When your dog or cat suffers from situational anxiety (i.e., car rides, fireworks, thunderstorms, vacuum cleaner), it can be extremely debilitating to them and heartbreaking for us.
After you’ve exhausted all your resources (positive reinforcement training, playing music, Thundershirt, etc.), your vet might suggest prescribing doggie downers like Xanax.
What Is Xanax?
Alprazolam, sold under the brand name Xanax, among others, is a short-acting tranquilizer of the triazolobenzodiazepine (TBZD) class, which are benzodiazepines (BZDs) fused with a triazole ring. It is most commonly used in the short-term management of anxiety disorders, specifically panic disorder or generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). Other uses include the treatment of chemotherapy-induced nausea, together with other treatments. GAD improvement occurs generally within a week.
Alprazolam is generally taken by mouth.
Common side effects include sleepiness, depression, headaches, feeling tired, dry mouth, and memory problems. Some of the sedation and tiredness may improve within a few days. Due to concerns about misuse, some do not recommend alprazolam as an initial treatment for panic disorder.
Withdrawal or rebound symptoms may occur if use is suddenly decreased; gradually decreasing the dose over weeks or months may be required. Other rare risks include suicide, possibly due to loss of inhibition. Alprazolam, like other benzodiazepines, acts through the GABAA receptor.
Alprazolam was patented in 1971 and approved for medical use in the United States in 1981. Alprazolam is a Schedule IV controlled substance and is a common drug of abuse.
It is available as a generic medication. In 2018, it was the 37th most commonly prescribed medication in the United States, with more than 20 million prescriptions.
How Xanax Works?
Xanax works by enhancing the effects of a natural chemical in the body called GABA - a neurotransmitter that blocks impulses between nerve cells in the brain—virtually slowing brain activity.
By slowing brain activity, this will result in a relaxed and calm effect.
If possible, it’s most effective to give this drug to your pet 30 to 60 minutes before the triggering event, or at the earliest sign of anxiety.
Can I Give My Dog Xanax?
You can give your dog Xanax, but like most prescription medications, it’s important to use proper dosing. You should not give your dog Xanax without veterinary approval and monitoring.
Don’t give your dog Xanax pills prescribed to you or a family member as the doses are significantly different. A vet can tell you how much Xanax to give your dog, how often, and how to identify warning signs of adverse side effects.
Typically, your vet will prescribe Xanax to treat anxiety in dogs. Dogs may experience anxiety when they're left alone. They can also develop anxiety that's brought on by thunderstorms or other triggers, such as loud noises, phobias, and new experiences. Xanax is traditionally only used in severe cases of anxiety since mild to moderate anxiety can be treated with other methods that have fewer side effects.
If you decide to give your pup Xanax, your vet will start with a low dose so they can see how much medication is required for effective treatment. The goal is to avoid giving your dog more medicine than necessary. It’s best to administer the medication one hour before an anxiety-inducing event. Xanax usually comes in pill form and can be given with food or in a treat like peanut butter.
Pet owners can monitor weather reports or plan ahead for vacations and give dogs Xanax before these triggers can cause anxiety.
While Xanax can be effective in severe anxiety cases, there are also some safety concerns. Read on to learn more about the side effects of Xanax for dogs and discover other tools to help calm your furry friend.
Side Effects of Xanax For Your Dog
Xanax poses certain risks for dogs. It's a powerful medication that may cause side effects including kidney and liver problems. Don’t give your dog Xanax if he or she has kidney disease or liver conditions. Other side effects of Xanax in dogs include loss of coordination or motor function, fatigue, and increased appetite. Some dogs may experience over-excitement or aggression.
Xanax may also cause mood or behavior changes that can affect their ability to provide services. If you have a service dog, guide dog, or working dog, it’s critical to consult a veterinarian before giving them Xanax.
Additionally, Xanax may interact with other medications, making them less effective or causing additional side effects. Xanax may interact with antacids, fluoxetine, amitriptyline, vitamins, and supplements. Tell your vet about any medications or supplements you’re giving your dog before starting them on a Xanax prescription.
One of the most significant side effects of Xanax is withdrawal. Long-term use of Xanax can cause dogs to become dependent on the medication. If you stop giving your dog Xanax, they may develop withdrawal symptoms, including vomiting, trembling, and aggression. Use Xanax sparingly or look into alternatives to avoid dependence-related issues.
Milder Treatment Options for Dogs Anxiety
There are many other ways you can support dog anxiety without reaching for prescription-strength treatments like Xanax. You can try other dog anxiety medications such as clomipramine to help reduce symptoms in a dog who can’t tolerate Xanax.
Massage is another tool that can help soothe a dog’s anxiety. Gently massaging your pup’s muscles can help increase calm, reduce tension, and boost your dog’s mood through affectionate contact. You can massage your dog yourself or go to a pet massage specialist.
Keeping your pup exercised and stimulated can help reduce boredom and prevent your dog from acting out. This behavior modification can make a huge difference for dogs who suffer from separation anxiety as well. By keeping them distracted with toys and activities, your pet has less time to feel anxious or mischievous.
You can also use distractions such as playing fetch when there is a thunderstorm or loud noises outside. Keeping your pet focused on something else prevents them from getting worked up about an anxious situation.
Dog calming chews that contain calming ingredients such as CBD oil, valerian root, and chamomile are also a great way to reduce stress. These ingredients may offer similar calming effects without the negative side effects of prescription medications.