Like humans, dogs are capable of developing anxiety and phobias. The most common phobias–thunder, vacuums, hair dryers–probably don’t seem like a big deal to you as a human, but to your dog, they’re absolutely terrifying. Whether thunder sends your dog clawing through the wall or they retreat to a closet to shiver and whimper, anxiety is a very real thing. Some dogs are capable of coping without medical intervention, but if it’s started to reduce your dog’s quality of life, it might be time to consider giving your dog medication.
Ativan (lorazepam) is prescribed to anxious dogs as an alternative to Valium (diazepam). Ativan is part of the benzodiazepine family and has a sedative effect in anxious humans and animals. It’s successful in treating phobias in dogs, but it’s also a very effective treatment for dogs with separation anxiety. If your dog has been diagnosed with anxiety and it’s affecting your lives, talk to your veterinarian. A drug regimen could be just what your dog needs to help manage the anxiety.
Because Ativan is a benzodiazepine, it’s only available with a prescription from your veterinarian. You should never give your dog this type of drug unless it’s been cleared by their vet, so if you have an anxious dog and a bottle of Ativan lying around, don’t be tempted to give it to your dog in case it’s an inappropriate choice in their case.
Is Ativan Safe for Dogs?
Ativan is considered a very safe drug even though it is highly addictive in humans. While it isn’t necessarily addictive in dogs, it isn’t something you can give them regularly and discontinue it suddenly. Dogs go through withdrawal symptoms (increased anxiety, vomiting, diarrhea, disorientation), so any discontinuation should be done slowly and always under the guidance of your vet.
Ativan isn’t given to dogs with liver disease because it can further damage the liver. Before your vet writes a prescription, they will want to run a full blood panel to ensure your dog’s liver and kidneys are functioning properly.
Side Effects of Ativan
The most common side effect is increased hunger. It’s important not to give in to your dog’s ravenous appetite otherwise obesity becomes a risk. Instead, make a point to offer healthy alternatives with a lot of fiber to fill them up.
Even though Ativan is supposed to cause a sedative effect, this isn’t always the case. Some dogs become extremely excitable, but this doesn’t mean it isn’t working! While their activity increases, the drug is still having the proper effect on their brain. Talk to your vet about this side effect; a different dose may be all that’s required.
If Ativan has the intended sedative effect on your dog, don’t be alarmed if they seem extremely sleepy or their coordination is off. Some mild loss of coordination is expected, especially if the drug is new, but if your dog is unable to walk or stand, consult with your vet immediately.
Finally, some dogs become aggressive when taking benzodiazepines. This isn’t likely, but it is a notable side effect with this category of drugs. Some owners report a minor change in their dog’s temperament while other dogs have to be taken off the drugs because the change is so significant.
The following information should never be used for you, as the owner, to decide the right dosage for dogs. The dose doesn’t just depend on your dog’s weight. A proper dosage takes their age, body condition, preexisting health conditions, and the severity of their anxiety into consideration. It’s important to remember a lot of dosing information online is intended for emergency administration in the event of seizures, so a lot of online doses are significantly higher than a maintenance dose is.
A normal dose is 0.02 mg per pound given every 8 to 12 hours. A higher dosage is unlikely, and it’s possible a lower dose is going to be effective, stressing the importance of only giving this drug under a vet’s supervision.
Alternatives to Ativan
Appropriate alternatives depend on what is being treated and the severity of the disorder. Obviously, other benzodiazepines are acceptable, but this category of drugs is typically a last resort. Your vet may stress the importance of behavior modification before trying drugs. There are cases where anxiety is not manageable with anything but drugs, but some dogs can be successfully “trained” out of their phobias and minor cases of anxiety.
When you’ve reached your limit of shredded carpets, destroyed furniture, or potty accidents, it could be time to consider a medical intervention for your dog’s anxiety. While giving them a fairly potent drug is intimidating at first, improving your dog’s quality of life will make the process a little less scary.