What can I give my dog for anxiety and aggression? Simple and Effective Tips

Moderate to severe anxiety often responds best to a prescription anti-anxiety medication and behavior-modification training. These are not quick fixes, however.

No matter which medication your veterinarian chooses, you will also need to put behavior-modification protocols in place in order to help your dog work through their anxiety.

Your veterinarian paired with an experienced dog trainer that focuses on positive reinforcement are your best resources. Once your veterinarian has given your dog a clean bill of health, they might prescribe a medication for dog anxiety as part of your pet’s treatment.

Dogs can suffer from different types of anxiety, some of which can be truly debilitating. As pet parents, we want to help, but we’re faced with many confusing treatment and medication options.

Dogs usually need to be treated for about four weeks before the effectiveness of the medication becomes fully evident, and treatment needs to continue for at least two months after an adequate response is observed.

Dog Anxiety: Treatment

The best way to treat anxiety is to talk with your veterinarian. Your veterinarian can help you identify the type of anxiety your dog suffers from and the possible causes and triggers. Your veterinarian will also be able to help you determine if the anxiety is simply situational, or if it is becoming an overwhelming issue for your dog. Additionally, veterinarians can also rule out any other medical conditions that could be causing your dog’s symptoms.

Your veterinarian will help you come up with a treatment plan. Since excessive anxiety is often caused by a variety of factors, the best way to treat it is usually through a combination of training, preventive strategies, and in some cases, medications.

There are several training strategies owners can use to treat dog anxiety. One way is counterconditioning. The purpose of counterconditioning is to change your dog’s response to the stimuli responsible for anxiety, usually by replacing the anxious or aggressive behavior with a more desirable behavior, like sitting or focusing on the owner.

Another training strategy is desensitization. The owner slowly introduces the dog to the source of anxiety, preferably in small doses and at a decreased intensity. Repeated exposure and rewarding positive behavior can go a long way toward managing anxiety.

You might want to contact a professional dog trainer to help you choose the best approach for your dog, as training an anxious dog is not always easy.

If your dog develops a serious anxiety disorder, your veterinarian may recommend medications or natural therapies. SSRIs and antidepressants are occasionally prescribed for dogs with anxiety, including fluoxetine and clomipramine. For predictable anxiety-producing events like thunderstorms, fireworks, or car rides, your veterinarian might prescribe a medication such as benzodiazepine in conjunction with an antidepressant to help your dog cope with the stress.

Senior dogs with cognitive dysfunction syndrome may benefit from the drug selegiline, which can help reduce some of the symptoms of CDS. Selegiline is also used for treating chronic anxiety in Europe.

The Merck Veterinary Manual also states that natural therapies and products can help dogs with anxiety. Some products work best in conjunction with other medications, while others can be used alone, depending on your dog’s case. Natural products use pheromones and aromatherapy to reduce anxiety. Talk to your veterinarian about the natural products best suited for your dog.

Some dogs owners have reported success in using CBD oil to treat dog anxiety. CBD is a compound found in cannabis and hemp that dog owners, as well as humans, have found useful for treating a variety of different health conditions. Anecdotal reports from dog owners claim that CBD oil can be effective in treating dog anxiety.

It’s important to note, however, that although many humans use CBD oil for anxiety treatment purposes, there is currently no scientific data on how using CBD oil affects dogs. Additionally, CBD products are not yet regulated — meaning consistency and purity are not always validated. Therefore, if you’re considering using CBD oil as a treatment for dog anxiety, it’s best to consult with your veterinarian. Your veterinarian can help you determine if CBD oil might be a good treatment for your dog’s anxiety, as well as discuss different products, possible side effects, and risks.

What can I give my dog for anxiety and aggression?

What Other Factors Should Be Considered?

It is sometimes too easy to think that a medication or combination of medications will do most of the work, when in fact management changes, safety practices, and re-learning are needed for a successful outcome. Unfortunately, administration of a behavior drug often pushes these efforts to the back of the line.

Follow-up is critical in management of behavior cases, not only for dose adjustment and changes in choice of drug, but also for feedback on modification, implementation, and progress.

Behavioral drug use in pets is common enough that clients may ask specifically for medication (“puppy Prozac”) for a variety of problems. Before accommodating that request, however, consider these recommendations:

  • Remember that behavioral medication use is determined by the veterinarian per the Animal Medicinal Drug Use Clarification Act (avma.org/KB/Resources/Reference/Pages/AMDUCA.aspx)
  • Review the indications and mechanisms of action
  • Be familiar with potential contraindications and adverse effects
  • Address any confounding or comorbid medical problems associated with the behavior problem, including pain, sensory decline, or hypersensitivity.
  • The client should also be forewarned that patience will be needed, especially while waiting for the drug to “load” over the course of 1 to 2 months.

    If the medication is being administered at the correct therapeutic doses, and there still is no measurable change—decreased frequency or intensity of the problem behavior—it may be necessary to taper and discontinue that medication; then begin a new one and start the wait again. This lag period can be helped by use of a more immediately effective anxiolytic, such as trazodone, but consider educating clients that the beginning of drug administration can mimic a long ride on a slow-motion roller coaster.

    Is Your Energy Causing Your Dog’s Anxiety/Aggression?

    Your longtime client, Mrs. Jones, presents Buttercup, the Papillon, with “a behavior problem”: For several months, Buttercup has been biting houseguests. Through questioning and observation, you determine that Buttercup is anxious. She was “shy” as a puppy, exhibits fearful postures when unfamiliar people try to pet her, and—as a home video of her behavior reveals—runs away from guests trying to interact with her.

    Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in July/Aug 2014. Please use this content for reference or educational purposes, but note that it is not being actively vetted after publication. For the most recent peer-reviewed content, see our issue archive.

    The presentation of behavior problems during routine appointments is one of the inevitabilities of today’s veterinary practice. Behavioral drugs can help manage these problems—but not all drugs are equally useful, and their use is not always indicated. The plot thickens when some clients demand medication, while others refuse to use it despite veterinary recommendations (see Addressing Client Reluctance).

    If behavioral medication is indicated, but the client is reluctant, discussing specific concerns educates the client about the benefits of medication. Common concerns include:

    3. My pet will be sleepy all the time. Unless sedation is the goal, such as during thunderstorms for phobic dogs, nonsedating drugs are used, so sleepiness should not be an issue. If unexpected sedation is a side effect of behavioral medication, the drug dose can be reduced or a different medication can be prescribed. While it is not uncommon for behavioral drugs to cause transient sedation initially, it can often be avoided by starting with a lower dosage, then increasing it over several weeks to the desired dose.

    The treatment goal of any behavior problem is modification of that behavior. However, the term behavior modification is vague and depends upon the individual patient and behavior being addressed.

    Behavior modification might include anything from counter-conditioning a fearful dog; actively training an appropriate, alternative behavior to a cue; or desensitizing a separation–distress dog to its owner’s leaving the room. Thus, behavior modification can play an important role in management of a problem behavior.

    In some cases, there are limits to how far behavior modification alone can go. Extreme situational stress or fear can interfere with learning and decision making.

    When dogs are overtly reactive—or, in the language of dog training, over threshold—they are physiologically aroused, which involves both the autonomic (fight or flight instinct) and endocrine (hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal axis up-regulation) systems. In these cases, there is rarely any middle ground—the dog will move rapidly from a lack of reaction to extreme avoidance, aggression, or panic.

    Temperamental or inherited generalized anxiety can also interfere with learning. Generalized anxiety, similar to situational anxiety, is more pervasive and challenging to overcome through training alone.

    In these patients, the addition of behavioral drug therapy can significantly improve response to treatment. When underlying anxiety is reduced, the dog is more receptive to learning and its behavior can change more reliably in the long-term. As one owner of a fearfully aggressive dog reported after 2 months of fluoxetine administration, “I feel like it’s opened a door to her brain.”

    Although, on a day-to-day basis, sedation is not a desirable drug effect, it may be necessary to eliminate distress spikes in specific situations, most frequently:

    Rather than administration on a daily or standing basis, sedative medication can be given on an as-needed basis, often in combination with a daily medication.