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Xanax for Dogs: Dosage and Side Effects

Picture this scenario:

It’s time for work so you settle your new rescue dog in his crate.

You take a last look before closing the front door, reassured to see him chewing enthusiastically on a Kong stuffed with his favorite food.

Unfortunately, whilst you are gone a thunderstorm breaks overhead.

You return home to find the crate destroyed, the lounge-room covered in blood, and the dog bleeding from his mouth and feet.

It transpires that he’s so terrified of thunder he panicked inside the crate and injured himself in a frantic attempt to escape from the fearful noise.

What no one knew when you took on this rescue dog is that he has a noise phobia.

Sadly, a fear of loud noises such as storms, gunshots, or fireworks is a common problem amongst our dogs, and can result in destruction of property and terrible injuries to the dog in their attempts to escape.

black dog

This scenario is a classic example of where Xanax for dogs could come into its own.

This drug helps a distressed dog cope with their anxiety, and whilst it’s not a drug to use lightly, when the pros and cons are balanced up, the benefits could save your pet from psychological distress and physical harm.

1. What is Xanax?

Xanax is the trade name for a drug called alprazolam.

The latter is a drug from the benzodiazepine family, which counts valium amongst its numbers.

Xanax acts the brain to alter the chemicals it releases in response to fear and anxiety.

It has a number of effects but is primarily used for as a mood-altering drug, an anticonvulsant, muscle relaxant, and appetite stimulant.

2. Can You Give a Dog Xanax?

Xanax can be a useful drug to help specific conditions, but it should not be given lightly and always under the guidance of a veterinarian.

You need to be sure the benefits the dog derives outweigh the possible risks and side effects.

Those conditions where the vet will consider prescribing Xanax for a dog include:

  • Extreme anxiety: This includes disorders such as noise phobia (for example our rescue dog in a thunderstorm or dogs fearful of fireworks) or separation anxiety where the dog suffers psychological distress when left alone
  • Anticonvulsant: Drugs from the benzodiazepine family alter the way the brain works and may be used to control seizures as they happen.
  • Appetite Stimulant: One of the Xanax side effects in dogs is that it stimulates the appetite. Whilst this is not desirable in the majority of cases, for an underweight dog that has anxiety issues it can be a useful side effect.

3. What are the Side Effects of Xanax in Dogs?

Xanax affects the brain and is not a medication that a dog can take and then carry on as normal.

The side effects affect the dog’s ability to think, his muscular strength, and his ability to learn.

dog bored

And these are just the things which make Xanax desirable to use against anxiety!

In addition, Xanax may cause medical issues in some dogs as we will shortly discover.

Xanax and Sleepiness

If your super-stressed noise phobic dog would sleep through the next July 4 celebrations then everyone is happy.

One of the Xanax side effects in dogs is sedation.

Whilst this is great for the dog that would otherwise hurt himself, it renders a working dog unable to perform his allotted task.

Thus a service or detection dog will not be able to go about his duties whilst taking Xanax.

Indeed, a pet parent needs to be prepared for their dog to stagger around as if drunk and appear alarmingly unco-ordinated.

For those who have not anticipated seeing their dog in this state, it can come as quite a shock.

This lack of co-ordination also means Xanax is a poor choice if your dog is fearful of car travel that you wish to take him out for a day trip.

He’s going to be dopey for the rest of the day, so whilst you’ll arrive safely at your destination he’s will be too groggy to enjoy the walk.

Xanax and Appetite

We’ve already mentioned Xanax stimulates the appetite.

Whilst this isn’t a major problem if the dog takes Xanax occasionally, it could become an issue if the dog needs it regularly, such as over the Christmas and New Year firework season.

dog sleep on christmas

At the very least be aware your dog will think he’s ravenously hungry and may over eat leading to weight gain.

Remember it’s all in his mind and he doesn’t need extra food, so stick with his regular ration to avoid his weight blooming out of control.

Xanax and Learning

One major drawback of using Xanax is that it inhibits the dog’s ability to learn.

OK, he may not be sitting final exams, but if he is undergoing a desensitization program for separation anxiety then the Xanax can interfere with the results.

For the majority of serious behavioral issues such as separation anxiety, a long term fix is the best option in the form of retraining, rather than the sticking plaster approach of medicating the dog.

That is, of course, if the dog causes himself serious harm in which case it takes careful consideration to decide what to do for the best.

Xanax and Addiction

It is well recognized in people that addiction is a very real danger of regular Xanax use.

brown dog sad

Dogs seem more resistant to drug addiction to alprazolam, but they aren’t completely immune to it.

In addition, the liver becomes more efficient at breaking down Xanax more quickly, so with long term use dogs tend to need ever increasing doses in order to achieve the same effect.

Xanax and Pregnancy

It is known in people that Xanax when given in the first trimester of pregnancy can induce fetal abnormalities.

It is not known if this is the case in dogs, but it seems sensible to avoid its use in all but the most essential cases in dogs.

Xanax and Excitement

Perversely some dogs have a strange reaction to Xanax whereby they become over-excitable rather than sedated.

If this happens then Xanax isn’t the drug for them.

4. How Much Xanax can I Give My Dog?

The Xanax dosage for dogs is 0.02 – 0.1 mg /kg body weight, a maximum of twice a day.

Xanax comes in 0.25mg, 0.5mg, 1mg, and 2 mg tablets.

The lowest strength should be used where possible to make accurate dosing easier.

The vet usually starts with the lowest dose and if this is not effective gradually increases it, in order to reduce the risk of adverse side effects or an overdose.

Xanax should be given at least an hour before the anticipated frightening event, as it doesn’t work as well when the dog is already agitated.

dog sad

However, even a single dose usually produces sedation within about an hour, and lasts for 8 – 12 hours.

5. When Xanax should NOT be Given?

The use of Xanax in aggressive dogs is controversial.

It is not proven, but some experts believe that giving Xanax can disinhibit the dogs and make them more likely to attack, not less.

Therefore, if your vet prescribes Xanax and you know your dog has a short-temper, be sure the vet knows this so it can be taken into account.

Likewise, the liver breaks down Xanax so the former needs to be fully functional.

Xanax is best avoided in dogs with liver or kidney disease, as it could lead to accidental overdose because the dog doesn’t break the drug down efficiently.

And finally, in addition to drugs it’s important to use retraining and behavioral methods to remedy your dog’s anxiety issues.

sad white dog on carpet

Remember your actions can inadvertently strengthen feelings of anxiety.

Whilst it’s natural to want to comfort a stressed out dog, the message you are actually giving him is that he’s right to be fearful.

Instead, brace yourself and act as normally as possible so the dog reads you are not afraid and understands he has no need to be fearful either.

About the Author Sarah Robinson

Dr Sarah Robinson attended veterinary school at Oklahoma State University receiving a D.V.M. in 2008. Sarah’s longtime interest is to help people to better communicate with their pet companions, and in doing so, to help them to strengthen their relationships with their dogs and cats. Sarah has published numerous articles on canine feeding in pet related magazines, veterinary journals and leading natural health web sites.

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