What is Xanax?
Xanax also known as alprazolam falls under a group of drugs called benzodiazepines. Xanax has in the past been popularly used in human medicine to treat anxiety, post traumatic distress disorder, insomnia, seizures, withdrawal symptoms and panic attacks. In recent years veterinarians have been adopting the use of this drug in pets in treatment of anxiety, seizures and in some cases aggression. It has become a popular alternative to the use of valium which is commonly used in treatment of epilepsy in dogs.
Benzodiazepines are a class of drugs used in the treatment of neurological and chemical imbalances in the brain. They work by stimulating release of chemicals in the brain known as neurotransmitters that cause a calming or sedative effect. This has made them useful in the treatment of cases of anxiety, insomnia and also as a muscle relaxant in cases of seizures or epileptic episodes. They aim to improve quality of life of affected dogs as some of these conditions are chronic requiring lifelong management.
Xanax is a controlled substance and its use should be prescribed by a veterinarian after a thorough examination and an elaborate history from the pet owner. Use of its human prescription should be discouraged. Just as in human beings, xanax is addictive. Its overuse or an overdose can lead to adverse life threatening side effects such as death or depressive episodes.
Its use is discouraged in dogs that are allergic to alprazolam. It should also not be used simultaneously with drugs such as ketoconazole. Dogs suffering from kidney or liver failure should also be closely monitored while under prescription. It should also be avoided in pregnant or lactating bitches as traces of it have been found in breast milk which can have adverse effects on the puppies.
Can you give a dog Xanax?
Yes, Xanax is safe and can be given to dogs. It is given orally over a period of time. Extensive research on its effect on canines has however not been conclusive. It should be used the under the guidance and prescription of a licensed veterinarian as it is a controlled drug and can cause dependency. Prescription should be done after a thorough physical examination, laboratory tests coupled with supporting history from the pet owner. It should be given at the recommended dose to avoid adverse side effects.
Pet owners should be careful to mention if the dog is under current medication to prevent drug interactions which can be fatal and may at times lead to death. Its use is however discouraged in dogs which exhibit allergic reactions to the drug as well as in pregnant and lactating bitches. During pregnancy its use often leads to developmental abnormalities and deformities in puppies. It should also be used cautiously in dogs suffering from kidney and liver failure as well as in those with glaucoma.
As mentioned above, xanax is used in behavior modification especially in cases of anxiety (panic, separation anxiety, sleep walking storm anxiety etc.), phobias and seizures. It may also be used in cases of aggression though at times it can cause docile dogs to turn aggressive. It has also been used in the treatment of seizures and epilepsy in the place of valium (diazepam) as it does not affect mobility or movement.
What can Xanax be used for with Dogs?
Xanax is an off label drug popularly used in the treatment of anxiety in dogs just as in human beings. Its use is aimed at improving the dog’s quality of life. This includes anxiety caused by:
- Panic attacks: Dogs suffering from a panic attack usually appears to have increased breathing and heart rate, drooling, dilated pupils, shaking uncontrollably and they may at times bite themselves. They may also growl, hide and even attempt to bite when approached. This is usually as a result of noise e.g. fireworks, sudden change in environment, confinement or an underlying medical condition.
- Separation anxiety: This occurs when dogs are separated from someone they want to spend time with. This can be their owner, a play mate or litter mate. Affected dogs exhibit destructive behavior, may urinate and defecate in inappropriate places, howl, bark and at times try to escape. These usually appear prior to the guardians of the dog leaving in an otherwise peaceful house trained dog.
- Phobias e.g. visiting the veterinarian. Dogs usually exhibit signs such as shaking, drooling, growling and hiding.
- Depression and in some cases aggression.
Xanax belongs to a group of drugs known as benzodiazepines. This class of drugs enhances the effect of or stimulates the release of brain chemicals also known as neurotransmitters called gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA). This causes a calming, sedative, anticonvulsant and muscle relaxing effect. Benzodiazepines can be categorized as long acting, intermediate or short acting.
Short acting and intermediate forms of the drug are released moderately fast in the body and are used in the management of insomnia while long acting forms which are released slowly over time in the body are used to manage anxiety. Xanax’s muscle relaxing properties have made it useful in treating intestinal spasms which in turn stimulates appetite. Its use is also preferred over valium in the management of seizures and epileptic episodes as it does not affect motor skills.
Symptoms of Anxiety in Dogs
Anxiety in dogs occurs when they are exposed to a certain stimulus which causes both body and behavioral changes. It is a way of them communicating stress to their guardian.
Anxiety can have various causes, this includes:
- Separation anxiety: This occurs when the dog is separated from a play mate or their guardian. They usually express signs of distress moments before their guardian is about to leave in an otherwise normal and healthy dog. Signs of anxiety include barking or howling after the guardian has left the house or while preparing to leave, destruction of furniture in the house and in certain situations they may attempt to escape.
- Certain illness or infections which cause pain.
- Sound related anxiety e.g. fireworks, thunder etc. Dogs usually hide and shake uncontrollably.
- Terrifying experiences e.g. visit to the veterinarian, history of abuse, confinement or lack of socialization. Dogs usually appear scared and tend to squeeze at a corner. They may also hide, shake, urinate or defecate.
- Painful injuries.
Guardians should be keen to notice signs of anxiety and note possible triggers to be able to prevent future occurrences. It also helps to form a good history which the veterinarian can use to help in diagnosis and possible treatment if needed.
Common signs of anxiety include:
- Shaking uncontrollably coupled with panting
- Excessive barking or howling
- Urination or defecation in an otherwise house trained dog
- Excessive licking or biting the skin or fur
- Escape attempts
- Destruction either of furniture or surrounding environment
What are the Side effects of Xanax?
Xanax like other benzodiazepines has adverse side effects especially when taken over an extended period of time, when abused or overdosed. It affects the brain chemical balance which affects other systems in the body such as digestion, memory, reproduction, and sleep cycles among others. It is worth mentioning that medical treatment for anxiety in dogs should be the last result after other alternatives have been explored. It should always be administered under the guidance of a licensed veterinarian after a through physical body examination, interview of the history of the dog and laboratory tests carried out. Natural or holistic treatment options are usually advised.
If used, xanax should only be used on a short term basis to avoid dependency, withdrawal symptoms or negative effects on the body. Depending on the weight of the dog, the minimal dose should be administered at all times as tolerance is built up over time and the dose maybe increased overtime especially if treating a chronic or extreme case. Withdrawal from medication should also be carried out gradually to prevent adverse withdrawal symptoms. Sudden withdrawal can cause a relapse of the anxiety and more intense than prior treatment. Below we discuss the side effect of xanax on pregnant dogs, sleep cycles, memory and it’s ability to cause dependency in dogs.
Xanax and Sleep
Dogs just like humans usually have trouble sleeping. This can be due to anxiety especially due to a sudden change in environment, separation anxiety, loud noises etc. Underlying medical conditions e.g. joint pain, flea allergies, urinary tract infections etc. especially in senior dogs can also cause insomnia. Affected dogs appear restless, bark or howl excessively, pace and pant all through the night. Cases of insomnia spanning over a prolonged period of time are a cause of concern. It affects both the quality of life of the owner and the dog. A trip to the vet is recommended.
A through head to tail examination is carried out together with laboratory tests. The veterinarian will also ask for a brief history to be able to diagnose if the condition is behavioral, medical or a cognitive disorder.
If there is no medical cause, anxiety medication (xanax) may be prescribed. Benzodiazipines e.g. xanax enhance the release of neurotransmitters (GABA) which cause a calming or sedative effect on the brain. This makes them a choice drug in the treatment of insomnia in pets. Short acting benzodiazipines are most preferred in the treatment of insomnia.
Xanax and Appetite
Xanax causes increased appetite and treats irritable bowel syndrome or spastic colon as it is a muscle relaxant. An increase in appetite could be as a result of less anxiety and a calm state of mind. This in effect allows the body to function at optimal levels which may result in increased appetite. Increased appetite and weight gain is common in dogs that are given higher doses of xanax as compared to those on a recommended dose as per the weight of the dog. It is also thought that the sedative effect of the drug and lack of exercise causes a decrease in metabolism leading to weight gain and obesity.
This can be avoided by administering the lowest possible dose for a minimal period of time. Dogs under long term treatment should change to a low calorie diet to avoid obesity. Dogs that are at risk of obesity e.g. geriatrics can opt for use of other benzodiazepines such as valium (diazepam).
Studies have also shown that xanax can cause a decrease in appetite causing weight loss. Sudden withdrawal from the drug may however lead to stress, withdrawal symptoms, loss of appetite, slows down digestion and consequently loss of weight.
Xanax and Learning Ability
Prolonged use of xanax often leads to amnesia, lack of concentration and memory loss. This usually affects short term memory of events taking place after taking the drug. Dogs usually have trouble remembering tricks or orders by their guardian during treatment and also especially those undergoing training sessions or obedience school. It has actually been documented a risk factor in causing dementia in human beings.
Xanax and Addiction
Xanax is only recommended for short term use and should be the last line of treatment. Prolonged or long term use leads to dependency and addiction. This mostly occurs when dogs become tolerable to the recommended dose with the drug having no effect. A higher dose is consequently given which also can lead to addiction. In situations where xanax has been administered for extended periods of time and later stopped, dogs usually suffer withdrawal symptoms such as drowsiness, seizures, nausea and vomiting, muscle pain and joint stiffness photophobia, restlessness etc.
Withdrawal symptoms usually occur 6 hours after treatment. It should therefore be done gradually over time so as to allow time for the body to adjust. Dogs which have been on treatment for prolonged periods of times suffer more intense withdrawal symptoms compared to those who have been on medication for shorter periods of time. The dose should be decreased not more than 25% per week. Sudden withdrawal does not only cause adverse side effects but also causes a rebound of anxiety more intense then prior to the initiation of treatment. Gradual withdrawal also allows one to identify the minimum dose that is required to keep the anxiety under control.
Xanax and Pregnancy
Xanax is contraindicated in pregnant bitches. Benzodiazepines are known to cause developmental deformities and disabilities in babies such as cleft palate and lip especially during the early stages of pregnancy. Xanax passes through the placenta into the unborn puppies. It also causes toxicity in newborn puppies which may show signs of sedation, respiratory depression, and floppiness. It can also cause withdrawal symptoms in puppies such as seizures, insomnia etc. after birth.
This also applies during nursing. Lactating bitches should also not be put under treatment as xanax is excreted through milk. This can affect nursing puppies leading to sedation, breathing difficulties, seizures, and floppiness among others.
Xanax Dosage for dogs
Xanax is given as oral medication by a licensed veterinarian. It is an off label drug therefore not certified by the FDA as a veterinary drug. It’s best used under the guidance of a veterinarian. It used in veterinary medicine as no drug has yet been identified to treat anxiety in dogs.
Dosage for this drug normally depends on the diagnosis, severity of the condition being treated, weight and age of the dog. The recommended dose ranges between 0.005 to 0.045 mg/lb or 0.01 to 0.09 mg/kg every 6 to 12 hours for anxiety or panic attacks in medium sized dogs. In treatment for separation anxiety, an oral daily dose of 0.12 to 0.9 mg/lb three times a day is recommended. In the case of storm anxiety and insomnia or sleep walking, a dose 0.01 to 0.18mg/lb every 4 hours and 0.005 to 0.045 mg/lb is given respectively. Daily dosage should however not exceed a dose of 4mg per day regardless of the weight of the dog to avoid toxicity.
It is recommended to start medication at a lower dose to check for any adverse side effects or allergies of the drug on the dog. It is also recommended to give the medication an hour before a stressful event. Once treatment is complete, the drug should be withdrawn gradually over a period of days decreasing the daily dose under the guidance of a veterinarian. This helps to avoid withdrawal symptoms which occur when medication is stopped immediately.
When is it not safe to use Xanax?
As mentioned above, xanax should be given under the guidance of a licensed veterinarian. It is wise to mention to your veterinarian during consultation if your dog has been previously medicated using xanax and if he or she elicited an allergic reaction. If using for the first time, hives, facial swelling, shaking, diarrhea, difficulty breathing, seizures etc. indicate an allergic reaction and treatment should be withdrawn as soon as possible.
If he or she is currently under medication it is also worth mentioning. Xanax is known to interact with certain drugs such as barbiturates which enhance its sedative effects. It also interacts with antifungal drugs such as ketoconazole or itraconazole which slow down the metabolism of xanax in the liver therefore leading to extended sedation.
It is also contraindicated in pregnant dogs as it can affect the developing embryo. It often leads to developmental abnormalities and deformities. Xanax drug traces have also be found in the milk of lactating dogs therefore should also be avoided in nursing dogs.
Xanax should also be avoided in dogs suffering muscle weakness and glaucoma. Xanax has muscle relaxing properties and can therefore aggravate the condition. This also applies to dogs suffering from lung disease as it can lead to respiratory depression/apnea. It is also contraindicated in dogs with liver and kidney failure. Xanax is metabolized in the liver and excreted through the kidneys. Inefficiency in these organs can lead to accumulation of toxic substances in the dog’s body which can be fatal leading to death.
Dogs with glaucoma should also not be prescribed xanax as it can worsen the condition and also predispose dogs to acquiring the condition. It narrows the angle of the eye preventing drainage of eye fluid leading to an increase in eye pressure.
Natural Solutions for Dogs with Anxiety
As much as this drug helps to relieve anxiety and panic attacks, it should not be first line of treatment. Alternative modes of treatment can be used. This also applies to cases where the dog is either allergic to benzodiazeines, suffers from kidney or liver disease, glaucoma or muscle weakness. Xanax should also be used on a short term basis as prolonged use can lead to dependence and depression.
Natural remedies for anxiety include:
- Behavioral modification. Pet owners can seek help from veterinary behavioral technicians to train their dog to cope with anxiety e.g. separation anxiety. Only in extreme cases or where training has failed should one seek medical attention from a veterinarian.
- A wholesome diet mainly containing nutrients such as colostrum, thiamine, and the amino-acid L-Theanine hel to keep the dogs, healthy, calm and content lessening cases of anxiety.
- Dog anxiety vest: These are snug fitting t-shirts worn by dogs which provide gentle pressure on the body giving a calming effect. It’s popularly used in cases of separation anxiety, fireworks, thunder or panic attacks.
- Chew toys: These help to keep the dog busy while the guardian is away. Some are infused with essential oils which have a calming effect on the body.
- Essential oils: These include vanilla, chamomile, cedarwood among others. They are a form of aromatherapy which when inhaled give a calming effect. One can opt to spray their home to help relieve anxiety in their fur babies.
- Use of pheromones: Pheromones are chemicals that help in communication between animals of the same species. Calming pheromones can be sprayed or infused in the air which when inhaled help relieve anxiety in dogs. They also come in the form of collars and wipes.
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- Xanax for Dogs. https://www.ebknows.com/xanax-for-dogs/
- Xanax (Alprazolam) disease interactions. https://www.drugs.com/disease-interactions/alprazolam,xanax.html
- Xanax for Dogs. https://www.veterinaryplace.com/dog-medicine/xanax-for-dogs/