Choosing To Use Medications For Fearful Dogs
Does My Dog Need Prozac? is the title of the second book I am working on. It is a collection of posts culled from the early years of this blog. The answer to the book’s title, in the case of my dog Sunny, is yes, yes my dog does need Prozac or in his case another anti-depressant and anxiolytic administered twice a day. Coming to the decision to give him meds was not made quickly or recklessly. I regret that I didn’t make the decision to use them sooner. Here are some things to consider as you make decisions for your dog’s mental health.
Quality Of Life
Most of us are fortunate in that we have rarely, if ever, experienced the amount or level of distress many of our dogs are living with 24/7 or 14/6 or 8/3. How many hours and how many days a week is ok with you for a dog to experience fear or anxiety? How many do you think is ok with them? A dog who is routinely frightened by things is not only experiencing that fear, they are living with the anticipation of it occurring again, and again.
What limitations does a dog’s fearfulness put on their life. A dog who has to leave the room when the vacuum comes out is probably not missing out on the finer things of life, but what about a dog who can’t walk down the sidewalk, or get into a car, or greet another dog happily? What about a dog who startles when a piece of paper falls off a desk, scurries out of the kitchen when the stove opens or the microwave chimes? How about a dog who has to leave the room when your husband or teenage son walks in, or sees a shadow on the wall? That we may not know what it feels like to be that scared does not negate or lessen what they are going through. Nor does it lessen the negative impact chronic stress has on a dog’s health.
Seek Out Professional Help
Talk to a veterinarian or a veterinarian behaviorist and follow the protocols outlined for the dosage and timing of any medications you give your dog. Be aware of possible side-effects and how they are commonly addressed. Some side-effects are expected and go away as a dog’s body and brain adjust to the medications, others may indicate the need to change quantity or the type of med being used. Let your vet know you may be contacting them as you start using medications. Don’t rely on a blogger, or your cousin who makes herbal lip balm, or a dog trainer who took a massage class, to give you advice about what is best for your dog.
Medications Don’t Fix Fearfulness
Don’t expect a dog who is afraid of strangers to stop being afraid of strangers just because they are on drugs. What you can expect to see are changes, often quite subtle, in their behavior. A dog may be willing to come into a room they never entered before, sniff something they previously avoided. Be prepared to reinforce these behaviors, and make sure you aren’t punishing the dog by overwhelming them when they do display a willingness to engage with something.
Make notes about your dog’s behavior. Look for patterns and trends. Have they done something 2 or 3 times they never did before? Was it something you liked or something you didn’t?
People often describe negative behaviors they observed in their dog which they blame on the medications, and stop using them or recommend that others don’t use them. Medications change brains. We can’t know how they make a dog feel or how they change a dog’s perception of the world, or their tolerance for stress as they begin to experience the effects of the meds. Rather than trying to test the effectiveness of a drug make your dog’s world smaller for several weeks while their bodies and brains adjust to the medications. Don’t put them into situations in which a decrease of inhibition can get them into trouble.
It Doesn’t Have To Be Forever
Trying medications for several months and discovering that they are helping is better than not trying them and not knowing if you are doing everything you can for your dog. In some cases the improvements while on medications are significant enough that the dog no longer needs them. For other dogs, not being on medication decreases their quality of life.
It’s In Our Hands
It’s up to us to educate ourselves about the use of behavioral medications for dogs suffering with fear, phobias and anxiety. We are the ones who are responsible for creating a life worth living for our dogs.