No one likes experiencing the feeling of anxiety. In some cases, symptoms of anxiety (and other nervous disorders) can be so intense, they are downright crippling. But did you know that your dog can also suffer from health conditions like anxiety and panic disorders?
The stresses of life can impact your dog and affect their mood and temperament, exactly the same way stresses of life can affect you and your mood and temperament. There is a plethora of reasons a dog could suffer from anxiety.
Reasons include things like:
- Loud noises (think thunder, gunshots, or fireworks)
- Separation anxiety when they are left alone or with strangers
- Even car rides
A dog’s response to these types of triggers can range from a case of mild anxiety to an outright panic attack. Feelings of anxiety like this, especially over a prolonged period of time can even cause depression in dogs.
Fortunately, due to its sedative like effects and muscle relaxing properties, Xanax can be a useful drug in helping to treat any symptoms of anxiety in dogs, no matter the cause.
What is Xanax?
Xanax is drug known as a benzodiazepine tranquilizer that also possesses anticonvulsant and muscle relaxant properties. Xanax is the brand name for the actual drug, called alprazolam.
Xanax works primarily by suppressing the central nervous system (CNS) so that your dog’s feelings of nervousness aren’t so debilitating. When the central nervous system responses to stressors and stimulants are being suppressed, a dog’s anxiety is reduced.
Xanax can also help to promote sleep in a dog that is restless due to anxiety, and impart a feeling of calmness and tranquility in a dog that may be overly high strung.
Uses for Xanax for Dogs
Though Xanax is most often used to treat panic and anxiety disorders, because of its muscle relaxant and anticonvulsant properties, it may also sometimes be used to treat a condition called spastic colon. Spastic colon is where the muscles of the intestine contract in an abnormal way.
Additionally, Xanax is sometimes used to increase a dog’s appetite when they appear to be off their feed and not interested in eating.
Sometimes Xanax is given to dogs to treat depression that is the result of serious grief, although in cases like this, it should only be used as a short-term stopgap measure.
Long-term, prolonged use of Xanax can actually cause depression, so it’s important to keep side effects like this in mind before choosing to give your dog such a drug. Talk to your vet first, and make sure there aren’t any alternate, healthier remedies to try beforehand.
Symptoms of Anxiety in Dogs
Unfortunately, dogs can’t really tell you when they are feeling nervous or anxious, but you can glean clues from their behavior if you watch them closely enough. Dogs that have experienced some sort of abuse or trauma in their past are prime candidates to suffer from anxiety.
Dogs that are separated from their mamas too early can also be impacted and experience feelings of anxiousness. Sometimes, dogs can suffer from separation anxiety when it comes to their human families too.
Sometimes dogs just seem to have a “nervous nature” and seem to feel anxious for any number of reasons, whether it’s loud noises, nervousness around strangers, or hesitation in going outside.
Dog anxiety often manifests itself in undesirable behaviors like excessive barking, whining, and even eliminating in your home despite being fully house trained.
Because dogs can’t tell you if something is wrong, you will have to pay close attention to their nonverbal cues.
Some clues that your dog may be feeling anxious or nervous include:
- Hiding, avoidance, and other fearful behaviors
- Moodiness and unpredictable behavior
- Behaviors like “forgetting” their house training and defecating where they shouldn’t
- Excessive barking, whining, and even howling, especially when left alone
Dosage of Xanax for Dogs
Dosages of Xanax are available in both tablet form as well as a concentrated liquid. The most common dosages for tablets are 0.25 mg, 0.50 mg, 1 mg, and 2 mg. The dose your dog may be prescribed will largely depend on your dog’s size and weight. Obviously, a larger dog will receive a larger dose, although you should always start out with the lowest possible dose and level up only if necessary.
As a for instance, if your vet recommends your dog be given Xanax twice a day, they may advise giving them anywhere from 0.1 mg to 0.5 mg per pound. No dog should be given anything more than 4 mg a day within a twenty-four-hour period, max.
Sometimes Xanax is prescribed in a concentrated liquid of 1 ml, or 5 ml. The drug concentration will range from .50 mg to 1 mg per 1 ml or 5 ml unit. So, if your dog happens to weigh one hundred pounds, the most likely dose they will be prescribed is 1 mg of Xanax per day.
Side Effects of Xanax for Dogs
Though Xanax can be useful in helping to control your dog’s anxiety and the accompanying symptoms, usage doesn’t come without some serious side effects. The most common side effect reported by pet owners appears to be sleepiness.
If your dog seems to be behaving in a lethargic or sedated manner, or seems to move around more clumsily than normal, you may need to speak to your vet about adjusting the dosage and giving your dog a lower amount.
Sometimes a dog may experience an allergic reaction to Xanax. If you suspect your dog may be having an allergic reaction to Xanax, you should see a vet immediately, because an allergic reaction left unchecked can trigger more serious side effects.
If you notice your dog has developed symptoms with a sudden onset, such as facial swelling, bleeding problems, hives on their skin, sudden bouts of diarrhea, or even seizures, then an allergic reaction if very likely. Treat it as an emergency and seek medical treatment right away.
In very rare cases, Xanax can have the total opposite effect on what it is intended to treat, and cause hyper-stimulation. This is called the “paradoxical effect”. Instead of helping your dog to relax and feel calm, when given Xanax your dog can become hyper and even aggressive.
Sometimes, a dog that is given Xanax for a prolonged period of time can experience withdrawal symptoms if they are taken off the drug suddenly. Just like Xanax for people, Xanax for dogs can cause a dependency upon the drug.
This is why a minimal viable dose is best to start with, and why you should only give Xanax to your dog for a short period of time. Signs that your dog may be suffering from withdrawal symptoms related to Xanax usage includes vomiting, photophobia, and shaking.
Precautions When Giving Your Dog Xanax
Xanax may not be a suitable choice to be given to all dogs. That’s why it’s so important to consult your vet before giving your dog a drug like Xanax. Dogs that suffer from health conditions that are related to their liver or kidneys, or dogs that experience muscle weakness should not use Xanax.
Additionally, if your dog is pregnant, elderly, suffers from glaucoma, or is in any other way considered “disabled” it is wise to avoid Xanax if possible. Discuss all options with your vet so that you can make an informed decision.
Interactions with Xanax for Dogs
Other precautions that need to be considered before administering Xanax to a canine is possible interactions with other drugs. You vet will know your dog’s history and be able to inform you of potential risks.
Some interactions to watch out for include:
Barbiturate drugs like phenobarbital for dogs. These should be avoided because the sedative-like effects of Xanax can be exacerbated by them.
Antifungal drugs like ketoconazole. These should be avoided because they can affect your dog’s metabolism of Xanax and extend the length of the “sedation” effects of the drug.
If you dog is on any kind of antacid medications, they should be taken separately from the Xanax, with at least two hours in between doses. This is because the use of antacids can slow down how quickly the Xanax is absorbed by your dog.
Note that you should never give your dog Xanax that has been prescribed for humans, and never give them Xanax without the supervision of your vet.
In high enough doses, Xanax can make your dog very ill and even kill them. Also, it’s important to keep in mind that Xanax has not been FDA approved to treat dogs for anxiety. It is considered an off-label prescription and has only been FDA approved for human use.
Despite it’s off-label FDA status, Xanax has been found to be relatively safe to give to your dog under close supervision, to treat symptoms of anxiety and panic disorders, provide relief, and improve your dog’s quality of life.
Remember, every drug has side effects ranging from mild to severe, and every drug will affect every dog differently. Like people, dogs respond to medications in a wide variety of ways and not all medications will be right for your four-legged friend. Xanax just may be one of them.
Then again, it could also be the one medication that works and improves your dog’s quality of life. You are the only one that can decide that for your pet. Like a parent with their child, you know your dog best.