Dogs, like people, come in as many personalities as there are wagging tails. Unfortunately, that also means they can experience fears and anxieties as much as anyone. Whether your dog suffers separation anxiety that leads her to act out when she's alone or she panics at the sound of a brewing storm, vet-prescribed anxiolytics -- anti-anxiety medications -- could bring her relief.
For generalized anxiety disorders, such as separation anxiety, vets may prescribe tricyclic antidepressants. TCAs such as amitriptyline or nortriptyline increase serotonin and norepinephrin to regulate emotional activity. Each TCA is a little different, so it may take time to find the one that most benefits your dog. Side effects include dry mouth and liver or kidney damage in less-healthy dogs.
Monoamine oxidase inhibitors work like TCAs, except that they're less selective about the neurotransmitters they affect. For dogs, vets usually prescribe selegiline, an MAOI that affects the dopamine neurotransmitter, which helps level out anxious or nervous behavior. MAOIs should not be used with SSRIs, as the combination can trigger unhealthy levels of serotonin.
Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors increase the brain's chief happiness chemical, serotonin. Vets prescribe fluoxetine and sertraline for a number of anxiety-related problems in dogs, ranging from separation anxiety to fear of people or other animals. Your dog needs to take her SSRI every day and it must build up in her system before it can be effective. Side effects can include liver or kidney damage if hers are not functioning at 100 percent.
Your vet may prescribe buspirone, an azapirone, to treat moderate fear or anxiety issues in your dog. Buspirone is an increasingly popular alternative to benzodiazepines for treating human anxieties and the only azapirone used for anxiety treatment in dogs. Buspirone's chief draws are that it works quickly, doesn't cause sedation the way benzodiazepines do and can be combined with TCAs and SSRIs.
For more serious fear reactions, such as panic brought on by a loud storm or fireworks display, vets may prescribe benzodiazepines. Unlike TCAs, MAOIs or SSRIs, benzodiazepines such as alprazolam do not need time to build up in your dog's system. Benzodiazepines work on the brain the same way alcohol does. They take effect immediately to crank down excitability and relieve anxiety. High doses can impair your dog's ability to move and increase his appetite. They generally are not prescribed for everyday use.