MEDICATIONS USED FOR TREATING DOG AGGRESSION

Medications may be prescribed by a veterinary behaviorist for treating dog aggression in conjunction with behavior modification. While it’s not a quick fix, if your dog needs medication, the sooner they can be prescribed the better for your dog chances of improvement.

Common Behavioural Medications Used for Treating Dog Aggression

Antidepressants are a classification of medications based on their major behavioural affect on humans.  But it is a misleading description when it comes to treating dog aggression. Antidepressants or anti-anxiety medications primarily target major neurotransmitters in the brain that are implicated in many symptoms of behavior.  These neurotransmitters can also interact with and affect many other kinds of neurotransmitters in the brain. Each medication has a slightly different affect on the brain, Many work by blocking or stimulating the release of these neurotransmitters.  The underlying cause and the presenting symptoms of your dog’s disorder will guide a veterinary behaviorist to figure out which medication is best to try with the right treatment methods.

Here are some of the more common medications used for treating dog aggression: ·

  • Fluoxetine (Prozac, Reconcile®)
  • Sertraline (Zoloft)
  • Amitriptyline HC1 (Elavil)
  • Clomipramine (Anafranil, Clomicalm®) – more used for anxiety and compulsive disorders
  • Buspirone (BuSpar)
  • Propranolol (Inderal)

Fluoxetine and Sertraline are known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and Amitriptyline and Clomipramine are tricyclics (TCAs).  These classifications are based on how they work in the brain.  They may be used on their own or in combination with one another. SSRIs are more commonly prescribed to people because they tend to be more easily tolerated. Most troubling side effects are experienced as the body gets used to the medication or as the medication is weaned off.

Fluoxetine and Clomipramine are now licensed in the United States and Canada for primarily for the treatment of separation anxiety, but can also be prescribed for some forms of dog aggression.

Buspirone is in its own classification and is generally well-tolerated and is used as a non-sedating anti-anxiety drug and may be used for more mild forms of anxiety. It may also be combined with other classes of medications.

Propranol works differently by reducing the physiological affects of fear.  For example, when faced with an anxiety-producing situation, the heart rate and blood pressure normally rise. The affects alone can increase anxiety in humans. By reducing these affects, some people are able to better manage the anxious situation.  This medication blocks some of these physiological affects.

Can medication used to treat aggression make aggression worse?

Keeping in mind that aggression is only a symptom of an underlying cause – often anxiety  – any medication that treats anxiety and fear may also paradoxically disinhibit aggression. That means that a dog being treated for fear may be less afraid to act aggressively depending on the nature of his or her problems. Benzodiazepines in particular are not recommended for treating aggression for this fact alone.

A skilled veterinary behaviorist will consider and inform you of all the risk factors. It is important then to understand that regardless of any medications, a treatment plan still needs to address the learning component in dog aggression. Dogs tend to respond the way they have done in the past far more than humans do. A systematic re-training/ re-learning program such as the one we outline in our e-book, is necessary to change your dog’s behavior.  A vet should be providing you with one (or refer you to a professional they have vetted to work with you) if they are prescribing medication for aggression.

Which medication?

Typically when a dog owner is first faced with the concept of medication, they are inclined to ask other dog owners how the medication affected their dog.  The challenge is that aggression is only a symptom. It is not a diagnosis. Which medication(s) your dog will best respond to is less related to how “good” the medication is, and is much more dependent on the diagnosis. A veterinary behaviorist will consider a number of factors related to your dog including the problems and symptoms presented (this may include more than just aggression), genetics, and the dog’s physiological make up. The dog needs to be carefully monitored and sometimes the dose will need to be changed or the medication changed altogether.

In some cases more than one medication may be prescribed. In some cases if your dog does not have a physiological need for medication, medications will not work.  Medications that cause your dog to be sedated should be avoided. How quickly will medications work? The medications often need some time before their full affects will have an impact (often up to two months) and may need to be prescribed for a minimum of 6 months depending on the situation.  The medications often need to be “ramped” up or down when starting and finishing the medication.  This means they will start on a small dose and slowly start to increase the amount over time that the dog takes, or when coming off the medication, reduce the dose or the frequency it’s taken.  Side effects are more likely during the ramping on and off phases.

Learn more about other therapeutic aids to improve dog aggression.

Myth or reality?

There are a lot of misconceptions about “drugs” or medication used to help dog aggression.  Here is the reality about medications prescribed to dogs to help with aggressive behavior.

  • Medications don’t directly treat dog aggression.  They are prescribed to treat an underlying condition that may be influencing the aggression.
  • If your dog doesn’t need them, (i.e. if there is no biological need) the medicine will not work.
  • If your dog needs medication, it will allow your dog to be calmer and less fearful so your dog will be in a better position to learn
  • Medicine for dog aggression rarely eliminates aggression symptoms without other treatment methods such as behavior modification.
  • Medications for dog aggression are not a quick fix.
  • Medications for dog aggression don’t change your dog’s personality.
  • Medications for dog aggression don’t sedate your dog or make your dog dopey.
  • Medication for dog aggression does not cause addictions.

Regardless of any medications, a treatment plan still needs to address the learning component in dog aggression.  A systematic retraining, or relearning program such as the one we outline in our e-book, is necessary to change your dog’s behavior. The medications often need some time before their full affects will have an impact (often up to two months) and may need to be prescribed for a minimum of 6 months depending on the situation.

The medications often need to be “ramped” up or down when starting and finishing the medication.  This means they will start on a small dose and slowly start to increase the amount over time that the dog takes, or when coming off the medication, reduce the dose or the frequency it’s taken.  Side effects are more likely during the ramping on and off phases.

Tests prior to putting the dog on medication are a good idea to establish a baseline.  That way if a medication is impacting the dog in some other way, there is something to compare the results to prior to the dog being on the medication. Which medication(s) and how much depends on a number of factors including the problems and symptoms presented (this may include more than just aggression), genetics, and the dog’s physiological make up.

The dog needs to be carefully monitored and sometimes the dose will need to be changed or the medication changed altogether.   In some cases more than one medication may be prescribed.

See > Medications That Can Cause Dog Aggression

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