and routine. If there is any doubt that things are “safe” around them, they may respond through anxiety.
Separation anxiety is an intense fear dogs can get when their pet parents are not around. It can occur whether you’re gone 5 minutes or 50 minutes.
Some breeds are more prone to separation anxiety than others. All dogs, however, can succumb.
The best way to get a dog used to having you out of the house is to slowly build up the dog’s tolerance. Start with very short times out of the house.
Gradually build up the time you are out of the house starting with very short 5 to 10 minute increments. If your dog suffers from separation anxiety, you can help your dog by leaving the house in a quiet, calm state of mind.
We probably all do it…we make a lot of noise as we’re leaving the house. Maybe we tell the dog “we’ll be home soon” or we fuss over them so much that when you do leave, the dog is left feeling insecure.
Practice leaving your dog alone at home in short increments and by not engaging in talk or touch just before leaving the home.
Administration of Xanax to Dogs
If your veterinarian recommends a Xanax prescription for your dog, he/she will likely start with a low dose to see how it works.
If the lower dose works, there’s no need to increase the amount of medication prescribed. Lower dosages translate into lower risks overall.
How to Make Pill-Time a Little Easier
Xanax typically comes in a pill/tablet form. Some dogs will swallow anything you give them. Other dogs might need a little help.
If that’s the case, a little bit of peanut butter smeared on the tablet usually works.
The Best Time to Administer Xanax
The best use of Xanax is to administer about one hour before a triggering event.
The best defence is a good offence. That means planning ahead, checking the weather for impending storms, and anticipating your dog’s anxiety triggers.
The Risks of Xanax for Dogs
Veterinarians typically only prescribe Xanax as a last resort In some cases, medications like Gabapentin work just as well for short-term, situational anxiety.
In other cases, the right calming supplements produce the desired relaxation effect. (Keep reading for more on this).
Guide Dogs/Therapy Dogs
Xanax is a powerful drug that can temporarily change the way a dog reacts and interacts with other people and animals.
As a result, it can impact their ability to provide therapy or guide dog services.
Interaction with Other Medications
Serious interactions can occur with other medications. This can either make the drug less effective, or it can cause additional side-effects.
Antacids may absorb some of the drug making it less effective. In addition, antidepressants like fluoxetine and amitriptyline can cause a serious reaction known as serotonin syndrome.
Supplements and vitamins may also have a negative impact on the drug’s effectiveness.
This is one reason why you should always tell the veterinarian about any new herbal remedies, holistic or natural supplements you are giving your dog.
Not only is withdrawal uncomfortable, it’s also potentially dangerous.
The effects of withdrawal can also have the unintended effect of spiralling your dog back into anxiety again.
Natural Treatment Options
Instead of prescription dog anxiety medications, it may be a good idea to try natural remedies.
Natural remedies tend to have fewer side effects. In addition, they are often very good are relieving symptoms of anxiety in dogs.
Supporting anxious dogs without prescription medications can include the following:
You can seek out the services of a professional dog masseuse or you can do it yourself. In many instances, your dog will feel calmer if you do it.
There’s no need for essential oils, although a very small amount (diluted and dog-safe) can be used.
By gently massaging your dog’s muscles, you help to induce calmness, relieve tension, and boost your dog’s mood. This type of contact is good for the dog and the dog owner.
Massage can temporarily reduce blood pressure and help relieve different types of anxiety.
Calming supplements are sold everywhere these days. The trick is knowing which one will work best for your dog. When shopping for supplements, avoid ingredients that include additives like dyes.
CBD Oil Treats & Chews
Supplements known to work particularly well in dogs include soft chews, supplement bars, and organic help oil. When shopping for products like these, look at the reviews, look for “veterinarian formulated”, and check if the company offers any type of money-back guarantee.
The best supplements are not necessarily the least expensive. That said, the active ingredients often provide significant relief of anxiety.
Some of the best active ingredients to look for include:
- Acetyl-L carnitine
- Ginger Root
The best calming supplements should be free of corn, wheat, soy and grain where possible.
7 Things Veterinarians Wish Dog Owners Knew
We all want what’s best for our dogs. Whether it’s a prescription, a massage, or a natural supplement, we just want our dogs to be happy and healthy.
With this in mind, here are 7 of the most important things about Xanax veterinarians want you to know:
#1. Xanax is Potent
Dogs with mild anxiety may benefit from natural supplements or another drug with fewer risks.
Dogs taking certain antidepressants may not be candidates for Xanax. This is because of the risk of drug interactions.
#3. Behavioural Modification in Dogs
Easily excitable or reactive dogs can be taught to handle surprise situations with more calmness.
#4. Dogs Sense Their Owner’s Anxiety
Sometimes the best medicine for a dog’s anxiety is control over your own distress.
It’s not always easy, but if we can learn to manage our own emotions more calmly, there’s a good chance our dogs will be more at ease.
#5. More Exercise = Less Anxiety
Sometimes dogs just need more exercise, especially if they are regularly anxious and restless.
#6. Mental Stimulation
In addition to regular exercise, dogs need mental stimulation. Games that challenge their minds can help relieve anxiety in dogs.
#7. Good Nutrition
Sometimes a change in diet can help alleviate symptoms of anxiety.
A nutritional imbalance can leave dogs feeling tired, weak, and may leave them susceptible to viral infection.
In addition, too many simple carbohydrates can cause what’s known as a sugar rush. This can leave your dog feeling nervous or anxious.
Prescriptions like Xanax can have great results, but they can also come with hefty side-effects and risks.
Low doses prescribed by a veterinarian help offset the risk of adverse side effects.
When situational anxiety causes your dog to become upset, it may be best to work with natural alternatives to prescriptions.
These can be taken as-needed and help promote calm, encourage restful sleep, and often provide antioxidant rich compounds.
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