Just like people, some dogs experience anxiety. But since dogs can’t talk with us, it can be hard to recognize the signs of stress. Anxiety may show up as hyperactivity, compulsive chewing or licking, constant barking, or depression. One of the treatment options for anxiety disorders is a prescription for an antidepressant called trazodone.
In this guide, we’ll go over what trazodone is, how it works, canine dosage, and possible side effects, as well as answer any lingering questions you may have so you can safely and confidently help manage your pup’s anxiety.
Trazodone is a serotonin antagonist/reuptake inhibitor (SARI) antidepressant used to treat both humans and dogs.3 It works by inhibiting serotonin from being absorbed into the circulatory system so that more serotonin stays in the brain, and it can have a mild sedative effect.
Serotonin is a chemical messenger that relays signals between brain cells.4 It plays a huge role in helping your brain regulate your mood and perform other bodily functions. Higher serotonin levels in the brain can help relieve anxiety and improve mood.
Trazodone for dogs is used to treat behavioral disorders related to stress or anxiety like separation anxiety, noise or situation phobias, aggression, and compulsive behavior.3 The increased levels of serotonin regulating their mood can help your dog feel calmer when they may typically be anxious or stressed, but it likely won’t address the root of the behavior. This is why trazodone may be prescribed in addition to other treatments like training, behavior modification, or other medication.
Trazodone is generally used on an as-needed basis during situations that may cause increased anxiety, but it can also be used for long-term anxiety management. Some specific situations when the short-term sedative effects of trazodone may be helpful for your dog are:
- Before a vet visit
- When you’re traveling
- When your dog is boarded or staying with someone other than you
- When company comes to visit your home
- After surgery or a procedure where your dog may need to be kept calm
How much trazodone you give dogs varies depending on their weight and needs. Generally, trazodone is given in low doses to start and slowly increased until the target dosage is reached. Trazodone is given by mouth, usually in tablet form, and can be given to dogs with or without food.3 If your pup is picky when taking medication, try giving it to them hidden in a treat.
Trazodone is considered an “extra-label” drug by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Veterinarians are able to use “extra-label” drugs approved by the FDA in a way not listed on the label.5 This means your dog’s dosage of trazodone may not be the standard dose written on the label. For this reason, it’s important to follow your vet's instructions very carefully.
Trazodone is a short-acting drug (the effects start and end in a short amount of time) that many dogs respond well to, but there are some potential side effects in dogs, including3:
- Sedation or lethargy
- Increased appetite
- Dilated pupils
- Vomiting or diarrhea
Monitor your dog after giving them trazodone, and contact your vet or an emergency clinic immediately if you notice any negative side effects or adverse reactions. Keep in mind that mild sedation may not be cause for alarm as it’s a common side effect of the way the drug works.
One of the more serious potential side effects that may occur when trazodone is given too quickly at high doses (aka an overdose), or used in combination with other serotonergic drugs, is serotonin syndrome. Serotonin syndrome is a condition that occurs when there’s too much serotonin in the body, and it could be fatal. Some of the signs that may indicate serotonin syndrome include3:
- Vomiting and diarrhea
- Dilated pupils
- Fever or increased heart rate
- Skin sensitivity
- Seizures, tremors, or twitches
- Difficulty breathing
If you notice any of these signs after giving your dog trazodone, call your vet or an emergency clinic immediately.
While trazodone is safe for most dogs, there are some instances when your vet may recommend another treatment. Dogs that are pregnant or have heart, kidney, or liver diseases may be more at risk for adverse effects if given trazodone.3 It’s also not recommended to give trazodone to dogs that are hypersensitive to it or have angle-closure glaucoma.3
There’s also the possibility of adverse reactions occurring due to drug interactions. Your dog will likely be prescribed another form of treatment if they are on certain drugs, such as monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs), antihypersensitive drugs, aspirin, certain antidepressants and depressants, certain antibiotics, tramadol, and certain antifungals.3
Make sure to tell your vet about any medication, supplements, vitamins, or herbal therapies your dog is taking before being prescribed trazodone.
We’ve covered a lot of information so far, but you still may have some lingering questions about using trazodone. Let’s dig into a few commonly asked questions.
If you’re using trazodone on an as-needed basis, it usually starts working in about 1 or 2 hours after a dose.3 If your dog is taking trazodone daily for long-term management, it may take a few weeks to notice the full effects. Every dog will experience the effects of the drug differently, but one dose will likely stop working in about 24 hours.3 Dogs with kidney or liver disease, however, may feel the effects for longer.
If your dog is prescribed trazodone at regular intervals and you miss a dose, note the time you realized it was missed. If you’re close to the next scheduled dose, skip the one you missed and give them their next dose when it’s time.3 You don’t want to double up on doses — that can lead to an overdose. The best thing you can do when you miss a dose is call your vet to ask how you should proceed.
Prices for trazodone vary depending on where you get the prescription filled and what the dose per tablet is, but you can typically expect to pay less than $1 per tablet. You may pay more if your prescription is filled at the vet, but retail websites typically have both low-dose and high-dose tablets for less. Once you know the dose your vet recommends, you’ll be able to get a better idea of how much it will cost you.
If your dog can’t take trazodone, talk with your vet to see what the alternatives are. You may be able to take advantage of cannabidiol (CBD) products, Thundershirts, chews or toys, behavioral training, or another anti-anxiety medication.
CBD treats and oils made specifically for dogs may help reduce anxiety. Just talk with your vet before you try this alternative approach to see if it’s safe for your dog.
No pet parent wants to see their dog in fear or stressed out. Sometimes, their fear may lead them to compulsive behaviors that can injure themselves or others. So if your dog suffers from general or situational anxiety, talk with your vet about a treatment plan that may include trazodone, other medications, or behavioral training. There are also things you can do at home to help calm your anxious dog.
A MetLife Pet Insurance1 policy may help cover some of the costs associated with medications, vet visits, or injuries as a result of your dog’s anxiety.2 Get your free quote today and see if a dog insurance policy can help relieve any financial stress so you can focus on your pup’s well-being.