Nearly all animal behavior cases benefit from a multi-modal approach consisting of medication, environmental management, and behavior modification. When treating behavioral conditions, your veterinarian can choose from a variety of medications and create a personalized treatment plan.

This guide answers common questions regarding the types of medications prescribed in the treatment of behavior cases.

Why Do We Prescribe Medication, and What Is the Goal?

The goal of medication is to help pets cope with stress and improve their learning potential. This allows your pet to feel safer, making management, training, and behavior modification more effective.

A veterinarian or a board-certified veterinary behaviorist will prescribe medication for three main reasons:

  • decrease the intensity of your pet’s reactions;
  • decrease the frequency with which they occur;
  • decrease the recovery time from an episode. 

To teach your pet new things, they need to be comfortable enough to learn. In pets that are fearful and anxious, medication helps make learning possible.

With medication, the goal is not to sedate your pet or change their personality. If it does, a discussion with your veterinarian may be needed to find a more suitable medication.

Which Types of Medications Are Used?

Medications used to treat behavioral conditions typically fall into two broad categories:

Daily medications are often used when triggers are either unavoidable, unpredictable, or common in their life. Typically given once or twice a day, these medications can take four to six weeks to be effective. This is referred to as the loading period. After that, doses may need to be adjusted, or medications changed.

Rapid-acting medications are used prior to a stressful event or when initially starting a daily medication. Rapid-acting medications are useful because they only take 30 minutes to two hours to take effect. This allows pets prompt relief when these types of events are predictable or when extra support is needed quickly.

How Safe Are Behavior Medications?

While no medication comes without risks, they are usually tolerated well, and long-term side effects are uncommon. A decrease in appetite is the most common side effect, although some may experience vomiting, diarrhea, or drowsiness. In rare instances, a pet may have increased anxiety or agitation. In these cases, your veterinarian may adjust the medications or dosage.

Will Medication “Fix” Your Pet?

As part of a complete treatment plan, medications can reduce the severity, frequency, and intensity of behavior but do not guarantee a cure. Management, training, and behavior modification are still needed.

When Can My Pet Stop Medication?

While some pets may be successfully weaned off medications, others may need continued treatment. Often, behavioral conditions are managed but not cured.

Your veterinarian or board-certified veterinary behaviorist will help you determine what is best for you and your pet.