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Nervous dogs can wreak total havoc on your household, and leave you with just about two nerves of your own, both of which are hanging by tiny, thin little threads. Worse, though, is that you know your best buddy is suffering. So what can you do to help?
First, let me offer up the caveat that I definitely don’t want to see anything remotely resembling a “Prozac Nation” for dogs. I think that, as a society, we rely entirely too much on medication for every little thing. If your nerves are a bit jangled, you’re probably a lot better off with a soothing cup of chamomile tea, or maybe some vigorous exercise, than you are with psychotropic medications.
That said, though, I also wouldn’t want to be lumped in with the “Tom Cruises” of the world, who think that medications for anxiety or depression should never be used. When the condition is severe, there’s certainly much to be said in favor of helpful medications. This is true for dogs as well as for humans.
If your dog is extremely nervous, panics when loud noises occur, displays obsessive-compulsive behavior patterns like excessive grooming, or suffers from separation anxiety, amitriptyline could help. It’s an anti-depressant.
Properly used, amitriptyline is safe for your dog. However, as with any type of medication, you need to be cautious. You won’t be able to obtain amitriptyline without a prescription from your veterinarian, and you can assume that the vet will want to thoroughly examine your dog and try to get to the root of the problem before prescribing the medication. It would be unwise to show up at the animal hospital and simply announce that your dog is on edge and you want amitriptyline for him. There’s more to it than that.
You may find that amitriptyline is not an option for your dog. For instance, your vet is very unlikely to provide you with the medication if your dog has a history of seizures or thyroid problems, has had liver problems, or is pregnant or nursing.
The medication works by increasing the brain’s production of serotonin. This is a neurotransmitter that regulates appetite, heart function, behavior, and other bodily functions. When the amount of serotonin is increased, feelings of contentment and calm are produced. Accordingly, your dog feels less nervous, more relaxed, and less likely to experience panic attacks. In other words, amitriptyline works the same way in dogs as it does in humans.
The dosage for a dog, though, is lower than it is for a human. So if you’re taking amitriptyline, don’t think that it’s a good idea to just hide one of your pills in some food and give it to your dog. Besides, as I’ve pointed out above, this medication should not be administered except under the supervision of a veterinarian.
In addition to calming your dog’s nerves, amitriptyline can have very beneficial effects on some behavioral issues that you may have been struggling with. Many dog owners report that, after beginning a regimen of amitriptyline, their dogs are less likely to dig up the yard or destroy household items. Incessant yapping no longer happens, and submissive urination stops. Of course, not all these behaviors are going to magically disappear in all dogs, but there should still be a dramatic improvement in problematic behavior.
It’s very rare for a medication not to have at least the potential for side effects, and amitriptyline is no exception. If your dog’s nervousness and/or behavioral issues are so severe as to be untreatable by means of training, positive reinforcement and other non-medicinal remedies, your vet might very well recommend amitriptyline. He or she should tell you about the potential side effects, but I’ll give you a bit of a rundown just the same.
Some potential side effects of amitriptyline are relatively minor. Your dog might develop a dry mouth; you can suspect that this is the case if he’s panting a lot, licking his lips frequently, and drinking more water than usual. He might be considerably sleepier than he usually is. He might also become constipated, vomit more than usual, and have a suppressed appetite. It’s also possible that his heart rate will increase somewhat, and his blood pressure might become lowered.
It is rare that amitriptyline will cause serious side effects. However, it has been linked to seizures, muscle weakness and heart conditions. Keep in mind, though, as I’ve said, that these side effects are not common.
If your vet does prescribe amitriptyline for your dog, you’ll need to make sure that his condition is monitored regularly. The vet will want to do blood tests from time to time to monitor the condition of your dog’s liver since extended use of the medication has been known to adversely affect liver function.
Your vet will give you the medication in a bottle labeled with the correct dosage and the intervals at which you will administer it. He or she will also explain how much you should give your dog, and how often you should give it. Remember, though, that the label is only there to serve as a reminder of what the vet communicates to you. So if anything looks wrong, or different, on the label, ask the vet to clarify – mistakes can happen. They don’t happen often, but you don’t want to take chances with your dog’s health and safety. Also, if you get home and realize that you’re not 100% sure what you should be doing, call the animal hospital for clarification – never make guesses.
You should give your dog the amitriptyline for as long as the vet recommends. Never assume that he’s all better and no longer needs the medication. Humans who try to stop taking their amitriptyline “cold turkey” often suffer from very nasty withdrawal symptoms, and so could your dog.
Also, if your dog’s symptoms don’t clear up immediately, don’t increase the dosage without approval from your veterinarian. The body, both in humans and in canines, usually has to go through a bit of a “learning curve” before it begins to respond to the medication. So administer the amitriptyline only as directed (usually you’ll give a dose once or twice a day). Try to give the medication at the same time every day. If you miss a dose, don’t “double up” or give two doses close together. Just skip the dose that you missed, and resume the schedule at the next dose.
It’s not much fun dealing with an anxious dog. However, your dog isn’t having fun either, so treat him with love and kindness. He’s not behaving badly because he’s a “bad dog”; he’s just a dog who’s having a bad time! So, spend lots of time with him, give him plenty of hugs and cuddles, take him for walks, play with him, and just love him. Amitriptyline can be very effective in combating anxiety and behavioral problems, but you need to be a strong, caring owner for your dog to achieve the maximum benefit from the medication.