Plenty of things can make our canine friends anxious: loud noises like thunder, a stranger in the house, other pets, being away from their owner (separation anxiety), injury, or illness. The list goes on and on.
For people with anxiety, there are many medication options to help us feel better. Alprazolam, better known by its brand name, Xanax, is one of those medications.
It turns out that some dogs can also benefit from anxiety medications, including alprazolam. But it’s not as simple as giving your dog a Xanax pill. On the contrary, giving your dog Xanax intended for humans can prove extremely dangerous.
Let’s take a closer look at Xanax for dogs and find out how to best address your dog’s anxiety problem, including some natural alternatives.
What Is Xanax, Exactly?
Xanax is a member of the benzodiazepine family of drugs along with other familiar names like Valium (diazepam) and Klonopin (clonazepam). It’s classified as a sedative or tranquilizer that works by depressing activity in parts of the central nervous system.
For dogs, Xanax can be used as an anti-anxiety medication (the most common use), or it may be prescribed as a muscle relaxant, sedative, or as an anticonvulsant to help with seizures. Other reasons why Xanax may be prescribed for a dog include:
- Separation anxiety
- Post-traumatic stress
- Irritable Bowel Syndrome
- Loss of appetite
Usually, Xanax comes in tablet form and may be given with or without food. The medication can also be given as a liquid solution for pets who need it administered that way.
If your pet is prescribed Xanax, make sure you’re completely clear on the dosing and administration instructions. Never give your dog Xanax that has been prescribed for a human, because the dosage is entirely different and can lead to serious health trouble.
Alprazolam is most effective when given at the earliest sign of anxiety or a panic attack, or even before the stress sets in. It’s often prescribed for dogs who become anxious during thunderstorms. Dog owners can give their pet Xanax when they know a storm is rolling in, effectively helping the dog to stay calm by the time the bad weather actually hits.
Alprazolam can be given to dogs under close veterinary supervision. But it’s critical to be aware that this medicine doesn’t come without its risks.
Are There Side Effects to Giving a Dog Xanax?
Yes, there is a possibility of side effects for dogs taking Xanax. Generally speaking, alprazolam can be hard on a dog’s liver and kidneys. Dogs with liver or kidney problems should not take Xanax unless they’ve been cleared to do so by a veterinarian.
The possible side effects of alprazolam include:
- Loss of coordination
- Increased appetite
- Aggressive behavior or over-excitement
Vets caution against giving Xanax to dogs that are pregnant, geriatric, or debilitated in some way, as well as pets suffering from kidney disease, liver disease, or glaucoma. Depressive drugs like Xanax can also affect working dogs, such as seeing-eye dogs, service dogs, and farm dogs. As such, it’s vital to have your vet monitor a working dog whose “job” might be affected by the medication.
Be aware that alprazolam can interact negatively with many other drugs. Some of the drugs that could interact with alprazolam include fluoxetine, amitriptyline, antacids, amiodarone, lithium, and fluvoxamine, just to name a few. If your dog is taking any other medications, or even vitamins or herbal supplements, it’s critical to let your veterinarian know.
Another concern with Xanax is that over the course of long-term use, dependency can develop. (This is also a concern for human patients.) If this happens, you’ll need to wean your dog off of the medication, and the withdrawal process can involve symptoms like vomiting, shaking, aggressive behavior, and more.
When giving your dog Xanax for the first time, make sure to supervise them closely for the first few hours. If you see any adverse reactions, it’s time to let your veterinarian know.
Are There Alternatives to Dog Xanax?
Most veterinarians will use Xanax or other anxiety medications as a last resort for dogs, or for pets with severe anxiety problems. There are various alternatives to Xanax — and anxiety medications in general — that may help your dog to feel more comfortable. Here are some natural alternatives for you to consider.
Exercise and Stimulation
Dogs who don’t get the proper amount of exercise every day can start to act out in undesirable ways, such as scratching, chewing, or getting aggressive. Your dog must have an outlet to release his or her pent-up energy — playing and exercising is that outlet.
Make sure your dog is getting the right amount of physical activity every day. Keeping Fido at a proper weight can also be extremely effective for helping your dog stay calm. Talk to your vet about creating an exercise plan for your dog.
Did you know that massage can help keep your dog calm? Many of the benefits that massage therapy offers to humans also apply to our canine friends. Massage is now widely accepted as a legitimate treatment within veterinary medicine. It can help a dog’s muscles relax, reduce tension throughout the body, and increase blood flow, among other benefits.
It sounds simple, but when it comes to situational anxiety, sometimes all it takes is distracting your dog until the situation is over. For instance, a dog with a fear of thunderstorms can be distracted with play or training during the storm. Ask your vet how to get started on this technique with your dog.
You may also consider giving your dog a natural remedy as a way to help calm anxiety. Hemp chews are a good example of this. To be clear, hemp oil is not a psychoactive substance, and the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) has deemed it for safe use in animals. You can also look for remedies with naturally calming ingredients, such as organic chamomile and valerian root.
For many pet owners, combining two or more of these methods can work effectively to calm a dog’s anxiety without resorting to medication like Xanax. For instance, making sure your dog gets enough exercise and slipping her a calming hemp treat before a thunderstorm might work to keep Bella calm until the bad weather has passed.
Is Dog Xanax a Good Idea for My Pooch?
Xanax should only be given to dogs with the approval and guidance of a veterinarian. Never give your dog Xanax that is prescribed to you or another person. When properly dosed and administered, Xanax is safe for dogs. But remember this caveat: Incorrect dosing or long-term excessive use can lead to serious side effects and even dependency.
Many dog owners will want to try more natural approaches to solve their pet’s anxiety issues before turning to medication. Ask your veterinarian about natural herbal remedies, massage, and exercise to help soothe your pet and improve their overall quality of life. If these approaches don’t work, your vet may recommend starting your dog on alprazolam or another type of anxiety medication.