By: Dr. Juli, DVM @itsDrJuli
Humans and dogs have a lot in common. We all like going for walks, eating ice cream, and rolling around in the grass (okay, maybe that last one is just a dog thing). Another thing we humans have in common with our canine companions is that we get stressed out.
Seeing our dogs experiencing fear or discomfort can be heartbreaking for pet parents. We want to do whatever we can to ensure our four-legged family members are comfortable and anxiety-free. Yoga and mindful breathing may help some people reduce stress, but others require something stronger. Our pups are no different.
How Does Trazodone Work in Dogs?
Trazodone, also known by the brand name Oleptro, is an FDA-approved human anti-depressant and anxiety medication that increases the circulating serotonin in your dog's body by blocking some of the receptors that would otherwise absorb the chemical. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that regulates various body functions, including sleep, pain perception, body temperature, blood vessel constriction, gastrointestinal (GI) function, and blood clotting.
Serotonin is also known to induce happiness and decrease anxiety and depression in humans. Similar effects have been found in dogs prescribed the medication for various anxiety-inducing events, including veterinary visits, travel, separation anxiety, or generalized anxiety. Although this medication is prescribed "off label," it is safe for most healthy dogs who do not have underlying medical problems.
When Will My Vet Prescribe Trazodone?
Trazodone is primarily prescribed by your pup's veterinarian for situational anxiety or, in some cases, generalized anxiety. Managing your pet's stress in certain uncommon circumstances, such as travel, fireworks or thunderstorms, and veterinary visits, can be challenging. Although behavior modifications can help lessen your dog's anxiety, some circumstances can harm your dog's overall health and are not easily managed.
Common uses for trazodone include:
- Airline travel
- Long car trips
- July Fourth or New Year's Eve fireworks
- Veterinary examinations
- Separation anxiety
- Family or friend gatherings
- Post-surgery calming
- Cognitive Dysfunction in senior dogs
- Nighttime restlessness
- Hospitalization for illness
Trazodone can also be utilized for your dog's long-term generalized anxiety. In these cases, it can take several weeks to see the full effects of the medications.
Trazodone With Other Medications
For dogs with severe anxiety, additional medications, like gabapentin or acepromazine, may be required to effectively manage your pet's behavioral well-being. However, never give your pet any prescription or over-the-counter (OTC) medications unless instructed by your vet.
Ensure to inform your DVM if your dog takes prescription medications because many drugs should not be combined with trazodone. Additionally, some medications or OTC supplements, like melatonin, can enhance the effects of trazodone, which may affect your pup's prescribed dosage. Your vet may choose not to prescribe trazodone for your dog's behavior if they are taking any of the following medication types:
- Anti-hypertensive medications
- Antifungal medications (e.g., ketoconazole)
- Diuretics (e.g., Lasix)
- Macrolide antibiotics (e.g., erythromycin)
- Non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (e.g., Rimadyl)
- Pheothiazines (e.g., acepromazine)
- Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) medication (e.g., fluoxetine or Prozac)
- Monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs) (e.g., Selegiline)
Common Side Effects of Trazodone
Trazodone is a short-acting medication generally tolerated by most dogs and cats. Side effects, if any, are typically mild in healthy pets. Possible side effects may include:
- Dilated pupils
- GI upset (e.g., vomiting or diarrhea)
- Loss of muscle control (ataxia)
- Appetite changes
- Increased heart rate
Dogs who receive excessive amounts of serotonergic (serotonin-promoting) drugs are at risk for serotonin syndrome. This condition typically occurs when pets accidentally ingest certain human anti-depressive medications, including MAOIs, SSRIs, tricyclic anti-depressant or anxiety medications, ADHD medications, and serotonin precursors, like tryptophan. Serotonin syndrome can also occur when a dog sees multiple veterinarians and the prescribing DVM is not informed of other previously prescribed medications.
Ensure to provide your veterinarian with a list of all drugs and supplements that you are giving your pet. This syndrome can occur within hours of taking the excess medication. In some cases, the full effects may not be observed for several days. Bring your dog for immediate veterinary care if they are showing any of the following signs of serotonin syndrome:
- Increased or decreased heart rate
- Increased body temperature
Trazodone FAQs for Pet Parents
It's natural for pet parents to be apprehensive when giving their pup a new medication. Here are answers to some of the most frequently asked pet owner questions about giving your dog trazodone:
How long will it take for trazodone to calm down my dog?
Trazodone affects each dog differently, but effects for situational anxiety, like vet visits or noise phobias, are typically seen within one to two hours after medication ingestion. Dogs prescribed trazodone for long-term behavioral disorders may not see the full effects of the medication for several weeks.
How much trazodone does it take to calm my dog?
There is no one-size-fits-all dose of trazodone for dogs. Your veterinarian will calculate a dosage based on your dog's weight. The goal is to find the lowest effective amount to provide your dog with a calming effect without any adverse effects. In most cases, a trial dose will be prescribed before the stressful event, and the amount may be adjusted based on how your pup reacts.
Will trazodone make my dog sleepy?
Some dogs may experience drowsiness or sedation. Ensure to inform your veterinarian if your pet experiences sedation so the dose can be adjusted.
What is the typical dosing schedule for trazodone?
The dosing schedule will depend on the use of trazodone and your pet's tolerance for the drug. Trazodone can be given on an as-needed basis for situational anxiety every 12 to 24 hours. It can also be prescribed as a long-term daily medication every 12 to 24 hours.
How long will trazodone last in my dog?
Trazodone is a short-acting medication and will stop working within 24 hours of a dose in healthy pets. Effects may be observed for extended periods in dogs with liver or kidney disease.
Can I give my dog trazodone every day?
Trazodone can be given as a daily medication, but only under the direction of your veterinarian.
Trazodone Alternatives: More Tips for Calming Your Anxious Pup
Behavioral disorders can have similar signs to other medical problems, like pain, so bring your pet for a veterinary examination to rule out any underlying health problems. If you’d like to try some alternative calming methods before putting your pup on a daily medication, here are some ideas:
- Feed your dog a calming supplement.
- Spray your pet's room or kennel with a pheromone spray.
- Play calming music during a stressful event.
- Increase your dog's daily exercise.
- Get your pup a thunder shirt for stressful events.
- Consult a veterinary behaviorist to address your dog's behavioral disorders or anxiety.
- Provide your puppy with a special toy or treat during an anxiety-inducing event.
- Use positive reinforcement (and/or treats) when they are calm during a stressful event.
For more information and tips on your dog's health, check out the Native Pet blog.