If your dog suffers from severe anxiety issues -- whether fear of being separated from you, thunderstorm phobia, aggression, compulsive disorders or self-mutilation behaviors -- you're probably at your wit's end. Your veterinarian might prescribe the antidepressant and anti-anxiety medication paroxetine, marketed under the brand name Paxil. It's likely that you know people taking this same drug for anxiety or depression. While paroxetine can help your dog, it should be given in conjunction with behavioral modification.
Serotonin -- a neurotransmitter -- aids in sending impulses to nerve cells in your dog's brain. Paroxetine, a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor, works by affecting serotoninin in the brain by blocking its reabsorption while not interfering with other types of neurotransmitters. While it's not approved for veterinary use by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, veterinarians are permitted to prescribe it as an "off-label" medication. Your vet calculates dosage based on your dog's weight. Dogs generally receive paroxetine in tablet form once daily.
If your dog exhibits behavioral issues, don't consider paroxetine your initial means of combating them. Before resorting to drugs, take your dog to obedience classes and work with him regularly. If he freaks out during thunderstorms, consider purchasing a "thundershirt" for him to wear for comfort when the rumbling begins. For other conditions, consult a certified animal behavioral therapist. Your veterinarian can recommend a qualified person. The therapist and your vet can decide whether your dog would benefit from paroxetine.
Side Effects and Contraindications
Most paroxetine side effects are relatively mild. These include appetite loss, increased water consumption and lethargy. More serious side effects include vomiting, diarrhea and itchiness. Dogs with epilepsy or any seizure history shouldn't receive paroxetine. Don't use flea collars on your dog while he is taking this drug. Topical monthly flea treatments are permissible. Older dogs and those with liver or kidney ailments shouldn't take this medication. Avoid giving the drug to pregnant or nursing dogs.
Don't expect that giving your dog paroxetine will make everything all good. That might happen in some cases, but basically the drug just takes the edge off your dog's fears and phobias. It also allows him to concentrate on the behavioral training. Behavioral modification takes many forms, depending on the dog's issues. Desensitization techniques permit a dog to deal with his fear gradually. In counter-conditioning, the dog learns to replace undesirable behavior with desirable actions. A professional trainer will help you decide the best behavioral modification techniques for your dog and situation.
Jane Meggitt has been a writer for more than 20 years. In addition to reporting for a major newspaper chain, she has been published in "Horse News," "Suburban Classic," "Hoof Beats," "Equine Journal" and other publications. She has a Bachelor of Arts in English from New York University and an Associate of Arts from the American Academy of Dramatics Arts, New York City.