Nervous Nelly: The Best Anxiety Meds for Dogs

Nervous Nelly: The Best Anxiety Meds for Dogs

Key Points

  • Dogs experience anxiety when separated from their owners, when something scares them, or if they have a medical problem or illness.

  • Typical anxiety symptoms include restlessness, chewing, digging, and even running away from home.

  • Anxiety meds for dogs range from prescription medication to natural remedies like supplements.

  • Positive reinforcement training is an effective alternative to anxiety meds for dogs.

Does your dog pant and pace before you leave the house? Do they scratch at the door or chew your favorite shoes after you leave? Are they sensitive to noise or scared of objects in the house? If so, your dog may be suffering from anxiety. Not to worry! There is an array of anxiety meds for dogs specifically designed to treat anxious behavior.

It's important to know what kind of anxiety your dog has and what triggers it before deciding on a treatment plan. Consult with your vet and consider medication side effects. While anxiety meds for dogs prove helpful for some pets, they may not be right for every doggo.

Get to know the ins and outs of canine anxiety and what medications are out there so you're better equipped to calm your furry friend's worries.

Dog being given medication

What Is Canine Anxiety? 

Canine anxiety is a form of stress that manifests itself as mild to severe behavioral issues. A dog’s anxious behavior is often related to different types of stressors. For example, separation anxiety, fear, sound sensitivity, resource guarding, aggression, or acting territorial are all forms of anxiety in dogs. 

Over 70 percent of dogs exhibit highly problematic behaviors, with over 30 percent of cases being anxious pups that experience sound sensitivity and fear-related anxiety from loud noises. 

Did you know certain dog breeds are prone to anxious behavior? Lagotto Romagnolos, wheaten terriers, and mixed dog breeds are more sensitive to noise.

If your pet has a behavior change, whether it’s gradual or sudden, pay attention. It could be a sign of a medical issue, but it could also point to anxiety. Dealing with a high-stress pet increases stress for the whole family. It’s also challenging to figure out what anxiety medicine treats specific issues.

Learning more about the different types of pet anxiety helps you determine which path is best.

Calm dog in blanket

Departure, Separation, and Crate Anxiety

Departure anxiety occurs when your doggy grows overly excited as you prepare to leave the house. They become unusually hyper or act scared and worried. They may try to run out the door or even guard the door to prevent you from leaving.

Separation anxiety is often what follows. When separated from loved ones, your pet struggles to relax. They pace back and forth, bark uncontrollably, or wait by the front door until you return.

Crate anxiety occurs when your furry pal exhibits fear or aggression toward their doggy carrier. They develop an aversion to the crate which makes it more challenging to transport them. Your little pup may even whine, howl, or get diarrhea while inside the carrier or while confined in a space with barriers.

Fear-Related Anxiety

When your lovable four-legged companion gets scared, it’s not uncommon for them to cower in a corner or even act aggressively. Fear-related anxiety is often caused by specific stimuli.

Loud noises, such as a semi-truck, a vacuum, or a blender, can cause your dog to jump, howl, or shake from fear. Visual stimuli like strange people, other animals they aren’t used to, or new and unfamiliar places trigger anxious responses. Even a car ride, pulling into the vet’s office, or strange surfaces they aren't used to seeing cause fear.

Did you know objects can trigger fear-related anxiety in dogs? Things like boots, spatulas, brooms, hats, sunglasses, or umbrellas have all elicited a fear-ridden reaction from dogs. Who knows why!  

Medical or Illness-Related Anxiety

Chronic pain could lead to your pet developing anxiety. There's a clear connection between chronic pain and anxiety. For instance, if a dog breaks their leg after falling off the sofa, it could result in a growing fear of being on or jumping off of the sofa. Even after they have fully healed, that injury is difficult for them to forget. 

Allergies might also cause anxiety in your furry companion. Seasonal, food, and environmental allergies sometimes go unnoticed until a pattern emerges. For example, your German shepherd might only get skin rashes during the warmer months of the year. During that time, they get irritable and prefer to stay indoors. Their skin becomes more sensitive to grooming products, different fabrics, and heat, so they may run away or cower.

Food allergies are difficult to diagnose because the signs are not always predictable. Symptoms of food allergies range from flatulence and gastrointestinal stress to skin rashes or eye redness. Many of the same indicators for food allergies also overlap with environmental and flea-bite allergies. A Pomeranian with food sensitivities and a shar pei who’s allergic to grass both experience the same allergic reactions. Sneezing and skin irritation lead them to grow anxious and behave out of character.

Age-Related Anxiety

It's no shock to pet parents when aging canines develop anxiety. Aging humans often experience declining eyesight, hearing, and mobility. Animals deal with a decline in senses and movement too.

Is your senior dog reluctant to walk, run, climb, jump, or be active? Do they refuse physical activity and get irritable or aggressive? These behavioral changes could be a result of physical pain and discomfort.

Arthritis isn’t an ailment exclusive to humans. Senior dogs suffer from bone and joint conditions such as degenerative joint disease or osteoarthritis. If you notice that your elderly pet has difficulty moving around or struggles to get up after lying down, this points to arthritis. Stiffness, lameness, changes in appetite, and weight fluctuations are also potential symptoms. 

Destructive behavior in dogs

Being unable to play or follow their normal physical routine has an impact on your dog's mental and emotional state. Physical pain affects their sleep cycle too. Over time, your little buddy may sleep more and struggle to relieve themselves outside. They don’t understand what’s happening to their bodies. Any irritability they give you likely stems from their anxiety. 

Cognitive dysfunction syndrome (CDS) is a type of age-related anxiety sometimes diagnosed in senior dogs. Symptoms of CDS include pacing, panting, or acting disoriented. These signs occur in the evenings when everyone settles down for bed. Your older doggo gets restless and is unable to relax due to unpredictable changes in their sleep-wake cycle.

Common Canine Anxiety Symptoms

Learning to recognize the symptoms of canine anxiety is the first step in figuring out how to treat it. Take note of any of the following symptoms of anxious behavior and discuss them with your vet.

Signs that your dog has anxiety include urinating or defecating in the house or in other areas they never used before. If your dog drools, pants, acts depressed or restless, or excessively barks or paces, these are telltale signs of anxiety.

Sudden changes in behavior or demeanor also point to anxiety. Destructive behavior, such as chewing a loved one’s shoes, tearing apart decorative pillows, or destroying certain objects, is an unmistakable sign of anxiety. A Chihuahua who gets anxious about closed doors might chew and scratch at the bottom of the door to get out. A golden retriever who suffers from separation anxiety might chew, claw, and break through the backyard fence.

Never react angrily toward their actions. Negative emotional responses only add to their anxiety.

Any repetitive or compulsive behaviors also fall under the symptoms list. Does your dog constantly dig? There are many natural reasons a dog may dig, such as looking for prey and following their ancestral instincts. Some dogs dig out of boredom or as a way to stay cool during warm months. However, if digging is something new, it's a sign your dog is reacting to anxiety triggers.

Running away is indicative of separation anxiety. Your dog might dig holes under the fence or bite right through it to escape. They don't really want to run away from their loving home, but they're unable to handle you leaving them alone. Running away is their attempt to look for you and find some form of comfort to alleviate their stress.

Anxiety Medications for Dogs

A commonly asked question among pet parents is whether anxiety medications even work for canines.

According to veterinary behaviorist Terry Curtis, "Medications used to decrease anxiety and panic can be very helpful in the treatment of separation-related behaviors.” Anxiety meds for dogs have also been successful in treating situational anxiety. 

For instance, you can administer Lorazepam, also called Ativan, before a situational and known triggering event, like fireworks on the Fourth of July. The medication eases their anxiety by depressing activity in their central nervous system.

Anxious dog in blanket

Every dog has a different reaction to medication. Some might respond well while other pets need an alternative. There are some cases when your canine might be more sensitive to medication. For example, even administering the meds could prove difficult and triggering. In such cases, consider all other avenues of treatment before turning to medication. 

Anxiety meds for dogs are available in multiple forms and often have very positive results. There are three options: prescription, over-the-counter, and calming supplements. As with many prescribed and OTC medications, follow your vet’s instructions as they are not always included on the label. 

Prescription Anxiety Medication

The most common medications prescribed for canine anxiety include Clomipramine (Clomicalm), Dexmedetomidine (Sileo), Fluoxetine (Reconcil), and Trazodone. These options have all had successful results in calming anxiety.

Clomipramine, also referred to as Clomicalm, is a prescribed antidepressant for both humans and dogs. It alleviates psychological issues such as compulsive disorder, depression, or anxiety. A veterinarian can prescribe the exact dosage needed based on your dog’s weight. 

Fluoxetine is also known as Reconcil, Prozac, or Sarafem. It’s an antidepressant prescribed for dogs and cats that suffer from certain behavioral disorders such as separation anxiety. Possible side effects include changes in their sleep cycle or appetite, drooling, whining, or disorientation. These could lead to worsening anxiety for your pet.

Dexmedetomidine, also known as Sileo or Dexdomitor, is an injectable or oral gel medication. Vets often prescribe it as a treatment for fear-based anxiety like sound sensitivity or anxious behaviors associated with travel, vet visits, anxiety around crowds and strangers, or extremely stressful events. It has sedative effects and you should only use as prescribed by the vet. 

Trazodone was originally used to treat humans, but vets are now using it to treat dogs with high anxiety or behavioral issues. Data shows that 80 percent of dogs who use Trazodone don’t experience negative side effects. Only administer this drug to your dog if prescribed by your vet.

Lorazepam or Ativan, as mentioned above, treats situational anxiety. Side effects include fatigue, excessive drooling, an increase in anxiety, aggression, or unusual behavior.

Keep a record of any behavioral changes your pet has while they are on prescription medications and always follow your vet’s treatment plan, including the precise dosage and administering schedule.

OTC Anxiety Medication

The best over-the-counter anxiety meds for dogs depend on the type of anxiety they have. There are multiple anxiety-reducing medications available over the counter.

Benadryl is a commonly used OTC med for humans. It is an antihistamine known to reduce symptoms of allergic reactions and decrease anxiety. It works for dogs as well. The drowsiness induced by Benadryl calms an anxious pup.

Benadryl is effective for dogs, but how do you know how much to use? Your vet can help you determine what the proper dosage is. The Merck Veterinary Manual states Benadryl dosage for a dog is about two to four milligrams per kilogram of weight. Administering it two to three times daily is enough to calm anxiety symptoms. 

A convenient use for Benadryl is treating mild to moderate doggy allergies. When your dog experiences anxiety because of discomfort from an allergic reaction, you nip both problems in the bud by administering Benadryl.

Other OTC drugs like Calmatrol calm hyperactivity, separation anxiety, and anxiety associated with high-stress situations or triggers.

Natural Treatments

If you want to avoid the use of medications and ease your dog's anxiety naturally, consider calming supplements. Ask your vet for suggestions. Like prescription meds, calming supplements have a recommended dosage chart. Always follow the instructions and keep track of any side effects.

Giving dog anxiety meds

Look for supplements that contain the following natural ingredients: alpha-casozepine, magnolia extracts, L-theanine, Phellodendron extracts, thiamine, and whey protein concentrate. These are all used to treat anxiety. 

If your dog no longer needs medication or supplements, make sure not to take them off of it abruptly. Having them go cold turkey could lead to withdrawal symptoms which makes them even more anxious. Instead, gradually wean them off. This causes less shock to their nervous systems.

Alternative Treatment Plans for Dog Anxiety

If you are still on the fence about medicating your furry friend for their anxiety, try some alternative options. Change unwanted behaviors by exploring solutions outside the spectrum of meds and supplements.

Positive Reinforcement Training

Try calming lessons to lower your dog's stress. Positive reinforcement training helps dogs overcome their anxiety. By addressing unwanted behaviors through positive corrective training, you curb those excitable, anxious behaviors. Reinforcing that training normalizes it.

Positive reinforcement combines physical and mental stimulation to lower your dog’s stress. It incorporates specific training routines that not only decrease unwanted behaviors but also strengthen the bond between the dog owner and their lovable furry friend. 

If you have a hyperactive doggo but want to avoid medications, add calming snacks to your positive reinforcement training routine. Don’t be surprised if they promptly improve their listening skills and adjust their behavior. It’s a positive thing to associate you, their loving owner, with delicious treats, nurturing pats, and a loving tone.

Physical Activity

Physical activities are great for dogs who suffer from high stress, anxiety, or depression. Exercise has many benefits for dogs in addition to relieving anxiety. It helps them maintain a healthy weight and increases mental stimulation. Daily walks and active play condition their muscles and strengthen their joints. An active lifestyle and dog-friendly exercises keep your pup busy, in tune with their instincts, and happy. That’s everything a pet parent wants for their anxious canine companion. 

As always, remember to consult with your vet before placing your dog on a new physical training regimen.

Body Pressure Calming Aids

Weighted blankets feel like a warm hug and help many people go to sleep. Anxiety blankets, vests, and wraps like the ThunderShirt work the same way for dogs. If your dog wears something that applies body pressure and wraps around them like a hug, they feel more secure.

Put an anxiety wrap on your dog when it's time to go to the vet, during thunderstorms, fireworks, or any time they feel stressed.

Beds and Toys

If you want to comfort your anxious dog without using medications, get them a calming cuddle bed. A bed of their own set up in a safe area of the house provides your pet with a deeper sense of security

Invest in fun, interactive toys to keep their minds busy. Play fetch with them to give them more physical activity and a chance to bond with you.

Dog with interactive puzzle toy

Calming Treats

There are many treats on the market formulated to reduce your dog's anxiety. Calming zen chews are not only tasty but safe and nutritional for dogs of all sizes. This homeopathic calming snack alleviates the stress your dog experiences throughout the day. It has no side effects and is a great option for situational anxiety. 

Say Goodbye to Doggy Anxiety

Everyone gets stressed sometimes, even dogs. Unlike a person, however, a dog can't tell you what's bothering them. That's why it's important to recognize the signs and symptoms.

Separation anxiety, fear-related anxiety, or anxiety stemming from an illness or injury manifests in panicked or destructive behavior. This is stressful for everyone, not just your pet. Prescription medication, OTC medication, natural supplements, and even behavioral remedies are all effective at calming a stressed-out doggo.

Consult with your vet on which treatment options are best based on your pet's situation and say goodbye to doggy anxiety for good.

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