Doggie Downers: Side Effects and Natural Alternatives – Relievet

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Doggie Downers: Side Effects and Natural Alternatives

Nali Macklin - May 12th 2020

Accuracy Review & Edit: Nicole Wanner, DVM - September 14th 2021
side-effects-of-doggie-downers-natural-alternatives

What are doggie downers?

The term “Doggie Downers” may sound cute and funny; however, it is a term used to describe drugs for often severe and debilitating symptoms of anxiety in dogs (i.e., separation anxiety, fear-related anxiety, and age-related anxiety).

In an ideal world, training our dogs to rid of these symptoms or behaviors without the use of pharmaceutical drugs is the best way to go, but that is not always an option for many dog owners.

Doggie downers describe different types of drugs prescribed by veterinarians, often in combination with a professional trainer or a behavior training routine. The ultimate goal is to change the behavior and stop taking the medication.

How doggie downers affect dogs?

Some doggie downers work by enhancing GABA (a natural chemical messenger) in the dog’s body and blocks impulses between nerve cells, thus slowing the activity in the brain and make the dog feel less anxious.

Other doggie downers work by raising the serotonin levels in the dog’s brain. By increasing the serotonin levels and making them more balanced, the dog becomes calmer, sleeps better, and is less nervous.

Why do vets prescribe doggie downers?

Doggie downers are prescribed by veterinarians to aid dogs suffering from anxiety issues that result in behavioral problems.

Common symptoms and behaviors when your dog is suffering from anxiety are: 

  • Aggression
  • Depression
  • Destroying furniture
  • Drooling
  • Excessive barking or howling
  • Pacing and panting
  • Repetitive or compulsive behaviors
  • Restlessness, inability to settle
  • Self-harm (including excessive chewing or licking)
  • Urinating or defecating in the house

Sometimes vets will prescribe drugs to a dog to help him from hurting himself or damaging property. The goal is often to help him reduce his anxiety long enough to learn new, positive behaviors through training.

Here are some doggie downer drugs that vets commonly prescribe:

Drug TypeDrug NameUsed to Treat
AntidepressantsProzac
Reconcile
Sarafem
Trazodone
Fluoxetine (generic)
Aggression
Compulsive disorders
General anxiety
Phobias
Separation anxiety
Anipryl Selegiline (generic, FDA approved)Canine Cognitive Dysfunction (i.e., Alzheimer’s, Dementia)
BenzodiazepinesXanax
Alprazolam (generic)
Acute phobias (i.e., fireworks, gunshots, and thunderstorms)
Anxiety
BuspironeBuSpar
Bustab
General anxiety
Phobias
Social phobias
Catapres Clonidine (generic)Aggression
Fears
Phobias
Separation anxiety

What are the side effects?

Depending on the type of doggie downer your vet prescribed, the side effects may differ for each specific drug.

Here are some known side effects for the type of drugs listed in the earlier section.

Drug TypeCommon Side EffectsSerious Side Effects
AntidepressantsDecreased appetite
Diarrhea
Excessive panting
Hypersalivation
Incoordination
Restlessness
Shaking
Sleepiness
Vomiting
Weight loss
Whining  
Aggression
Excessive vomiting
Seizures  
Anipryl Anorexia
Diarrhea
Hyperactive
Lethargy
Restlessness
Seizure

Staggering
Vomiting
When combined with:
Amitraz
Ephedrine
Opioids
Phenylpropanolamine
Some antidepressants
BenzodiazepinesAggression
Agitation
Diarrhea
Incoordination
Nausea
Sedation
Vomiting  
Cardiovascular depression
Severe sedation
Respiratory depression  
BuspironeDecreased appetite
Increased aggression
Nausea
Sleepiness
Slower heart rate
Excessive Sleeping
Pacing
Persistent vomiting
Small pupils
Stumbling
Weakness  
Catapres Abnormal movement (ataxia)
Constipation
Dry mouth
Sedation
Bradycardia
Congestive heart failure
Edema
Hypotension
Weakness  

The above are general guidelines. Every dog is different and can have potentially different side effects or even be allergic to the medication when taking it alone or combined with other drugs.

Some dogs may be at higher risk of having severe side effects if they have pre-existing conditions (i.e., heart disease, kidney disease, liver problems).

It is vital to have a thorough discussion with your vet to understand all of the possible side effects before taking any doggie downers.

Doggie downers: natural alternatives

As mentioned earlier, the ideal situation would be for our dogs to rid of their severe and debilitating symptoms of anxiety through positive training without the use of pharmaceutical drugs.

But when that’s not an option, many people have turned to a more natural alternative to help their sad dog, such as CBD Oil for dogs, as more scientific research emerges to back up its calming properties. On the other hand, 

In 2015, a review of 49 research papers found evidence to “strongly support” CBD as a treatment for various anxiety-related disorders, including PTSD and OCD.

One 2017 study told a different story; they found no evidence that it reduced anxiety, and even found that it had the opposite effect on some people.

So while it’s clear that research is still in the early stages, there have been many stories of dogs significantly benefiting from this natural plant. Most importantly, the side effects are usually minor, and unlike many prescription medications for dogs, they are not fatal. 

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