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Treating Behavior Problems in Dogs


Medicines for the Treatment of Sudden or Severe Fear and Panic continued...

Benzodiazepines are also inappropriate for the treatment of aggression, because they can sometimes reduce inhibition. This means that although the dog may not react as quickly to a frightening or disturbing event, if he does react he might behave aggressively. Lastly, benzodiazepines can cause addiction if they are given many times a day for more than three weeks.

Benzodiazepines can also interfere with learning and memory, so they aren’t good choices for long-term use with training and behavior modification. Because of this, if a benzodiazepine is necessary because of excessive anxiety or fear, this type of medicine is best used initially and then gradually discontinued.

Health Issues

Benzodiazepines are metabolized in the liver and excreted through a dog’s kidneys, so if your veterinarian advises you to treat your dog’s fear with a benzodiazepine, she should check with a simple blood test to make sure that these organs are working well before beginning treatment. If your dog has had problems with his kidneys or liver, be sure to let your veterinarian know.

Medicines for the Treatment of General Anxiety

Some dogs suffer from a more generalized form of anxiety that leaves them nervous in many everyday situations. Benzodiazepines are not a good choice for everyday, ongoing treatment, so they aren’t appropriate for dogs with generalized anxiety. These dogs do better with treatment that can be continued for a period of time rather than given in anticipation of frightening events. The medicines that help dogs with general anxiety problems are TCAs, MAOIs and SSRIs.

Tricyclic Antidepressants

Tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs) were originally used to treat depression in people. They work primarily by increasing serotonin and norepinephrin-two neurotransmitters that are involved in regulation of emotional activity. They also affect other neurochemicals involved in emotional reactivity. The TCAs prescribed most for dogs are amitriptyline (Elavil® or Tryptanol), clomipramine (Clomicalm® or Anafranil®), doxepin (Aponal®), imipramine (Antideprin or Deprenil), desipramine (Norpramin® or Pertofrane) and nortriptyline (Sensoval). Every dog is unique behaviorally and physiologically, so one TCA might not work well in a dog whereas a different TCA in the same dog could have excellent results.

Although TCAs were originally labeled to treat depression, they also reduce anxiety, manage compulsive behavior and can help people with anger problems. In dogs they have been used successfully to help with treatment of separation anxiety, general anxiety and compulsive behavior problems like compulsive licking. For instance, amitriptyline is a good choice for treating generalized anxiety and separation anxiety. Studies have shown that clomipramine is quite beneficial when used in combination with behavior modification for treating separation anxiety. This medication is approved for dogs by the FDA. (It’s sold under the name Clomicalm®.) It‘s also effective for reducing compulsive behavior.

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