Many veterinarians are presented with cases where an owner is considered euthanizing their pet because of seemingly incurable behavioral problems. Whether they’ve proceeded with training or other behavior modifications is sometimes a mystery, and some owners swear that no amount of training will stop destructive or harmful behavior from their dog. Because of this sad trend, more vets are recommending owners try human antidepressants to see if it makes a difference before jumping to euthanasia. Much like humans see better results with their depression/anxiety if they go to therapy and take medications, dogs will also have better results combining training with medications.
Paxil and Dogs
Paxil (paroxetine) is prescribed to dogs diagnosed with anxiety, compulsive disorders, aggression, and other behavioral issues. Paxil works to increase the levels of serotonin in the brain. Serotonin is responsible for the feeling of well-being and low levels lead to anxiety, depression, and aggression. It is a prescription drug and it’s only obtained from vets. While Paxil isn’t approved by the FDA for use in animals, vets are able to legally prescribe it as an “off label” drug use.
Specifically, Paxil is used to treat:
- separation anxiety
- phobias, such as thunder or loud noises
- compulsive behaviors like excessive licking and obsessive tail chasing
As long as your dog is healthy without any medical conditions, Paxil is very safe. Your vet might hesitate to prescribe Paxil for elderly dogs, especially those with liver disorders. If your dog has a history of blood disorders, Paxil is contraindicated because it can affect the blood’s ability to clot. Any dog with a history of seizures should also avoid Paxil as it can induce seizures.
Paxil has adverse reactions with certain drugs, so it’s important your vet knows exactly what medications your dog is currently taking. The most dangerous drug interactions occur between Paxil and MAO inhibitors (which causes the potentially deadly serotonin syndrome), cimetidine, and L-tryptophan.
The most common side effects are diarrhea and vomiting. These usually disappear within a week of starting the drug. Other dogs experience increased thirst or a decreased appetite. These may go away right away, but they should be reported to your vet regardless of their duration. Lethargy is fairly common, but your dog should still be up to their normal activities. Dry itchy skin is frequently reported which can lead to excessive licking and chewing.
Muscle tremors should be reported to the vet immediately, as should seizures. While side effects are common, it doesn’t necessarily mean they’re normal. Never be afraid to ask your vet if anything seems abnormal; it’s always better to be safe than sorry.
Allergic reactions are possible, too. If your dog experiences facial swelling, hives, excessive itching, or difficulty breathing, they need to see the vet immediately to prevent respiratory distress. An allergic reaction should never be treated at home.
The aforementioned serotonin syndrome is rare but deadly. Signs include elevated blood pressure, a rapid heart rate, increased body temperature, and muscle tremors. Make sure you contact your vet immediately if you see any adverse reactions. Serotonin syndrome is treatable, but only if your dog sees the vet immediately.
Paxil Dosing Information
Your vet is the only person who can accurately calculate a safe dosage for prescribed medications, especially something like an SSRI drug. The typical dose of Paxil is 0.5 to 1 mg per pound every 24 hours.
Calculating how much your dog needs seems straightforward, but you can make some pretty dangerous mistakes if you don’t know what you’re doing. Drug dosages aren’t just calculated by weight. While this seems like the only necessary information, your vet isn’t going to automatically prescribe your dog the highest dose possible. Dosages are based on your dog’s overall health, previous health conditions, bloodwork, and how severe their anxiety is. To minimize side effects, don’t be surprised if your vet wants to start well below the maximum dose. A high dose isn’t always necessary to be effective.
Paxil is just one of numerous SSRI drugs suitable for treating anxiety and anxiety-related disorders in canines. If you’ve been frustrated with your dog for awhile and feel like training hasn’t been enough to make a change, talk to your vet about Paxil therapy. It’s a safe option with proven results that can make a huge difference in both of your lives.