Which Medication Should be Used for Dog Aggression?

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If you’re wondering which medication should be used for dog aggression, this article will help. Whether your dog is already on medication or you’re exploring options, this guide provides valuable insights. It explains various treatments available for dog aggression and anxiety. We cover:

  • Factors a veterinary behaviorist considers when prescribing medication
  • Common medications used for dog aggression
  • Supplements and other therapeutic aids
  • How quickly medications work
  • Potential side effects and risks

This information will equip you to make informed decisions and have meaningful discussions with your vet.

Understanding the Root of Aggression and the Role of Medication

Aggression is a symptom of an underlying problem, not a diagnosis itself. This means that aggression in dogs is usually caused by deeper issues. These might be fear, anxiety, or medical conditions. Treating aggression effectively requires identifying and addressing these root causes. Simply managing the aggression without understanding the underlying problem is unlikely to result in lasting improvement. Recognizing aggression as a symptom helps ensure that the real issue is treated, leading to better outcomes for the dog.

Prescription medications or supplements are usually used alongside a behavior modification program because medication alone often isn’t enough to resolve aggressive behavior. Medications can reduce anxiety or stabilize mood, making it easier for dogs to learn new behaviors through structured training. Combining medication with behavior modification addresses both symptoms and underlying causes, increasing the chances of long-term success in managing and reducing aggression.

Factors Considered by Vets When Prescribing Medication

When a veterinarian chooses which medicine should be used for dog aggression, vets consider various factors. For example, a dog may show other symptoms unrelated to aggression that indicate the type of anxiety they are experiencing. This may lead the vet towards prescribing medication that helps a cluster of symptoms. Here are some of the factors that help determine the most effective course of medication:

  • Types of problems and symptoms
  • Genetic predisposition
  • Health issues
  • Environmental factors (e.g., presence of young children)
  • Specific behavior indications (ie. hyperactiveness, separation anxiety, compulsion, etc.)
  • Breed characteristics: Reactivity, aggression, and problem-solving abilities may influence medication choices.



Monitoring and Adjusting Medication

Each dog’s response to medication can vary. Dogs need careful monitoring, and dosages may need adjustment. Sometimes, multiple medications are required. If a dog doesn’t need medication physiologically, it won’t work. Medications that sedate, like Benzodiazepines, should not treat dog aggression, and perhaps be avoided altogether. See why below.

Medications are not the only option. There are supplements and therapeutic aids that can help. However, depending on the severity of the anxiety or aggression, medication may be necessary.

Common Medications for Dog Aggression

According to Clinical Behavioural Medicine for Small Animals by Dr. Karen Overall, the following drugs may be prescribed:

  • Fluoxetine (Known as Prozac® in human form, Reconcile® for dogs): For owner-directed aggression, fear aggression, inter-dog aggression, separation anxiety, and obsessive-compulsive behaviors.
  • Sertraline (Zoloft®): For owner-directed aggression and separation anxiety.
  • Amitriptyline HC1 (Elavil®): For owner-directed aggression, fear aggression, and separation anxiety.
  • Clomipramine (Anafranil®, Clomicalm®): For fear aggression, separation anxiety, noise phobias, and obsessive-compulsive behaviors. Positive effects for urination, defecation, and destruction. Used more for anxiety and compulsive disorders.
  • Buspirone (BuSpar®): For fear aggression, separation anxiety, noise phobias, and obsessive-compulsive behaviors.
  • Propranolol (Inderol®, Betachron®, Intensol®): For fear aggression and general anxiety.
  • Risperidone (experimental): For social-directed regression, sociopathies, impulsive aggression, and hallucinatory signs.

Warning: Benzodiazepines (alprazolam, lorazepam and diazepam) can reduce conditioned responses and cause memory problems. Alprazolam is recommended for panic-like conditions and research indicates can be highly effective for noise fears.1 However, benzodiazepines can interfere with behavior modification that relies on learning. Also, benzodiazepines might reduce bite inhibition, so they should be used cautiously in aggressive dogs.2 This is why benzodiazepines are not recommended for treating dog aggression.

Supplements and Therapeutic Aids

Supplements and other aids, like weighted blankets, body wraps, pheromone-based products can help with anxiety and aggression. Some supplements can be quite powerful and affect neurotransmitters. If you are considering supplements, they should be used with a veterinarian’s guidance. 

If your dog is on medication, be cautious with supplements.

How Quickly Will Medications and Supplements Work?

Medications and supplements may require several weeks to take effect due to the gradual adjustment of brain chemistry. For dogs with It usually takes 1 to 4 weeks to see effects and up to 2 months for full impact. Behavior medications need at least 6 months to be effective and are most beneficial with behavior modification.

Medications often need to be gradually increased or decreased. 

On the other hand, certain supplements can provide short-term benefits, lasting only a few hours and effective under specific conditions.  Short-term medications and supplements may work faster, within an hour, and can help in situational anxiety or training sessions.




Are There Side Effects?

Side effects vary and are more common during dosage adjustments. Common side effects include loss of appetite or lethargy, which often subside after a few weeks. If lethargy is excessive, the dose may be too high. Consult your vet if you notice any issues.

Reducing anxiety usually results in a calmer dog, but behavior modification is crucial to address learned aggressive behaviors. In rare cases, some dogs might become more aggressive if fear or anxiety acts as an inhibitor of aggressive behavior. 

Some medications are not recommended for certain conditions, such as seizures, blood disorders, heart issues, or diabetes. Your vet will consider your dog’s health history to determine the safest medication.

Never stop a long-term medication or supplement suddenly unless recommended by a veterinarian. Gradual adjustment is needed both when starting and stopping a medication.

Serotonin Syndrome

Serotonin syndrome, caused by too much serotonin, can be fatal. Discuss risks and signs with your veterinarian.

Learn more about serotonin and its relationship to dog aggression.

Holistic Approaches to Managing Dog Aggression

Beyond medication, treating dog aggression involves a holistic approach that encompasses various aspects of a dog’s life.  First, behavior modification. techniques play a crucial role in addressing specific triggers and teaching alternative behaviors. Also, dietary considerations, such as nutrition tailored to support calmness and well-being, can influence a dog’s behavior. Plus, enriching the environment with mental stimulation, interactive toys, and safe spaces can reduce stress and redirect focus. Regular exercise not only maintains physical health but also promotes mental relaxation and reduces pent-up energy that may contribute to aggression. When combined, these approaches can complement each other to create a comprehensive treatment plan tailored to the individual needs of the dog.

For those seeking further guidance on managing dog aggression effectively, consider exploring comprehensive resources like The Dog Aggression System. This e-book offers detailed strategies and insights into understanding and addressing aggression in dogs, providing valuable tools to enhance your dog’s well-being and foster a harmonious relationship.

In conclusion

In conclusion, addressing dog aggression requires a multifaceted approach that goes beyond medication alone. By understanding the underlying causes, implementing behavior modification techniques, and considering environmental factors and lifestyle adjustments, dog owners can significantly improve their pet’s quality of life. Medication, when necessary, can complement these efforts by providing support in managing symptoms. By working closely with veterinarians and behavior specialists, dog owners can tailor effective treatment plans that prioritize both physical and emotional health, ultimately leading to happier and safer interactions with their canine companions.


See > Medications That Can Cause Dog Aggression

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


Footnotes

  1. Bergeron, R.; Scott, S.L.; Émond, J.P.; Mercier, F.; Cook, N.J.; Schaefer, A.L. Physiology and Behavior of Dogs during Air Transport. Can. J. Vet. Res. 200266, 211–216. [Google Scholar] [PubMed] (Retrieved Feb 2023) ↩︎
  2. Simpson BS, Papich MG. Pharmacologic management in veterinary behavioral medicine. Vet Clin North Am Small Anim Pract. 2003;33(2):365–404. pmid:12701517 – View Article PubMed/NCBI Google Scholar (Retrieved Mar 2022) ↩︎
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