3 medications for triggered pets

March 15, 2017

Dr. ELise Christensen shares a few her favorite medication options for fast fixes during situational anxiety, panic and phobia.

Photo: Getty Images/VettaAccording to veterinary behaviorist E'Lise Christensen, DVM, DACVB, behavior runs deep beneath the human-animal bond and the tie can be strained or even permanently severed if problems arise. Helping animals with their behavioral issues is rewarding, but getting there can be a slow process, and when it comes to situational anxiety, panic and phobia in pets, you want to see results fast. At a recent CVC, Dr. Christensen shared a list of her favorite medications that can help a dog within 60 to 90 minutes-a short amount of time compared to going without medication. Here are some of the many that she shared from her session.

The benzodiazepines

Use: Common medications in this class include diazepam, clonazepam, clorazepate, alprazolam, lorazepam and oxazepam. These alter gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), the most widespread inhibitory neurotransmitter in the brain. According to Dr. Christensen, this neurotransmitter moderates vigilance, anxiety, muscle tension, neuronal excitability and memory (too much GABA can inhibit memory).

Side effects: Sedation, ataxia, increased appetite, muscle relaxation, paradoxical excitation/anxiety, idiopathic hepatic necrosis and impaired learning. (Note: Impaired learning should not be a rational reason to exclude this category of medications from your tool box because anxiety, panic and fear also impair learning.)


Use: Indicated for patients with anxiety disorders and for calming active patients after surgery. According to Dr. Christensen, veterinary studies have reported improvement in clinical signs around 60 to 90 minutes after administration in most patients.1-4

Side effects: Nausea (can be prevented in many patients by starting at the low end of the dose range and titrating up as needed), diarrhea, ataxia, sedation, panting, increased anxiety, agitation and irritability.


Use: Indicated in dogs with fear-related aggression, noise phobia and separation anxiety. According to Dr. Christensen, this alpha2-agonist works by blocking norepinephrine release in the locus ceruleus and is effective in 60 to 90 minutes in many patients. It can be used as a single agent or rationally with selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, benzodiazepines or trazodone if additional control of panic is required.

Side effects: Sedation, ataxia, increased agitation, anxiety, irritability and nausea.


1. Gruen ME, Sherma BL. Use of trazodone as an adjunctive agent in the treatment of canine anxiety disorders: 56 cases (1995-2007). J Am Vet Med Assoc 2008;233:1902-1907.

2. Gruen ME, Roe SC, Griffith E, et al. Use of trazodone to facilitate postsurgical confinement in dogs. J Am Vet Med Assoc 2014;245:296-301.

3. Jay AR, Krotscheck U, Parsley E, et al. Pharmacokinetics, bioavailability, and hemodynamic effects of trazodone after intravenous and oral administration of a single dose to dogs. Am J Vet Res 2013;74:1450-1456.

4. Gilbert-Gregory SE, Stull JW, Rice MR, et al. Effects of trazodone on behavioral signs of stress of hospitalized dogs. J Am Vet Med Assoc 2016;249:1281-1291.