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Why pet owners are switching to online vet care with Dutch

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Like humans, dogs can experience stress and anxiety that can negatively affect their quality of life. For example, some dogs experience stress at the vet, while others experience anxiety throughout the day. Unfortunately, there are many different causes of anxiety in dogs, such as bad past experiences and trauma or fear of the unknown. For example, dogs that aren't trained or socialized early in life may fear strangers and other pets.

Unfortunately, even if your dog was trained and socialized as a puppy, they can still experience situational anxiety. For example, your dog might fear going to the vet, thunderstorms, and fireworks. Luckily, several solutions, including anti-anxiety medication like trazodone, can help relieve some of your pet's anxiety, whether they're afraid of the vet or anxious around strangers. But what is trazodone, and is it the right option for your canine companion? Keep reading to learn more about trazodone, its uses, and side effects.

What Is Trazodone?

Trazodone is an anti-anxiety medication for dogs and cats. The active ingredient in the medication is trazodone hydrochloride, and it was first created in the 1960s for human use as an antidepressant, anti-obsessional for ritualistic behavior, and anti-anxiety medication.1

Trazodone is categorized as a serotonin antagonist reuptake inhibitor (SARI) antidepressant2 used to treat a variety of behavioral disorders in dogs, including separation anxiety, noise phobias, and situational anxiety.

Trazodone is considered an off-label medication for dogs because it's not currently approved by the FDA for use in pets. However, that shouldn't stop you from using it at your vet's recommendation if your dog suffers from anxiety. Trazodone can be an effective tool to help calm pets in anticipation of stressful situations and events, such as going to the vet, separation from their pet parents, fireworks, and more.

It's important to note that trazodone for dogs is primarily used for temporary relief from fear or anxiety. Some dogs may use trazodone long-term, but since it's a short-acting medication, most dogs will only need it for situational anxiety and phobias. In fact, it is considered very effective in 72.5% of dogs.1

Graphic displaying the efficacy of trazodone in dogs, by percentage

Uses

Trazodone is an oral tablet that can be administered to your dog before a stressful event. In a study on the use of trazodone to help confine dogs after surgery, pet parents reported that the medication took effect between 41-45 minutes with an average duration of four or more hours.3 That said, every dog is different, and most vets recommend giving it to your dog two hours before a stressful event.

In the veterinary field, trazodone for dogs is primarily used to treat short-term anxiety and phobias, such as separation anxiety, and noise phobias like fireworks and thunderstorms. However, it can also facilitate training in dogs that have fears of other people and pets.

Common symptoms of anxiety trazodone can help alleviate include:

The above symptoms are associated with conditions like anxiety, phobias, and behavioral disorders. For example, a dog that howls while its pet parents are away likely suffers from separation anxiety. However, trazodone can reduce their anxiety to help them stay calm, ultimately reducing their vocalization.

Efficacy

Trazodone for dogs is a popular short-term anxiety treatment because it's been proven effective. In a recent study on the use of trazodone to treat canine anxiety disorders, dogs with generalized anxiety disorders were given trazodone daily, while those with episodic anxiety or recognized triggers were treated as needed.1 72.5% of the clients in the study stated that trazodone was very effective, 12.5% stated that it was somewhat effective, and only 7.5% stated that it was ineffective for their pet.1

List of trazodone side effects

Trazodone For Dogs: Side Effects

In the study on trazodone for the treatment of anxiety disorders in dogs, most dogs tolerated the medication well. Approximately 80% of dogs had zero adverse side effects reported.1 However, it’s important to note that every dog is different. Some pet parents in the study reported trazodone side effects in dogs and discontinued the use of the medication, so it's important to talk to your vet and follow up with them if your dog experiences a change in behavior or signs of illness while taking trazodone.

The most common trazodone side effect in dogs is sedation, but this is the desired effect. Since trazodone can alleviate anxiety, your dog will appear calmer because they're mildly sedated. Other possible side effects include GI issues, such as vomiting, diarrhea, and loss of appetite. In addition, it can cause disinhibition, which can lead to aggressive behavior. However, in the aforementioned study, no dogs experienced aggression as a side effect.1 If your dog experiences any side effects, contact your vet as soon as possible.

Only 20% of dogs experience adverse side effects when prescribed trazodone

Trazodone Overdose

Following your vet's instructions when administering trazodone to your dog is essential. Trazodone doses for dogs vary depending on your pet’s needs. However, a trazodone overdose is a medical emergency. If your dog consumes more than they should, contact your vet as soon as possible for the next steps. Signs of overdose typically occur within 30 to 60 minutes after exposure and can last 10 to 12 hours or more.4 These symptoms include:

  • Depression
  • Lack of coordination
  • Low or high blood pressure
  • Slow or fast heart rate
  • Urinary incontinence
  • Seizures
  • Tremors4

Your vet will start your dog on a low dose of trazodone to avoid potential overdose and side effects. However, if you ever accidentally double dose your dog or they somehow consume more trazodone than they should, they could develop a condition called serotonin syndrome.

Trazodone affects serotonin receptors and is commonly prescribed with other medications to treat dog anxiety.1

Serotonin syndrome can cause behavioral changes like agitation and depression and lead to diarrhea, seizures, and death.5 Serotonin syndrome is rare, so it's not something most pet parents will have to worry about. As long as you're following your vet's dosing instructions, you can avoid this potentially fatal condition.

In addition, you should avoid giving your dog two or more doses of trazodone at the same time. If you miss a dose, give it to them immediately. However, if you're only a few hours away from giving them their next dose, you can skip the missed dose and continue on the regular schedule to avoid potential overdose.

If your dog consumes too much trazodone, contact your vet immediately. You can also call the Pet Poison Helpline at (855) 764-7661 or ASPCA Animal Poison Control at (888) 426-4435 to help you determine whether to take your dog to an emergency veterinary clinic.

How Long Does Trazodone Last In Dogs?

Trazodone for dogs is a fairly fast-acting, short-lived medication that takes effect within 1-2 hours and generally lasts anywhere from 6 to 12 hours. However, every dog is different. Therefore, when you first start giving your dog trazodone, you should monitor them to determine when it takes effect. In some dogs, it can take effect within a half hour; in others, it can take more than two hours. In addition, during your trial, you should note how long the trazodone lasts.

Is Trazodone Right For Your Dog?

Only you and your vet can decide if trazodone is right for your dog. However, it might be right if your dog experiences situational anxiety that you can prepare for. Trazodone typically takes at least one hour or more to start working, so it should only be used for situations you can predict, such as fireworks, thunderstorms, or instances of separation. Trazodone might be right for your dog if they suffer from the following:

  • Travel anxiety: If your dog gets anxiety in the car, trazodone can help them stay calm and prevent them from trying to jump in your lap. Additionally, it may alleviate symptoms such as howling, barking, shaking, panting, and trying to escape.
  • Separation anxiety: Dogs are companion animals, and many of them develop separation anxiety that can cause excessive vocalization, destructive behavior, and house soiling. Trazodone may help relieve your dog's anxiety while you're away to prevent undesirable behaviors.
  • Fear of the vet: Many dogs fear the vet, but they need treatment. Unfortunately, if your dog is too afraid, your vet can't give them vaccinations or check their vitals. Trazodone can help reduce some of their anxiety to make getting treatment less stressful.
  • Noise phobias: Many dogs are afraid of loud, sudden noises like fireworks and thunderstorms. Giving your dog trazodone a few hours before a stressful event can reduce their fear and prevent them from trying to escape.

Trazodone Alternatives

Trazodone is primarily used for situational anxiety that you can predict. Unfortunately, it’s not the best option for all dogs. While they're proven effective for reducing anxiety, some dogs suffer from higher levels of anxiety that can affect their overall quality of life. If you have an anxious pup, they might benefit from trazodone alternatives, such as:

  • Calming supplements: Calming supplements contain ingredients to promote relaxation and calmness. These supplements are designed for dogs with mild anxiety, but they can't reduce behavioral problems associated with severe anxiety.
  • Sertraline and paroxetine: Sertraline and paroxetine are selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) that can regulate mood by blocking the reabsorption of serotonin and increasing the amount available.6 They're used daily and can take a few weeks to build up to effective levels. However, combined with behavior modification, they can greatly reduce anxiety in dogs.
  • Fast-acting medications: Fast-acting medications are short-lasting and take effect quickly and then taper off to help with situational anxiety. Some examples include gabapentin, which can calm a dog's nervous system, and benzodiazepines like xanax, used for dogs with triggers like thunderstorms.

FAQs

How does trazodone make a dog feel?

Trazodone has a sedative effect on dogs, which can make them feel calm and tired. In most cases, your dog will want to take a nap as soon as the stressful event is over. However, they'll still be alert. They'll still be able to be active and go on walks or stay awake during a stressful event. Your dog should never be loopy or out of it when taking trazodone. Instead, they might become lethargic for a few hours before the medication wears off.

How much trazodone will calm a dog?

The trazodone dose for dogs depends on various factors, including their level of anxiety and weight. In most cases, your vet will start your dog on a trial dose and have you report back any changes in behavior or stress. From there, they may increase the dosage or keep it the same to get the desired result. It's essential to follow your vet's instructions to ensure your dog's safety when taking trazodone.

Does trazodone make dogs sleepy?

Trazodone can make dogs sleepy or drowsy because it has a sedative effect. Expect your dog to appear more relaxed and calm. When dogs are relaxed and calm, they tend to sleep, so if your dog isn't experiencing any anxiety, they might take a long nap. However, while they might be sleepy, they should still be able to engage in their favorite activities, like going on a walk.

Middle aged latina smiling and lovingly holding her dog in the park

Final Notes

Trazodone is an effective anti-anxiety medication for dogs used to treat situational anxiety. If your dog is afraid of going to the vet, thunderstorms, fireworks, and other loud noises or suffers from separation anxiety or fear of other people and pets, you can give them trazodone a few hours before a stressful event to alleviate their symptoms.

Of course, trazodone may not be right for every dog. Your dog's anxiety treatment will depend on several factors, including age, health, and type of anxiety. Worried about your dog's anxiety? Talk to a Dutch vet today. Our vets can help relieve your dog's anxiety with an effective treatment plan.

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References

  1. Gruen, Margaret E., and Barbara L. Sherman. "Use of Trazodone as an Adjunctive Agent in the Treatment of Canine Anxiety Disorders: 56 Cases (1995–2007)." AVMA, American Veterinary Medical Association, 15 Dec. 2008, https://avmajournals.avma.org/view/journals/javma/233/12/javma.233.12.1902.xml

  2. Shin, Justin J, and Abdolreza Saadabadi. Trazodone . 10 July 2022, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK470560/

  3. Gruen, Margaret E, et al. "Use of Trazodone to Facilitate Postsurgical Confinement in Dogs." Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, U.S. National Library of Medicine, 1 Aug. 2014, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4414248/

  4. "Understanding Trazodone Toxicosis." ASPCApro, 20 Mar. 2023, https://www.aspcapro.org/resource/understanding-trazodone-toxicosis

  5. "Antidepressant Drug Overdoses in Dogs ." ASPCApro, https://www.aspcapro.org/sites/default/files/e-toxbrief_0700.pdf

  6. "The Most Commonly Prescribed Type of Antidepressant." Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 17 Sept. 2019, https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/depression/in-depth/ssris/art-20044825

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Frequently Asked Questions

Who is Dutch?

Dutch is an online veterinary pet telehealth service, created by pet parents and board-certified veterinary specialists. We use a science-backed approach to provide pets relief for their everyday physical and behavioral health issues. Dutch connects you with licensed veterinarians over video chat and messaging to help you get care for your dog or cat quickly wherever you are — without the stress or expense of a vet visit. We also partner with pharmacies who can deliver prescription medication (in applicable states only) and over-the-counter treatments directly to your door. Dutch isn’t a veterinary practice or pharmacy, but a company that helps facilitate these services for pet parents to make veterinary care more accessible to all.

What is a visit with Dutch like?

When booking a video call with a vet, you'll be asked a few questions about your pet’s health issue. Depending on the issue, you may also be asked to fill out a longer questionnaire about their symptoms and share photographs of them so our veterinarians can better understand what’s going on. You’ll then pick an appointment time that works best for you.

During your video call, one of our licensed veterinarians will talk to you about the symptoms your pet is experiencing, ask you questions, review your pet’s medical history if you’ve provided it, and answer any questions you have. The vet will ask to see your pet and their environment. And they may ask you to perform some simple checks on them if needed.

After your video call, the vet will send you a message with a custom treatment plan to help your pet feel better, including a link to buy any recommended prescription or over-the-counter medications. Place your order and we’ll ship it free.

How much will it cost for Dutch to treat my pet?

The Dutch membership starts at $11/mo for unlimited access to the vet. No more long waits for appointments or surprise bills.

In addition to the base membership plan, our veterinarians may also recommend additional medication (Rx and/or OTC) that you will have the option of adding to your plan at an additional cost.