Medications for Fearful Dogs

Time outThe topic of using medications to help a fearful dog can bring up some strong reactions in folks, both for and against. It makes good sense to learn about how the medications available today work and how they can help a dog, rather than just dismissing them outright. Not all fearful dogs need medication to help them feel less stressed or to aid in the learning of new behaviors, but for the ones that can be helped in this way, the meds might just feel like a godsend to both an owner and their dog.

There are a variety of alternatives or supplements to medications available. I encourage owners to do their research and learn about; body wraps, DAP, Ttouch, acupuncture, herbal supplements, etc. The use of any medication or alternative to medication must be used in conjunction with a behavior modification training program. My decision to use a behavioral medication with Sunny came after realizing that ‘anything’ that I could offer him that would lower his stress level was ultimately going to be beneficial to his health and behavior.

Medications like Prozac and Clomicalm have been tested on animals, specifically on dogs, and are used by humans. People report that they ‘feel’ better, and since we can only guess how animals feel based on their behavior, we’re probably safe in assuming that they too ‘feel better’ by the positive changes in their behavior that we see when they are on medications. More research and studies need to be done on the efficacy of the many alternatives, but there is plenty of anecdotal information provided by pet owners that indicates that they too can help our dogs ‘feel’ better.

For my dog I took the following into consideration:

  • cost of a treatment or therapy
  • amount of time needed daily to devote to the treatment
  • ease of use or application
  • trainer recommendation
  • vet recommendation

As much as I’d like to say that cost does not matter when it comes to the health of my dogs, it does. While there were supplements that appeared to provide my dog with some relief, the cost became prohibitive because my dog needs help every day, all day. A bottle of ‘Composure’, recommended by my vet, would have cost me hundreds of dollars a month to provide him with the dosage he’d need on a daily basis. I am able to purchase his prescription for Prozac for under $10 a month. I have no reason to believe that one was going to be ‘safer’ or healthier than the other.

I have begun acupuncture treatments for Sunny after reading studies about the use of acupuncture to help people with PTSD. The acupuncturist recommends at least four treatments before deciding whether or not it is having the desired effect. Depending on where you live, the availability and cost of acupuncture will vary. It’s worth a try and I hope it helps, but even the acupuncturist agreed that medications which provide relief to an animal should be continued. I have tried body wraps and Ttouch but either have not been persistent enough, am not applying them properly, I’ve not seen any appreciable gains in Sunny’s behavior by their use. This does not mean they are not helping, something may make Sunny feel better but not change his behavior noticeably, so I’ve not eliminated them from the work I do with him.

The ease of application is important to me because I have 4 dogs, and something of a life to lead aside from their care and training. Any treatment or technique that I don’t think that I can realistically add to my day is not going to happen and so is not likely to work. I suspect that the amount of time I’ve had to devote to Sunny’s rehab may be more than what many dog owners have and may be reflected in the quality of our relationship, and the improvements in his behavior.

In Pam Dennison’s book Bringing Light To Shadow she shares details of the work she did with her fear aggressive dog. It’s an informative story, but I found myself thinking that Sunny was doomed if his rehabilitation was going to rest on me having the same skills, time and resources as Dennision had. I do what I can, how and when I can, the addition of meds may lower the bar for what is needed from me on a daily basis in order for Sunny to improve. Rather than think of them as a cop out, they give Sunny a nudge in the direction we’re headed.

For more information about medications for fearful dogs visit: &


10 comments so far

  1. Roxanne @ Champion of My Heart on

    I also found this Whole Dog Journal article about anxiety meds for dogs helpful

  2. fearfuldogs on

    great link thanks Roxanne!

  3. Gaby Karlkvist on

    I also have a fearful/reactive dog. When we have visitors he is very anxious and gets reactive. He looks like he wants to bite but thank goodness has never done that. My vet recommended prozac and he is now in the 4th week of being on it. I see a slight improvement. I also work with him with trying to desensitize, counter-condition, etc. It’s a long slow process. My husband says that I am hurting my Kodi by giving him drugs but I believe if his quality of life is better, then it is a good thing. Plus, my husband says that if he ever bit anyone “the dog would have to go”. I feel like I have no choice. Thank you for making me feel that I am doing the right thing with my Kodi. (By the way, he’s a big Chesapeake Bay Retriever mix.)

    • fearfuldogs on

      Thanks for your comment. You may only ever see slight improvements in your dog, but those slight improvements add up. When we have visitors I send Sunny to his safe spot under my desk or out in the yard. He knows no one will bother him in those places. Add a special treat to the picture and having visitors isn’t such a horrible thing anymore. I wouldn’t want my dog looking like he wanted to bite, even if he never has, so I’d keep him out of those situations, especially since the consequence of a bite is a severe one.

  4. Judy B on

    I am in a situation that I got 2 puppies in 2004 that had been thrown in a suitcase and put behind a grocery store. They were found and taken to the Emergency Vet Hospital down the street. I have no idea what their 2 month life was like where they were living. One of the dogs is very fearful and I would love to help her. I have a full time job at home so she doesn’t have to stay by herself. Her brother is not as fearful. He is easy to get to know after a short period of time. My situation is that I would like to move where the dogs cannot go but I cannot give them away with the amount of fear that she has but also I cannot give them away because I love them so much that it is painful thinking of giving them away. They are both very sweet and loveable (litter mates). I would just love to see her not having so much fear. She is more afraid of men than anything. Recently (in the last year) she does not like storms either.

    • D. J. on

      If you haven’t already found it, I created the website to help people get information about ways to think about and work with their fearful dogs. There are no quick fixes so learning about why dogs are afraid and how to change how they feel about the things that scare them is your best bet.


  5. k9diabetes on

    Prozac has been wonderful for our fearful dog. We started working with a behaviorist and training in spring of 2009 and then added Prozac in spring 2010 when it was clear that he still had a baseline level of anxiety that made it hard for him to trust entirely.

  6. Jean gardiner. on

    …..I found this article practical and helpful. We own 2 dogs the smallest a Pom & Yorkshire cross is a ‘nervous wreck’ making it almost impossible to give her the life she deserves and maintaining our own sanity! Anti anxiety meds may be the answer….will contact our vet today for advice!

    • Carol Patterson on

      If you dont mind sharing what you and your vet decided I would like to know? I just rescued a 2 year old male boxer and he is very timid, very nervous and terrfied of thunderstorms. He literally will jump and run to the bedroom at the slightlest sound in the house. He tries to get inside of a closet when it thunders and shakes really bad, I can actually feel his heart beating so fast it worries me. I am thinking about talking to my vet about his anxiety issues and see what he recommends.

      • fearfuldogs on

        You should speak with your vet about the best medications to try with your dog.

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