Which Medication Should be Used for Dog Aggression?

Typically when a dog owner first researches whether medication could be used for aggression, they learn there are a number of medications that could be used.  Which medication is best?

Which medication(s) your dog will best respond to depends on the diagnosis, because aggression is only a symptom of an underlying problem, not a diagnosis in and of itself, as well as your dog’s individual physiology. A medication that works for one dog, may not work for another.

In determining which medication should be used for dog aggression, a veterinary behaviorist will consider a number of factors related to your dog including:

  • The problems and symptoms presented (this may include more than one type of aggression and more than just aggression)
  • Genetic predisposition
  • Health issues
  • Complicating factors in the dog’s environment (such as young children present, etc.)
  • Specific behavior indications

Dogs 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 such as Benzodiazepines that cause your dog to be sedated should not be used to treat dog aggression.

Medications commonly used to treat dog aggression and other behavior problems

According to Clinical Behavioural Medicine for Small Animals by Dr. Karen Overall, the following drugs may be prescribed for these behavior issues.  Each drug works slightly differently.

Many of these medication affect serotonin activity in the brain. Serotonin in a neurotransmitter than has been implicated in dog aggression and other behavior problems. The extent to which dogs metabolize these medications vary greatly. Learn more about serotonin and the relationship to dog aggression.

Fluoxetine (Known as Prozac® in human form, Reconcile® for dogs)

  • Owner directed aggression (has more success with this kind of aggression than fear aggression)
  • Fear aggression
  • Inter-dog aggression
  • Separation anxiety
  • Obsessive-compulsive behaviours

Sertraline (Zoloft®)

  • Owner directed aggression
  • Separation anxiety

Amitriptyline HC1 (Elavil®)

  • Owner directed aggression
  • Fear aggression
  • Separation anxiety

Clomipramine (Anafranil®, Clomicalm®) – more used for anxiety and compulsive disorders

  • Fear aggression
  • Separation anxiety
  • Noise phobias
  • Obsessive-compulsive behaviours

Buspirone (BuSpar®)

  • Fear aggression
  • Separation anxiety
  • Noise phobias
  • Obsessive-compulsive behaviours

Propranolol (Inderol®, Betachron®, Intensol®)

  • Fear aggression
  • General Anxiety

Risperidone (still considered experimental)

  • social directed regression
  • sociopathies
  • impulsive aggression
  • hallucinatory type signs

Supplements and Other therapeutic Aids

There are other therapeutic aids, from weighted blankets to supplements that can help improve anxiety and aggression in dogs. Some supplements can also influence neurotransmitters and potentially be quite powerful so should only be used in consultation with a veterinarian.

If you are considering supplements, care must be taken if your dog is on any medication.

Learn more about other therapeutic aids to improve dog aggression.

How quickly will medications work?

Pills out of bottle

Medication only helps aggression in those dogs who show signs that having unusual levels of neurotransmitters in their brain. For example, dogs who have had negative experiences during socialization or poor socialization may be physically normal.  For those dogs that show symptoms of unusual level of neurotransmitters, medication is still not a quick fix.

The medications typically take 1 to 4 weeks before you see an effect, and may need up to two months for the full impact in dogs that indicate that they need them.  

In general behavior medication needs to be prescribed for a minimum of 6 months depending on the situation to get the full benefits.  Medication on it’s own usually does not have much of an impact on reducing aggression without behavior modification.

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.

Are there side effects?

Side effects vary and do not affect every dog.  Side effects are more likely during the ramping on and off phases.  Common side effects may include a loss of appetite or lethargy for example, but in many cases these side effects will disappear after a few weeks as the dog gets used to the medication. Any excessive lethargy may indicate that the dose it too high for your dog. Learn more about serotonin and its relationship dog aggression. Consult with your vet if you notice anything.

Although it is not common, paradoxically, some dogs may become more aggressive if the fear or anxiety was actually preventing them from acting more aggressively. In most cases reducing anxiety usually results in a calmer dog. It is an important reason to address the learning and habits of aggression your dog has developed through behavior modification.

Some medications are contraindicated (not recommended) with certain conditions, such as a history of seizures, blood disorders, cardiac issues or diabetes. Your vet will need to take your dog’s health history into account to determine which medication is safest.

Never stop a medication suddenly. Just as a dog’s body and brain might need to get used to a medication over a period of time, he or she may also need to get used to being off the medication over a period of time.

Serotonin syndrome

Serotonin syndrome is when there is too much serotonin in the brain and can be potentially fatal. Be sure to speak to a veterinarian about any risks and what potential signs you should look out for. Learn more about serotonin and its relationship dog aggression.

See > Medications That Can Cause Dog Aggression

See > More on Common Behavioural Medications Used for Treating Dog Aggression

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