Treating Behavior Problems in Dogs
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 (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.
TCAs are prescribed for daily use. If the medicine isn’t taken every day, it won’t work to treat the problem behavior. TCAs are not usually effective the first day-or even the first few days that they are taken. Because at least some of their effectiveness comes from the changes they make to the brain, they must be taken for at least two to three weeks before they produce results. Treatment should continue for at least two months before a decision is made regarding the success of the drug.