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Dealing with Pet Anxiety: Should You Medicate Your Dog?

Many pet owners struggle to help their pets deal with anxiety, especially dogs, which can do some serious damage. Problems like excessive barking, chewing, jumping, housebreaking issues and even escape attempts are common symptoms of dogs dealing with anxiety.

woman with husky puppy
Photo by tranmautritam.

Some pet owners are able to help their pets learn how to cope with anxiety, but others can’t. The anxiety may be too severe, the owners may not have the resources to deal with it, or there may be a chemical imbalance in the animal’s brain. No matter what the reason, many people are turning to medications in order to help their furry friends live happier lives.

Almost 3 million dogs are now on some form of anti-anxiety medication in the United States. This is actually less than 4 percent of the 77 million dogs that are owned, but the number is climbing.

Why Medicate Your Dog?

Most people are opting for medications for their pets because it really helps. Most of these people have tried other options and haven’t found them to be helpful. This is especially true for pets that experience separation anxiety. Pet owners can see the pain their pets are in when they’re left alone, and it causes them stress, too.

Some vets prefer using medication as a last resort, in part due to the potential side effects. Like all drugs, doggie Prozac does have some risks, including a loss of appetite, vomiting, lethargy, diarrhea and tremors. For some people, that may be too much of a risk to subject their pets to. For others, the anxiety or aggression is worse than side effects that may or may not affect their pet.

The Differences

When humans are given an anti-anxiety drug, they are also usually in conjunction with some form of therapy. The idea is that the medication will be a short-term solution, while the therapy can help them develop the coping skills to live without needing to rely on medication. Pets, however, aren’t usually presented with this kind of tag-team combination. That means once the dog starts a medication for anxiety, there aren’t many other efforts made to help the animal learn how to handle stressful situations.

If your pet finds an experience stressful, like going to a pet wash or the vet, medication isn’t going to help them find a better way to deal with it, like behavioral training would. However, it might give you a good starting point, and help your dog stay calm enough during these stressful experiences that they can start to relearn how to handle them.

Are There Other Options?

Of course there are other options. There’s an entire industry dedicated to helping your pets deal with anxiety and aggression issues. Some people swear by things like essential oils, pheromone-releasing collars, coats designed to hug the dog to provide security, and treats that are marketed to calm your pets during stressful events.

Not all animals respond to this kind of treatment. By a wide margin, most veterinarians agree that any product will work best when used in conjunction with behavior-modification training. Because we are talking about dogs, the effects of the medications are little more questionable. We can’t tell if the animals are actually happier and calmer, or if the medication only suppresses the behaviors.

Ultimately, the decision to medicate your pet is a deeply personal one. Some vets will recommend the medications if they believe other options won’t be helpful to your particular situation, but most will ask that you continue to use behavior modification techniques, even with the meds.

So, what do you think? Should you medicate your pets, should it be a last resort or are the side effects too much of a risk for any family member–furry or not?

Kayla Matthews is a health and wellness blogger who loves jogging, yoga and hiking. Follow Kayla on Google+ and Twitter to read all of her latest posts.