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Xanax for Dogs: When To Use It and When To Explore Other Options

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Dogs can suffer from many of the same ailments as their favorite humans. Anxiety is particularly common in dogs and can be triggered by thunderstorms or your absence. If your pup is suffering from anxiety, you may look for anything you can do to help them feel better. Often, people reach for prescription medications that help treat the same problems in humans.

Using Xanax for dogs can be helpful, but it also comes with risks. Here, we’ll show you what Xanax does, how and when to give it to your pup, and some safer alternatives you can try first.

What Is Xanax?

Xanax is the brand name for the anti-anxiety medication alprazolam. The medication is approved for use by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to treat a variety of anxiety disorders and panic attacks. The medication is a controlled substance, meaning it requires a prescription from a qualified doctor for use. 

Xanax is part of a group of drugs known as benzodiazepine tranquilizers. Other benzodiazepines and muscle relaxants include valium — the brand name for diazepam —  and clonazepam. These drugs target the central nervous system, causing an increase in GABA — an amino acid that produces calming changes in mood. They're known as tranquilizers or sedatives thanks to the calming effects they produce.

People use this medication to treat anxiety disorders as well as to manage stress when flying or in other uncomfortable situations. Veterinary medicine professionals occasionally prescribe the medication for dogs, particularly for those who suffer from anxiety and as an anticonvulsant. Other reasons a veterinarian might prescribe Xanax for a dog include seizures, post-traumatic stress, depression, irritable bowel syndrome, and loss of appetite.

Like in humans, dog anxiety medications like Xanax must be prescribed by a licensed veterinarian (DVM). Read on to find out more about Xanax in dogs including prescriptions for dogs, potential side effects, and other treatment options.

Giving a Dog Xanax

Xanax for dogs: A dog laying on the floor

You can give your dog Xanax, but like most prescription medications, it’s important to use proper dosing. You should not give your dog Xanax without veterinary approval and monitoring. Don’t give your dog Xanax pills prescribed to you or a family member as the doses are significantly different. A vet can tell you how much Xanax to give your dog, how often, and how to identify warning signs of adverse side effects. 

Typically, your vet will prescribe Xanax to treat anxiety in dogs. Dogs may experience anxiety when they're left alone. They can also develop anxiety that's brought on by thunderstorms or other triggers, such as loud noises, phobias, and new experiences. Xanax is traditionally only used in severe cases of anxiety since mild to moderate anxiety can be treated with other methods that have fewer side effects. 

If you decide to give your pup Xanax, your vet will start with a low dose so they can see how much medication is required for effective treatment. The goal is to avoid giving your dog more medicine than necessary. It’s best to administer the medication one hour before an anxiety-inducing event. Xanax usually comes in pill form and can be given with food or in a treat like peanut butter. Pet owners can monitor weather reports or plan ahead for vacations and give dogs Xanax before these triggers can cause anxiety. 

While Xanax can be effective in severe anxiety cases, there are also some safety concerns. Read on to learn more about the side effects of Xanax for dogs and discover other tools to help calm your furry friend.

Side Effects of Xanax in Dogs

Xanax for Dogs: A dog covers his face with his paw

Xanax poses certain risks for dogs. It's a powerful medication that may cause side effects including kidney and liver problems. Don’t give your dog Xanax if he or she has kidney disease or liver conditions. Other side effects of Xanax in dogs include loss of coordination or motor function, fatigue, and increased appetite. Some dogs may experience over-excitement or aggression.

Xanax may also cause mood or behavior changes that can affect their ability to provide services. If you have a service dog, guide dog, or working dog, it’s critical to consult a veterinarian before giving them Xanax.

Additionally, Xanax may interact with other medications, making them less effective or causing additional side effects. Xanax may interact with antacids, fluoxetine, amitriptyline, vitamins, and supplements. Tell your vet about any medications or supplements you’re giving your dog before starting them on a Xanax prescription.

One of the most significant side effects of Xanax is withdrawal. Long-term use of Xanax can cause dogs to become dependent on the medication. If you stop giving your dog Xanax, they may develop withdrawal symptoms, including vomiting, trembling, and aggression. Use Xanax sparingly or look into alternatives to avoid dependence-related issues.

Milder Treatment Options Than Xanax for Dogs

Xanax for dogs: A dog looks out the window

There are many other ways you can treat dog anxiety without reaching for prescription-strength treatments like Xanax. You can try other dog anxiety medications such as clomipramine to help reduce symptoms in a dog who can’t tolerate Xanax.

Massage is another tool that can help soothe a dog’s anxiety. Gently massaging your pup’s muscles can help increase calm, reduce tension, and boost your dog’s mood through affectionate contact. You can massage your dog yourself or go to a pet massage specialist.

Keeping your pup exercised and stimulated can help reduce boredom and prevent your dog from acting out. This behavior modification can make a huge difference for dogs who suffer from separation anxiety as well. By keeping them distracted with toys and activities, your pet has less time to feel anxious or mischievous.

You can also use distractions such as playing fetch when there is a thunderstorm or loud noises outside. Keeping your pet focused on something else prevents them from getting worked up about an anxious situation.

Dog calming chews that contain calming ingredients such as CBD oil, valerian root, and chamomile are also a great way to reduce stress. These ingredients may offer similar calming effects without the negative side effects of prescription medications.

Protect Your Pup’s Mental Health

Xanax for dogs: A happy puppy lays on his back

Like humans, dogs can suffer from mental health issues, including anxiety. If you have an anxious pup, using natural alternatives, exercising them, and providing distractions can be a lower risk choice than giving your pup Xanax. If you do choose to use Xanax for dogs, talk to a veterinarian to get the right dosage for your dog and information on how to monitor them for side effects.

For more health-related information about your furry friend, check out our blog. You’ll find information on everything from supplements for your pup to dog skin allergies to training tools and techniques.

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This article was vet approved by Dr. Brielle Weldon, MS, DVM, cVMA

Dr. Weldon is a leading holistic veterinarian who obtained her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine from Colorado State University and specializes in natural, gentle and alternative modalities for pet health and wellness. These include using herbs and supplements, acupuncture, laser therapy and more.