If your dog is misbehaving out of character, acting “unusual” or “oddly,” and nothing you do seems to remedy it. There may be something more severe going on. Often, underlying issues go overlooked or get attributed to animal instinct, or even breed.
But as sentient beings, dogs have mental distress too, and sometimes all your love and caring, sadly, isn’t enough; they need some extra help.
Obsessive behaviors due to separation anxiety, sensitivity to loud noises, astraphobia (heavy fear of thunder and lightning), and the like, over time, will begin to wear on your dog’s overall health and can wreak havoc on home life balance. Some experts believe the solution lies with monitored doses of the antidepressant Prozac (fluoxetine).
Yes, Prozac can treat behavioral issues in your dog possibly derived from abuse, neglect, or having experienced harsher times before the sanctuary of you came into their life. It is the same drug given to humans. Only in smaller doses, along with other psychotropic meds such as Zoloft or Lexapro that, through the years, has successfully treated several anxiety disorders in dogs.
The FDA has approved a type of fluoxetine for dogs called Reconcile, marketed as a separation anxiety treatment that comes in a tasty chewable tab!
It is also important to note that fluoxetine is not a cure-all magic bullet, nor does it work overnight, or fix all the things your dog does that might annoy you (jumping up on things, grabbing stuff off tables and counters, etc.).
There are pros and cons to this drug, possible side effects, and it is crucial to understand what the drug is and treats. Thus, it is essential to know what you’re getting into, as well as to (correctly) diagnose before your beloved four-legged pal starts a regimen.
What is Fluoxetine, and How Does it Work?
Fluoxetine is part of a group or class of meds known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). Over the last several years, the drug has shown promise in treating dogs with psychiatric or neurological disorders.
By altering how your dog’s brain reacts to certain stimuli by blocking the body’s reuptake of serotonin in what is called a monoamine neurotransmitter, it helps ease your dog’s anxiety and lower the chances of related destructive behaviors. The monoaminergic systems are part of regulating emotions, arousal, and types of memories (PTSD); moreover, drugs like fluoxetine can increase or decrease the effects of these neurotransmitters and help to balance mood with psychiatric and neurological disorders, severe anxiety, depression, etc.
In controlling serotonin levels connected to mood stabilization and feelings of overall nirvana, it can help combat anxiety and depression, allowing your dog to go back to just being a dog and doing dog things sans oppressive anxiety.
Why is Fluoxetine Prescribed?
It is relatively cheap at around $4 – $18 for a 30-day supply. A vet often prescribes it for severe separation anxiety, destructive behavior your little buddy expresses when you’re away.
While separation anxiety is often the root cause of symptoms like constant urine marking or compulsive disorders, the drug also may treat:
- Fear of strangers
- General anxiety
- Astraphobia (fear of thunderstorms)
- compulsive disorder behaviors
How is Fluoxetine Administered?
Fluoxetine is taken orally and comes as a capsule, tablet, or liquid. You can feed your dog before or after the medication; however, if your dog gets sick due to an empty tummy, give further doses at mealtime or with a treat.
- It is imperative to measure liquid medicine carefully
- Flea and tick collar use may interact negatively with this drug
- Never stop this medication suddenly without speaking with your vet
Before taking the antidepressant step with your furry pal, speak with your trusted vet, ask questions, and build your confidence in their decisions.
Again, fluoxetine is not a cure-all for doggy issues. The medication takes time, weeks before effects show (it is important to remember this while you wait for signs of improvement).
Also, your dog will likely need additional therapy and support aside from the meds. Talk to your veterinarian about what options are out there, what training or behavioral modification programs might work best for your dog’s specific condition.
“Prozac usually produces improvement, but sometimes the improvement is not all that is desired. In that case, augmentation strategies with other compatible medications can achieve the desired effect. That said, given time and the correct dose, the improvement can be spectacular.” (Tufts Professor Emeritus Nicholas Dodman, Prozac for dogs: The pros, cons, side effects).
Pros of Fluoxetine?
When accurately diagnosed and medicated, there are many positive benefits to treating your dog with fluoxetine. It relieves the stress and fear of separation anxiety, lowers aggression, acts as a mood stabilizer, decreasing impulsivity.
It treats the seemingly nonsensical compulsive disorder behaviors too, which might include:
“Light or shadow-chasing, tail-chasing, rock-chewing, compulsive digging and even compulsive swimming. And there are others. They are all species-typical behaviors that are performed excessively and out of context.” (Nicholas Dodman, Prozac for dogs: The pros, cons, side effects).
Cons of Fluoxetine?
One of the most frustrating things you might find about starting your dog on the drugs is how long it takes to work (up to six weeks!). Also, it is good to recognize how there is a stigma associated with giving your dog antidepressants for a mental health problem like they are “crazy dog”.
In contrast, others may think it is wrong to treat a canine with this type of medication. Still, it could be something that improves your dog’s life, so it is crucial to look at it thoroughly and its history of successes.
It is also known to be a lot safer than other meds prescribed and taken without issue. Although, overdose is possible and dogs can get Serotonin Syndrome. However, this can be avoided by following best practices and by closely monitoring a dog in conjunction with a veterinarian.
- Lessened appetite or weight loss
- The shakes
- Diarrhea or vomiting
- Restlessness, panting, excess saliva
If your dog is already taking Monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs), suffers from diabetes mellitus, is pregnant or lactating, has liver disease, do not use fluoxetine. Please discuss alternatives with your vet.
Possible more severe side effects may include:
- Heavy or regular vomiting
Steps to Take Before Using Fluoxetine?
Doggy psychotropic meds are a big deal, so before dosing your loved one, get to know your veterinarian until you feel comfortable. Then, discuss the possibility of using doggy Prozac and all that may entail. It is a big decision, and there are a lot of factors to review.
And while it is important to remember that the medication can take up to six weeks to work, it could mean the difference between systematic misery or a healthy, happy, active life for your dog.
Depending on how long your furry pal has been suffering, years, months will most likely be the amount of time of therapy. Never medicate your dog without a veterinarian’s diagnosis and guidance, and request a referral for a dog behaviorist in conjunction.
Fluoxetine may not be the right solution for every dog’s issues, but if your dog is going through rough times and nothing seems to help, it might turn out to be a saving grace.
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