What You Should Know About Trazodone for Dogs

Trazodone is rising up the ranks as veterinarians’ go-to medication to help dogs of all ages and breeds contend with behavioral issues, including anxiety, noise phobias and stress. This antidepressant is regarded as a relatively safe and effective medication to tone down worried and frightened dogs and cats.

What is trazodone for dogs?

In technical terms, trazodone is a serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI). Its mission is to enable the feel-good hormone serotonin to work harder and more efficiently in a dog’s brain to help him feel less stressed and calmer.

Generally, trazodone is prescribed for dogs with situational anxiety, such as when their levels of fear, anxiety and stress escalate during specific times and events, according to Dr. Robin Downing, founder of the Downing Center for Animal Pain Management and director of the Windsor Veterinary Clinic in Windsor, Colorado. Dr. Downing is recognized as an international leader in animal pain management.

Is Trazodone used for people?

Trazodone, which is the generic name (the brand names are Desyrel and Oleptro), was initially used in human medication for patients dealing with schizophrenia and major depression. While it is not approved for use in companion animals by the U. S. Food and Drug Administration, trazodone is often prescribed for dogs and cats by veterinarians a what is called an “off-label” drug.

According to Dr. Lisa Radosta, a board-certified veterinary behaviorist who operates the Florida Veterinary Behavior Service in Southeast Florida, trazodone is commonly administered to dogs as a white tablet. Doses vary based on the pet’s size and other factors. Less commonly, trazodone is prescribed in liquid or capsule forms, she adds.

When is trazodone prescribed for dogs?

Trazodone is often prescribed to aid dogs facing these scenarios:

  • Visibly and uncontrollably shaking, drooling and maybe even urinating in a veterinary lobby while awaiting examination. These heightened stress symptoms continue during the veterinary examination.
  • Predicted loud events, such as a looming thunderstorm or Fourth of July fireworks celebrations within earshot of dogs who fear such sounds.
  • Expected visit to a stranger’s home, where a shy dog may cower and shiver during introductions.
  • Scheduled repairs or home improvements by a construction team that will alter the layout of the home, create loud noises from tools and give off unfamiliar scents to the family’s anxious dog.
  • Planned family vacations by car. The long hours on the road and overnight stays in pet-welcoming lodgings can make some dogs stressed and anxious from the unfamiliar sights, sounds and smells.
  • Following a surgery in which the dog needs to rest and have limited activity in order to completely heal.

Is there any research on trazodone for dogs?

In a 2016 study published in the AVMA Journal, a team of veterinarians led by Dr. Shana Gilbert-Gregory tested the effects of trazodone treatment for stress exhibited by hospitalized dogs. In the study, half of the 120 dogs were given trazodone, the other half were not. It was noted that dogs given trazodone displayed less frenetic behaviors, such as lip licking, panting and whining, than dogs not given the medication.

Dogster reached out to leading veterinarians, who shared more details about trazodone and how to safely give it to your dog.

How much trazodone should I give my dog?

Trazodone is sold per tablet and requires a prescription. It is available as 50-, 100- and 150-milligrams sizes.

What is the best way to give trazodone to your dog?

Trazodone is a slow-release medication, so have your dog swallow the pill whole, instead of crushing it up. Follow this with food. An empty stomach hastens the absorption of trazodone in the body, which could make your dog feel nauseated and drowsy.

How should I safely store trazodone?

Veterinarians recommend that you keep the prescription in its airtight bottle out of paw’s reach, such as in a kitchen drawer. Do not leave it on a counter in direct sunlight. It does not need to be refrigerated.

How long until it takes effect?

In general, the peak effect of trazodone can take up to three hours, depending on the dog, according to Dr. Downing. Although you can’t always predict stress-triggering events like a sudden thunderstorm, you can plan the dose for expected stressful situations, such as the arrival of houseguests or a trip to the veterinary clinic.

How often can I give my dog trazodone?

This medicine can be safely given once a day or as needed, depending on your dog’s behavioral issues and the veterinarian’s prescription instructions. But it is not recommended to give a dose more than every eight hours. Some dogs only need this medication as a single, situational dose to calm them. If trazodone is used every day, it can lose its effectiveness over time.

What happens if I skip a dose or accidentally give my dog extra doses of trazodone?

If you forget to give your dog a scheduled daily dose, do not double up on the next dose, cautions Dr. Downing. Giving extra doses of trazodone can be dangerous. If your dog does receive multiple extra doses over a period of days, contact your veterinarian promptly for treatment recommendations.

How will my dog act after being given trazodone?

Most dogs will appear to be relaxed and calm. Some, however, can resemble a person who is a bit tipsy after drinking alcohol, describes Dr. Downing. That is why she instructs pet parents to restrict any dogs acting “tipsy” from activities requiring balance and focus, such as swimming, running, hiking, fetching and climbing.

Dr. Radosta adds that trazodone is prescribed to act as a “chill pill” in dogs, at times reducing emotional distress. It is not a sedative and does not make the dog feel or act like a four-legged zombie.

How long does trazodone stay in my dog’s system?

Trazodone is a short-acting medication that should lose effectiveness within 24 hours. However, dogs with kidney or liver issues may experience longer effects.

What are trazodone’s side effects?

Some dogs can experience vomiting, diarrhea, upset stomachs, constipation, dizziness and changes in appetite when taking trazodone. Some dogs may display dilated pupils or lethargy. Contact your veterinarian if your dog experiences any of these symptoms at the onset before they become severe.

Is there any drug that works well in concert with trazodone?

Sometimes, trazodone is not quite enough to be effective in relieving stress and anxiety, and your veterinarian may also prescribe gabapentin, which is an anticonvulsant, or an anti-seizure medicine. Like trazodone, gabapentin is prescribed “off-label” to dogs by veterinarians.

Trazodone and gabapentin complement each other and work in different pathways in the body, explains Dr. Downing.

Can my dog take other medications with trazodone?

There are many medications that can interact with trazodone in dogs, but unless you are giving your dog trazodone regularly, there shouldn’t be any health issues from a once-in-a-while use, says Dr. Downing.

That said, drug interactions can occur if your dog is also on the following medications:

  • Diuretics (commonly prescribed for dogs retaining excessive fluid or dealing with congestive heart failure)
  • Some anti-hypertension drugs to control blood pressure
  • Metoclopramide, an anti-vomiting drug used to treat acid reflux, nausea and vomiting
  • Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as meloxicam or carprofen, used to ease joint pain, swelling and stiffness
  • Tramadol, an opioid used to manage pain, including post-surgical and osteoarthritis in dogs

Herbal supplements that contain St. John’s Wort can also cause an adverse reaction, adds Dr. Downing.

What are other examples of “off-label” SSRIs that may be prescribed to dogs dealing with behavior disorders?

A popular SSRI is fluoxetine, which is found in Prozac and Reconcile.

Do non-prescription calming options work?

There is a growing number of companies manufacturing calming chews and oils that may reduce anxiety in some dogs. Ingredients typically include organic hemp seed oil, chamomile, ginger root, valerian root, melatonin and passion flower, which are all known for calming properties. Discuss these supplements with your veterinarian as dogs react differently to these ingredients.

What other non-medication options can be used to compliment trazodone?

Some dogs benefit from acupressure sessions, which release feel-good endorphins naturally, says Dr. Downing. Another option is a compression garment, such as ThunderShirt, that applies a steady pressure on their torsos, much like receiving a loving hug.

Adaptil gives off calming faux canine pheromones through a collar, spray or diffuser form, adds Dr. Radosta. Always consult your veterinarian before considering any of these options.

How can I tell if my dog is stressed?

Highly stressed dogs are easy to spot: They tend to whine or attempt to flee the situation by hiding or trying to dart out the door.

Stress happens to everyone, including people and dogs. The key is how you deal with it, says Dr. Radosta. Here are more-subtle signs that your dog might be scared or stressed:

  • Acting clingy
  • Squinting or blinking his eyes
  • Licking his lips
  • Lifting his front paw
  • Pacing
  • Refusing treats
  • Shaking his body
  • Suddenly shedding heavily
  • Turning his head
  • Yawning

How trazodone helped my dog, Bujeau

When I got married five years ago, we took the time to properly introduce our cats and dogs to one another. Among them was my spouse’s gentle giant of a dog named Bujeau. She was a 90-pound Bernese Mountain Dog mix who loved cats and was generally mellow except for two triggers – thunderstorms and veterinary visits. She had developed severe noise phobia from the loud, booming thunderstorms typical in Dallas, Texas, and she went into major panic mode by drooling, shaking and even piddling when entering the veterinary clinic for even routine exams. She tried to squeeze her mountain of a body under my chair in the lobby.

Working with my veterinarian, Dr. Debora Charles of the Casa Linda Animal Clinic, we decided that Bujeau would greatly benefit from trazodone before predictable events that caused her panic.

Trazodone was a positive game changer for Bujeau. I gave her a tablet about 90 minutes before a storm or vet visit. I also paired the trazodone with a high-grade treat, usually small pieces of boiled chicken, to help counter condition her association with these stress triggers.

Trazodone was a success. Bujeau even remained calm and mellow while being bathed, brushed and trimmed by the professional pet groomer at the veterinary clinic.

Arden Moore is a pet behavior consultant, master certified pet first aid instructor, best-selling author, host of Arden Moore’s Four Legged Life national radio show and host of the Oh Behave Show on Pet Life Radio. Learn more at www.ardenmoore.com.


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