What Should You Choose – Anxiety Medication for Dogs or Behavior Modification

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By Tess Thompson

Understanding your dog’s body language can be a complex task. Researchers now believe that a single behavior may have multiple meanings; therefore an action cannot be generalized. Dog behavior has to be understood in context.

We tend to generalize that when a dog wags his tail, he is happy. However, there are times when a dog will wag his tail (for example when you are leaving him to go out) to convey anxiety rather than excitement.

Domesticated dogs form a healthy bond with the owner and their family. This leads to overdependence on the owner which can at times become overbearing. More than anything else, overdependence can lead to fear of separation. Over time, if unchecked this anxiety can lead to abnormal behavior from an otherwise friendly dog. Fear and aversion to isolation is one of the main reasons behind anxiety that can cause undesirable and abnormal behavior in dogs.

Treating separation anxiety in dogs with medication is the route that many pet owners take since it is probably easier than the other options. As with most conventional medicines, anxiety medication has its own drawbacks.

Clomipramine and amitriptyline are two main drugs that are used to suppress anxiety in dogs. These drugs are tricyclic antidepressants and can have serious side effects. They can also interfere with other medications that the dog may need for other conditions. Listed below are some of the side effects of the antidepressants that need to be monitored:

  • Diarrhea, sedation and vomiting
  • Urine retention
  • Low blood pressure
  • Disturbance in bowel movements
  • Dry mouth and decreased salivation

Another reason why anxiety medication should be avoided if possible is that these drugs are not final solutions for the problem. At best, these medications will help in calming the dog for a short period of time. Once the effect of the drug wears off, similar issues with abnormal behavior are likely to start.

Given the severe side effects that such medication can cause, it is prudent to resort to using them only under certain unavoidable circumstances. Here are some of the situations that may lead you to consider anxiety medication:

  • Extremely severe symptoms of anxiety
  • The need to leave the dog alone for a prolonged period of time
  • Using the medication during the intermediary period while you are trying to modify your dog’s behavior

Your efforts should probably aim at relieving stress in your pet rather than opting for medication. Such medication can only prove to be a stopgap solution. To ensure that the root cause of the anxiety is treated and cured permanently, behavior modification is essential. The process of behavior modification is not an easy one, and it requires high levels of patience. Sometimes it is necessary to train your dog all over again.

The premise behind behavior modification is to assure your pet that you will always return when you leave him. You can try a new safety cue for your dog when you have to leave him. To start with, leave the cue, like a comforting toy, and then come back within a couple of minutes. Gradually increase your dog’s exposure to situations that you feel cause anxiety. Train your dog to expect pleasure rather than fear from situations that normally give rise to anxiety.

Make sure that you are prepared for situations wherein you may have to retrace your steps in the behavior modification process. Being prepared will enable you to handle frustrating situations in a better manner.


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