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Trazodone for Dogs: What You Should Know

Written by The Halo Team

May 23, 2024

Caring for a dog is one of life’s most rewarding experiences, but it comes with challenges. If your furry friend struggles with canine anxiety disorders, your veterinarian may suggest trazodone for dogs as part of a treatment plan.

Trazodone can make a significant difference for dogs suffering from separation anxiety, fear-based anxiety during veterinary visits and other stress-related behavioral disorders. This article answers common questions about dog trazodone, dosage and its use in veterinary medicine.

What Is Trazodone?

Trazodone is a human medicine, not something you can buy over the counter or in a pet store. Your vet must prescribe it for your dog after careful consideration. Although commonly prescribed for major depression in people, veterinarians discovered it could also treat anxiety in dogs.

While researchers are still learning the details, trazodone is a serotonin antagonist. That means it works by gently influencing the chemicals in your dog’s brain. These chemicals regulate mood, feelings of worry and how your dog reacts to stressful situations.

The FDA hasn’t specifically approved trazodone for dogs, but it’s effective, and studies show it’s well tolerated. This means it’s considered extra-label. As such, vets can legally prescribe it when they believe it’s the right choice based on their experience and knowledge. 

What Does Trazodone Do for Dogs?

Trazodone is a gentle helper for an anxious dog’s brain. Here’s exactly what we know about how taking trazodone works to calm dogs’ brains:

  • Entering the brain: After your dog takes trazodone, the drug acts on the brain areas responsible for thoughts, feelings and reactions to stress.
  • Communicating with brain chemicals: Trazodone acts as a skilled messenger, interacting with three brain chemicals:
  • Serotonin: Trazodone influences how serotonin works in the brain. This can regulate mood, reduce fear responses and create a greater sense of well-being for dogs struggling with anxiety.
  • Dopamine and norepinephrine: Trazodone also interacts with dopamine and norepinephrine, brain chemicals that play a vital role in mood and how your dog reacts to stress.

By working with these brain chemicals, trazodone may make stressful situations easier to manage. Here’s what you might notice:

  • Calmed fear responses: Trazodone’s anxiolytic effects mean fewer trembling reactions to thunderstorms.
  • Greater calmness: Trazodone can help dogs feel more relaxed overall, making it easier for them to cope with anxiety-provoking situations.
  • Mild sedative effect in higher doses: Sometimes, a bit of gentle drowsiness might be beneficial for extremely anxious dogs. A higher trazodone dose can allow them to rest when anxiety would otherwise keep them restless.

What Are the Main Uses of Trazodone for Dogs?

Your vet might prescribe trazodone if your dog struggles with certain types of anxiety or behavioral issues. Here are the most common uses:

  • Stressful events: Trazodone can help your dog feel calmer and less panicked during stressful experiences such as a visit to the veterinarian’s office or a short car ride.
  • Travel worries: Does your dog get distressed in unfamiliar places? Trazodone can ease the stress of travel, making trips to new locations or temporary relocations less scary for your pet. Having a Halo Collar can also provide serious peace of mind when traveling with your dog. GPS tracking and a portable wireless fence mean you can keep your dog safe and secure at all times.
  • Separation anxiety: If your dog gets upset when you leave, trazodone might provide some relief. It can reduce signs of distress, such as barking, pacing or destructive behaviors. 
  • Compulsive behaviors: Dogs sometimes develop repetitive behaviors such as excessive licking or barking for no reason. Trazodone may reduce these behaviors.

What Are the Side Effects of Trazodone in Dogs?

Is trazodone safe for dogs? In the vast majority of cases, yes. However, like most medications, trazodone can cause adverse effects. It should only be prescribed by a vet and it’s important to recognize adverse effects so you can contact your veterinarian immediately if they occur.

Common Side Effects

Common side effects of trazodone for dogs include:

  • Drowsiness and lethargy: This is the most common side effect, especially when your dog first starts trazodone or if the dose is too high.
  • Gastrointestinal upset: Some dogs may experience mild stomach upset, such as vomiting, diarrhea or reduced appetite. Offering food with the trazodone can offset this.

Less Common Side Effects

Less commonly, a dog might experience:

  • Increased anxiety: In rare cases, trazodone can worsen anxiety or lead to agitation.
  • Other less common side effects: Other less common side effects might include changes in heart rate, dry mouth or excessive salivation.

Serotonin Syndrome

While rare, trazodone can cause a potentially life-threatening condition called serotonin syndrome. This happens when serotonin levels in the body become too high.

Always tell your veterinarian about all medications and supplements your dog is taking before starting trazodone. This includes other serotonergic drugs and monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs), as the risk of interaction is significantly higher with these chemicals.

Symptoms of serotonin syndrome include:

  • Severe agitation or restlessness
  • Muscle tremors or stiffness
  • Elevated heart rate
  • Disorientation and confusion
  • Seizures

If you notice any of these signs, contact your veterinarian immediately or seek emergency veterinary care. This is a medical emergency.

What Can I Do to Help Minimize Side Effects?

Here are some tips to minimize the risk of adverse effects:

  • Start low and slow: Your vet will likely start your dog on a low dose of trazodone and gradually increase it if needed.
  • Monitor closely: Pay close attention to how your dog reacts to trazodone, especially after any dosage changes.
  • Follow dosing instructions carefully: Never adjust the dose of trazodone without your veterinarian’s guidance. Giving your dog too much can increase the risk of side effects.

Contact your vet immediately if you notice any concerning side effects. 

Cute dog taking a nap on the grass after taking Trazodone

How Fast Does This Medication Work and How Long Does It Last?

Trazodone works relatively quickly to relieve anxiety symptoms in dogs. Use this information as a general guide, as each dog will respond slightly differently:

  1. The drug is absorbed into your dog’s body relatively quickly. 
  2. You may start seeing some calming effects within 1-2 hours of giving your dog trazodone. This could be a subtle decrease in anxiety or a more noticeable change in behavior.
  3. Trazodone’s effects typically last for several hours. However, this varies depending on the dose and your dog’s metabolism.
  4. This medication offers short-term anxiety relief. It works well for specific stressful events such as veterinary appointments, fireworks or travel.
  5. For ongoing or severe anxiety management, your veterinarian might recommend giving trazodone twice daily for a more sustained calming effect.

For trazodone to work effectively, give it exactly as prescribed by your vet, even if your dog seems better. Stopping the medication suddenly can have unwanted consequences. Sometimes, it takes a while to find the dose and timing that work best for your dog. Be patient and let your veterinarian know how your dog is responding.

Does Trazodone Interact With Other Medications?

Trazodone can interact negatively with certain medications, causing harmful or even life-threatening side effects. Most interactions occur with drugs given to dogs for anxiety, depression or pain relief and with some supplements.

Use Trazodone and All Pet Medications Safely

Here are essential guidelines to keep your dog safe when taking medications:

  • Your veterinarian is your partner: Always consult your veterinarian before giving trazodone, or any other medication, to your dog. They’ll explain how it works, determine the right dosage and help you monitor potential side effects.
  • Dosage matters: Never change the dosage on your own, as this could have unintended consequences.
  • Store medications safely: Keep all pet medications out of your dog’s reach to prevent accidental ingestion.

Trazodone can be a valuable tool in helping dogs cope with anxiety and stress. It works best in tandem with other strategies, such as behavior modification training and environmental changes.

If your dog struggles with anxiety, talk to your veterinarian. Together, you can create a treatment plan to help your dog live a happier and less fearful life.

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