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By Published On: January 31st, 2009

Few dog owners enjoy giving their dogs drugs. Besides having to deal with the reason medications were prescribed, there’s the expense and concern about side effects. Yet when a dog is diagnosed with a major infection only a handful of people would turn away a vet’s offer of an antibiotic.

There are many ways to manage health issues in dogs. I have the utmost respect for practitioners of holistic approaches to working with health issues in dogs. I wish there were more of them, and at least one lived next door to me. Choosing to give my fearful dog Sunny medications designed to work on his brain chemistry did not come easily to me, but I did make the decision, at the recommendation of several trainers, the agreement of my vet, and I have never regretted the choice.

Often just the way we talk about medications and pets gives us a bad feeling about them. Do you ‘drug’ your dog? Is your dog ‘medicated’? Add that squeamish feeling to the fact that most pet owners do not fully understand the way behavioral medications work (and I suspect that even doctors and scientists are not completely sure) and it’s not surprising most of us dig in our heels and say ‘uh uh, nope, I’m not drugging my dog’. There are sedatives and anti-anxiety medications and medications that affect the level of serotonin and other neurotransmitters in a dog’s brain. Which one is most appropriate for your dog depends on your dog and the situations your dog will be in.

The behavioral medications available for dogs today have been tested for their safety and efficacy (as opposed to most of the supplements and herbs being sold and used without any oversight by a trained herbalist or naturapath) and have a track record in regard to their use in dogs with fear based behaviors. This does not mean that there are not potential side effects or that they are appropriate for every dog, but they deserve careful consideration by owners dealing with a pathological fearful dog. Medications alone will not ‘fix’ a scared dog, and the drug manufacturers state this clearly on the information they provide with their products, but they can make the rehab of a scared dog easier for both owner and dog, but especially the dog.

Being stressed and scared all the time is no fun, it’s not healthy and having spent an extended amount of time in the company of a scared dog I can say that it hurts to see a terrified dog, and as bad as I ended feeling watching Sunny cower for weeks, my experience does not compare to his. Beyond what we see, there are the physiological effects of stress on a dog. We know that stress is a major contributor to many of health problems facing humans and there’s good reason and evidence to support the belief that our dog’s health is also adversely affected by being afraid i.e., stressed, most of the time.

I decided that anything I could do to lower the stress my dog was feeling on a daily basis was worth a shot. Our vet did blood-work to ensure that he was healthy and helped me with dosages. When I decided to change medications she provided me with a protocol for weaning Sunny off of one medication in preparation for the other. I did research on how the medication worked and how long it would take to begin seeing results, and the type of results I might see.

Someday Sunny might be capable of dealing with the stresses of a world his brain was not developed to function in (due to his early life with a hoarder), without the support of medications, but in the meantime I am glad to have them as an option for living and working with a seriously damaged dog.

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