This medication can be a useful tool for dogs who struggle with anxiety, fear, or other behavioral disorders.
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woman cuddling a black french bulldog
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Just like people, many dogs experience fear or anxiety from time to time. Unfortunately, also like people, some struggle with severe anxiety that affects their quality of life. The good news is that modern medicine can help. Trazodone is one of several anti-depressant drugs used for dogs diagnosed with anxiety and other behavioral disorders.

Some pet parents hesitate to use medication to address behavior concerns because they worry about "drugging" their dogs. Many would rather focus on methods like training and socialization to reduce fear and anxiety. While these techniques can help some dogs overcome their undesirable feelings and behaviors, others need a little extra help. Drugs like trazodone are not intended to completely resolve behavioral disorders; they are tools to be used along with gentle behavior modification techniques that include positive reinforcement training and socialization.

It's hard to watch your precious pooch suffer through unwanted feelings and urges, but you're not in this alone! Work closely with your veterinarian to develop the right treatment plan for your dog. Your vet may refer you to a veterinary behaviorist or certified animal behavior consultant for additional support.

What Is Trazodone Used for in Dogs?

Trazodone is an antidepressant drug—specifically a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor and serotonin type 2 receptor antagonist. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter, a type of chemical messenger in the brain that relays signals to the neurons (brain cells). Serotonin plays an important role in several bodily functions, including psychological aspects such as mood. Drugs like trazodone work by inhibiting serotonin resorption, thus increasing the level of serotonin in the brain.

Trazodone is often used in humans to treat depression and insomnia. In veterinary medicine, it's sometimes prescribed to treat behavioral disorders in dogs and cats. Dogs with fear and anxiety may benefit from trazodone therapy. Veterinarians may prescribe it to reduce fear and anxiety in stressful situations, like thunderstorms, fireworks, vet visits, and boarding. Because it also has sedative effects, it's sometimes used in conjunction with anesthesia drugs for surgery and other medical procedures. In addition, trazodone has been used to help calm dogs who need to be confined and to have their exercise restricted while they recover from surgery or injury.

Anxiety makes it difficult for dogs to learn, so training and socialization can be less effective for a nervous dog. Trazodone can help reduce anxiety enough so that dogs can actually learn from techniques like desensitization and counterconditioning exercises, training sessions, and socialization events. It's important to work closely with your dog while using trazodone—the medication alone will not address the root of the behavior. For help with training and socialization techniques, seek assistance from a certified animal behaviorist or trainer.

Trazodone is available in generic forms as well as the brand names Oleptro and Desyrel. There is no veterinary-labeled form of trazodone, but some vets keep it in stock. It can also be purchased from a human pharmacy with a prescription from your veterinarian.

What Are Potential Trazodone Side Effects in Dogs?

Dogs generally tolerate trazodone well, but the following side effects may occur:

  • Sedation/drowsiness
  • Lethargy
  • Vomiting
  • Colitis (inflammation of the colon)
  • Ataxia (drunken gait)
  • Heart arrhythmia
  • Increased appetite

Some dogs will respond poorly to trazodone and experience increased anxiety or agitation. Stop this medication and contact your vet if trazodone is making your dog's fear or anxiety worse.

Trazodone Dosage for Dogs

Trazodone is given to dogs orally as a pill. The recommended dosage of trazodone for dogs generally ranges from 1 to 19 milligrams per kilogram of the dog's mass, per day. Dogs with chronic behavioral disorders may be prescribed the extended-release tablets to be taken daily. However, trazodone can be used on an as-needed basis with a fast onset as long as you are not using extended-release tablets. This can be very helpful for sudden scary events, like thunderstorms.

Can Dogs Overdose on Trazodone?

It's possible for dogs to overdose on trazodone if they are accidentally given too much or they get into the bottle of pills. Be sure to keep this and other medications out of your dog's reach. Trazodone overdose can cause serotonin syndrome, a dangerous condition that may cause the following:

Seek professional help if your dog gets an overdose of trazodone. Call your local veterinarian, a nearby animal emergency center, or a pet poison control service like ASPCA Animal Poison Control at (888) 426-4435 or Pet Poison Helpline at (855) 764-7661. You may be advised to induce vomiting if the overdose occurred within the last hour. Your dog may also need veterinary supportive care to manage symptoms and provide comfort.

Trazodone Drug Interactions and Warnings

Several drugs can interact with trazodone, so be sure to tell your vet about all of your dog's medications and supplements. If trazodone is used with other drugs that affect serotonin, it increases the risk of serotonin syndrome and other complications. This includes other SSRIs, monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs), certain antifungal drugs (like ketoconazole and fluconazole), and certain antibiotics (like erythromycin).