Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Take a Chill Pill: Anti-anxiety medications for dogs

Big boy Bruce, who has taught me so much

I know first hand the effects of having an overly anxious dog can have on a household.  To be truthful, the rescue we adopted Bruce from was not completely honest with us, and we were not prepared for the challenges he would present us with.

Bruce has anxiety and fear issues that can make him act aggressively.  I recently read an article that stated dominant dogs are not trying to control you, but their lives, because the majority of them are anxious to some degree.  I had one of those "A-ha!" moments, because this aptly describes the world Bruce lives in, and why he acts the way he does.

The big boy is infinitely better than he was when we adopted him 2.5 years ago.  There are many factors that play into this, including but not limited to his comfort level, training and desensitizing, consistency, his diet, and medication.

That's right, I medicate my dog.  Daily.  For over a year and a half now.  It really has made a difference. 

There seems to be a stigma attached to medicating a dog for behavioral/anxiety issues.  Some feel that all these issues can be fixed with positive reinforcement, redirection, etc.  Others feel that a more rigid stance and tougher training will fix all these issues.  I feel that some dogs are like some humans, and for whatever reasons, their brains process things differently, and different approaches (including medication) are sometimes needed. I didn't always feel that way, though.  Prior to Bruce, I might have laughed if someone suggested a dog needed medication for anxiety, thinking that the owner's were anthropomorphizing their dogs.

Prior to beginning medication, Bruce was easily excited, jumpy, and would pace and pant no matter how physically exhausted he was.  It was hard for all of us (myself, Les, and Neeko).  He would whine for no apparent reason.  It saddened me, and I did all I could to try and help him.  We attempted to eliminate triggers, but some could not be avoided, such as the loud diesel truck down the road.  We redirected.  We exercised him.  We exercised him more.  I switched to raw (which I truthfully feel did help some), I bargained with him.  While small improvements occurred, he still seemed completely anxious and worried almost all the time.

After 10 months of this, I decided to speak with the vet about it when it came time for Bruce to receive vaccinations and have a wellness exam.  The practice that he goes to has three vets, and one of them happens to be a specialist in behavioral pharmacology.  As luck would have it, she (Dr. J) was the one we saw that day.

I had done some research, and tried a few things at home.  More on these things another time.  I was cautious and slightly scared about speaking to her about it, but she was incredibly willing to talk about it.  After hearing of his behaviors at home, and witnessing him at the office, she felt he was a candidate for prescription medication.

She is personally not a fan of Prozac (fluoxetine) for dogs, having stated that she had not seen much success with it.  She made it clear that there are no miracle drugs, and that behavioral modification and desensitization must occur as well for medications to be successful.  Our goal with Bruce was not to "drug" him, or dope him up, but to find ways to help him cope with whatever it was that was making him so anxious.

She thought Elavil (amitriptyline) was a good choice for Bruce.  Amitriptyline is a human medication for depression, and sometimes anxiety.  It is not FDA approved for use in animals, but is occasionally prescribed by vets. 

Prior to starting therapy, Bruce had baseline blood work drawn, and now has it drawn yearly.  We were told of side effects, and given hints on how to administer it, twice daily.  She started him at the lowest dose for his weight, and I dropped the prescription off at a nearby grocery store.  I was pleasantly surprised at the cost, only $4 for the generic. 

I began the following day.  Dr. J called us at three days, and again after one week on the medication.  The first dose adjustment was made after three weeks.  The dosage was adjusted again at two months, and that is what he has been taking ever since.

Bruce takes 100 mg of amitriptyline twice daily.  It is a large dose, and he is a large dog.  Dogs metabolize medications much differently than humans, and many human medications that are given to dogs are given in much larger doses.

Improvement was not immediate, but gradual.  The changes were noticeable, however.  After about four months of being on medication, Les and I both noticed that he no longer was pacing and panting around the house, even though it was June at this point and the temperature was warmer.  He was becoming more affectionate, and patient in some aspects.  He was much nicer to be around.

Not all anxious dogs require medication, and medication will not work for all dogs.  Fortunately, for all of us, medication, combined with our training efforts, love, and consistency, has helped Bruce immensely.


  1. Kudos to you for taking a risk and getting great results with Bruce.

  2. One of my very favorite 100% positive trainers has been medicating her Aussie since a very young age. At first I was shocked but, similar to your reasons and with remarkable results a kin to yours with Bruce, it is what is best for her dog. Thanks for this honest and informative post.

  3. Glad Bruce is doing much better now! Like humans, some dogs also need medication to help with their anxiety.

  4. Don't worry. I've heard of other people saying the same thing.

    "The Blue-Ribbon Emotions

    All animals and people have the same core emotion systems in the brain. Most pet owners probably already believe this, but I find that a lot of executives, plant managers, and even some veterinarians and researchers still don’t believe that animals have emotions. The first thing I tell them is that the same psychiatric medications, such as Prozac, that work for humans also work for animals. Unless you are an expert, when you dissect a pig’s brain it’s difficult to tell the difference between the lower-down parts of the animal’s brain and the lower-down parts of a human brain. Human beings have a much bigger neocortex, but the core emotions aren’t located in the neocortex. They’re in the lower-down part of the brain.

    When people are suffering mentally, they want to feel better — they want to stop having bad emotions and start having good emotions. That’s the right goal with animals, too.


    Penny for your thoughts when people says something to you about Bruce's medication.

    I am glad Bruce is doing a lot better. Perhaps someday you might even have to taper it off because he'll no longer need it. ^__^ Think Positive

  5. My dog had separation anxiety and has been chewing on furniture when I go out of the house. It's a good thing that my brother recommended someone who can modify such behavior. Mostly, on the of the things we did is to give my dog plenty of exercise. Her food was also changed and she was also given toys that allow her to think and be busy. For more information on this, see: http://dogsaholic.com/training/separation-anxiety-in-dogs.html

  6. I’ve been searching for some decent stuff on the subject and haven't had any luck up until this point, You just got a new biggest fan!.. amitriptyline for dogs

  7. This medication has been clinically proven to improve both the quality of life and the expected longevity of dogs receiving treatment. Vetmedin is administered orally and has been shown effective when used on animals displaying signs of mild, Canadian Pharmacy

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Thanks for the howls!!