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Dogs, much like people, can suffer from behavioral issues that not only detract from their quality of life but also cause significant emotional distress. The first step toward addressing any behavioral concerns in your dog is to consult with your veterinarian to rule out underlying medical issues impacting your pet’s behavior. Common behavioral issues include, but are not limited to:

  • Leash reactivity
  • Predatory behavior
  • Fear of strangers
  • Aggression directed toward other animals
  • Fear of handling
  • Noise phobia
  • Compulsive behaviors
  • Separation distress
  • Hyperactivity and hyperarousal
  • Escape-related behaviors
  • Excessive vocalizations
  • Resource guarding

Some of these behaviors are considered normal depending on the context and degree of reaction; others are abnormal and require intervention in the form of management, training, enrichment, and a behavior modification plan. In some cases, these strategies may not be sufficient, making other interventions, such as medications, necessary.

How Do You Know if It Is Time To Talk to Your Veterinarian About Behavioral Medications?

If your dog’s behavior significantly affects their quality of life or their ability to learn and process information, it may be time to consult with your veterinarian about the benefits that medications could provide your pet as part of a comprehensive treatment plan.

If Medications Are NeededWhat Are My Options?

There are two types of behavioral medications that veterinarians prescribe. The first type is maintenance medication, administered daily whether the dog’s triggers are present or not. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) such as fluoxetine, sertraline, and tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs) like clomipramine and amitriptyline, fall into this category. These medications are designed to target specific neurotransmitters that affect behavior. They require time to be effective, typically taking six to eight weeks to reach a maintenance level to work. These work best with unpredictable triggers, or triggers that are hard to identify, avoid, and manage, such as noise phobias and generalized anxiety.

The second type is situational medication, administered as needed for specific problems or triggers. These medications usually take effect within a couple of hours and are short-acting, wearing off within several hours. Examples include trazodone, clonidine, dexmedetomidine OTM (oral transmucosal), gabapentin, and benzodiazepines. Situational medications are ideal for dogs with predictable triggers or situations that can usually be avoided or scheduled, such as car rides, going to the veterinary office, new visitors, or need to be confined.

To help determine if your dog would benefit from medications, consider the following:

  • Has your pet undergone a medical examination to rule out underlying issues?
  • Is your pet’s (or family’s) quality of life decreased due to behavior problems?
  • What management, training, and behavior modification efforts have you tried?
  • How often does problematic behavior occur, and are the triggers predictable or avoidable?
  • What are the specific triggers affecting your pet’s quality of life?
  • How severely is your pet affected by their triggers?
  • How do you feel about using behavioral medication, and what concerns do you have about side effects?
  • What financial, emotional, and time resources can you dedicate to addressing your dog’s behavior?

Never give medications that have been prescribed for other pets or humans.

Ultimately, the decision to incorporate behavioral medications into your pet’s treatment plan should be made in consultation with your veterinarian or a board-certified veterinary behaviorist. Veterinary professionals can help you navigate the options available and develop a tailored plan that enhances your dog’s ability to process information more effectively, improves their predictability and resilience, and enhances the quality of life for everyone involved.