Prozac for dogs, pros and cons?
June 17, 2013 7:09 PM   Subscribe

Pet behaviorist says Prozac may be the way to go, but our vet isn't so sure. Does anyone have experience with Prozac for dogs? I'd like some insight.

So, I had a certified dog behaviorist come in and assess my dog Brandy, whom I've asked questions about before. And even though she's come a long way since we adopted her, and she's no longer going after the cat or barking at everything in sight, the behaviorist suggested that we talk to the vet about putting her on Prozac because she is still anxious in new situations and when confronted with new things. It's very difficult to train Brandy when she's anxious and/or fearful and that's the reason why we're considering it. Once she overcomes her anxiety and/or fearfulness she's very easily trained. Now, I don't expect her to be on Prozac for the rest of her life, but only until she gains enough confidence to not be as anxious when confronted with new things.

Well, today we did talk to our vet about putting her on Prozac and the vet wasn't very comfortable with the idea. He's giving us a recommendation for a veterinary pet behaviorist who has more experience with mood altering drugs. Now, I have no problems with mood altering drugs because I take them myself for bipolar, except I can totally monitor my moods and let my psychiatrist know when they're not working. It's a little different with dogs I think.

So anyway, my question is: Has anyone had experience with their dogs on Prozac, or with prescribing Prozac (or similar drugs) to pets? What are the pros and cons? Are there alternatives? We've started her on clicker training (she's overcome her fear of the clicker, which is good) and that's helping a little.
posted by patheral to Pets & Animals (17 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
My parents have temporarily given Prozac to both their dogs when they were older puppies (around 5-9 months old). They did it because they thought their dogs were too hyper (I disagreed; puppies are by definition hyper). I don't know what dosage they were on, but the dogs apparently didn't really behave all that differently on or off of it and it kind of just functioned as a placebo. You may notice a difference if the Prozac is actually treating something, though...

Have you considered a ThunderShirt? I've heard good things about them.
posted by vegartanipla at 7:16 PM on June 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

When you talk about training, what are you talking about? Like, house training, crate training, getting her to behave appropriately in an ongoing everyday way? Or do you mean training like "sit", "come", "stay"? If the latter, does it really matter that this is difficult to do because she sometimes gets anxious? Like, is there something of life-changing importance you're trying to train, and she just can't get it because of this anxiety?

If not, and it's just that she doesn't do what you wish she'd do, I would tend to agree with your vet.

If the anxiety is harming the dog's quality of life or your quality of life, I think that's a different story.

A lot of your previous questions involve behavioral issues with your pet where you wish she'd be one way, but she's just not for whatever reason. If this is another example of that, I can understand the vet's reluctance.

(Note: I actually have an appointment to put my own dog on prozac later this week.)
posted by Sara C. at 7:30 PM on June 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

Not Prozac exactly, but similar -- I had a dog who was going more than a little bonkers in her old age, and the vet put her on amitriptyline to help chill her out. It really helped a lot, and it was super cheap. There were no negative side effects at all.
posted by spilon at 7:56 PM on June 17, 2013

Response by poster: We do have a thundershirt. It doesn't really work on her. It'll calm her down a little, but not enough to alleviate the situation.

A lot of your previous questions involve behavioral issues with your pet where you wish she'd be one way, but she's just not for whatever reason. If this is another example of that, I can understand the vet's reluctance.

I'm sorry you feel that way, but I think that my questions were more for the dog's quality of life and not my own. This is the same. I don't think it's healthy for her to be so anxious all the time. I don't think it's healthy for her to be a quivering ball of fur whenever I try to brush her (and dogs need to be brushed). Nor do I think it's healthy for her to cower and slink away from me whenever she thinks I'm in any way mad at her -- even when I'm not. For example, if I give her a mild correction when training. And yes, it's training along the lines of sit and stay.

In every question I've asked before, and on other forums, and in my research, and elsewhere I've been told that cattle dogs need a "job" that they need something to do or they become bored and aggressive. This isn't for me, it's for her. I'd be happy if I didn't have to train her for anything. Cocoa doesn't need training and he's happier than a pig in mud. But Brandy is a different cup of tea, so that's why I ask these things.

Since I'm disabled and cannot run with her, nearly everyone suggested that I train her. So, I've been trying to train her. Most of the time, it goes well and she learns quickly, but if she becomes in any way uncertain, she gets frightened and anxious and it appears that she thinks I'm going to hit her. I have never raised my hand to her once in the year that I've had her, but she seems to expect it. This makes training difficult. One example is that it took me months to teach her how to stay. When I first tried, she nearly shut down and would slink across the room to me when I called her. I didn't realize at first that this was because she didn't like me standing over her and putting my hand down to tell her to stay. Even after I realized this and adjusted accordingly, she still had to overcome her fear of the command stay. She's fine with it now, but perhaps you can see how her anxiety can interfere with such a simple command. And while you might think that these commands don't enhance their quality of life, they've come in handy at the dog park when I needed to get her out of sticky situations.

BTW, in case anyone asks, we have a treadmill for her to exercise on now, but she has to overcome her reluctance to use it. She'll use it, but she doesn't like it. So, adding her treadmill exercises to walks, dog park excursions and running around the yard, she should be getting enough exercise.

But I really would like to hear about people's experiences with pets and Prozac or other drugs.
posted by patheral at 8:29 PM on June 17, 2013

We tried Prozac for my anxious pup. The vet told us it lowered inhibitions in dogs like it does with people. That meant that a dog that won't bite without it might bite with it. Inhibition is all that stops some dogs from biting. That scared me, but we still went ahead and tried it. It didn't really help or change anything,so we took her off it.
posted by bananafish at 8:37 PM on June 17, 2013

Best answer: Prozac is a mixed bag. For some dogs, it worsens aggression and anxiety. And then, you have to wean them off of it, which can introduce another uptick in aggression and anxiety.

I don't expect her to be on Prozac for the rest of her life

You may want to adjust this expectation. Even with a careful weaning, some dogs (and people) find the withdrawal/post-drug adjustment too uncomfortable, and end up going back on the drugs indefinitely.

I also think there are some big ethical considerations in giving animals these types of drugs, unless all other avenues have been exhausted. Can your girl not just be allowed to be twitchy and anxious in new situations, and adjust to them at her own pace?
posted by nacho fries at 8:54 PM on June 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

Our vet prescribed Anxitane (l-theanine), an aminoacid recommended for anxiety. We've noticed small progressive improvements, but no significant changes in behavior or personality. We like it so far, and it's supposed to be non habit forming.
posted by papalotl at 9:27 PM on June 17, 2013

Our dog - also a cattle dog - was on Prozac for the last year or so of her life. It was the right choice for her. It made a very noticeable difference in her anxiety levels, but even on the Prozac she was way more anxious than most dogs. Our dog was anxious all the time though - not just in certain situations; I don't think we would have tried Prozac for situational anxiety.
posted by insectosaurus at 10:07 PM on June 17, 2013

Our Gus has been on fluoxetine for around a year now to treat aggression towards children and general anxiety that arises from fear. I think it has helped some, but has not completely "cured" him. (We have altered his/our lifestyle to keep him out of those situations.) The fluoxetine has helped "take the edge off" his anxiety and aggression, and made him easier to correct and redirect.
posted by OHSnap at 10:35 PM on June 17, 2013

My view may differ from others, but to be really honest I think putting a dog on Prozac is crazy. I only glanced at one of your other questions, but did you take the dog to training? Is there a lot of routine and predictability in the dog's life? Is there some more that you could learn about how best to build a new life for your adopted dog?

Structure and knowing how to 'be' with you, communicate with you and what to expect from you are the things which will benefit a dog the most. Please talk to some good dog trainers or behaviourists before you start putting your dog on drugs.
posted by inkypinky at 12:46 AM on June 18, 2013

Best answer: I don't recommend putting your dog on Prozac, at least not yet.

First, I recommend getting your dog more exercise. She's a working dog; without a job, she's going to be anxious. I know from your previous questions that you are disabled. Can you hire a neighborhood kid to take her on long walks every day? Can you take your dogs to the dog park at least once a week?

Second, I recommend working with your dog on a couple of anxiety triggers. I'd suggest things that don't produce a great amount of anxiety to begin with. What you want is to make your dog less afraid of these things through repeated exposure, where she learns that nothing bad will happen when she encounters X, Y, or Z. You do have to let her set the pace, and you must always be calm and reassuring (both inside and out).

Third, I think you just need to give your dog more time. You guys have gone through a lot of changes/stressors since you've had this dog. It's natural that she is anxious. She also clearly has some past trauma that she's working through.
posted by emilynoa at 5:26 AM on June 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

The worst dog I've ever met did a complete 180 once her people started her on meds. (Not Prozac. I think she went on clomipramine, but I'm not sure.)

This dog was an anxious, miserable mess. Because of her anxiety, she was snarly and aggressive toward new people, actually bit once of her owners, went through not one but two plate-glass windows, and was such a terrible dog that I privately thought my friends should euthanize her.

I am a huge softie, and even I thought there was no training program in the world that could help this dog.

Meds helped. Like, amazingly helped. Like, she's delightful now. Actually delightful. Calm and happy.

I think your vet is being a pill and that you should try the Prozac. What's the harm? Your situation isn't working for you or Brandy right now, so go ahead and try to change it. Prozac isn't poison. And if it doesn't work, try another one. And a vet who is more helpful.
posted by purpleclover at 5:40 AM on June 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

Absolutely try Prozac or clomipramine. One of my dogs - extremely anxious and fear-reactive - has been helped tremendously by it. Clomipramine also literally saved the life of a dog I fostered by curing - yes, curing - severe separation anxiety, thus making her adoptable.

Training is, of course, important, but medication can make your dog much more receptive to training.

For me, this is a quality of life issue for the dog. My anxious dog's anxiety makes him miserable, and medication makes him feel better.

Denying medication to a dog with mental issues is as bad as denying it to a dog with kidney issues. Get a different vet or insist.

It might also help to look at some of the reviews for these medications.
posted by walla at 6:47 AM on June 18, 2013 [2 favorites]

How old is Brandy? Our 11-1/2 year-old lhasapoo named Pesto has been on Prozac now for about 4 months.

His main anxiety issue is thunderstorms -- uncontrollable shaking and panting -- but he's always been very suspicious of guests, unless they've been to the house a lot. We had been using acepromazine for the thunderstorm issue, but that really knocks him out, so we did not want to use that too often.

The first 30 days on prozac were very discouraging, but we stuck with it and started seeing beneficial effects around 6 to 8 weeks. Given his age, we'll probably continue with it for the rest of his life

He settles down much more quickly when someone's visiting, and the Thundershirt is much more effective than it was before Prozac. Plus we have an additional drug Trazodone we can give him to increase the effect of the Prozac during heavy storms.

Better living through chemistry!
posted by omnidrew at 6:50 AM on June 18, 2013

I had an anxious dog who slept in bed with my spouse and I. When he was about 11, he started waking up in the middle of the night and snarling viciously at us from under the covers. We would make him get off the bed, and he would stand there freaking out and snarling until he decided to stop. This was all especially upsetting because before that, bed was his sanctuary from anxiety. We immediately took him to the vet, who tested everything he could think of and put him on pain meds (just in case he was in some random pain that was triggering at night). Nothing helped, and we were considering whether we might have to have him euthanized. The vet then suggested Prozac. It helped drastically and immediately. He never growled at us again, and lived out his last few years much, much happier than he had ever been.
posted by outfielder at 6:50 AM on June 18, 2013

Best answer: It can help or it can make things worse. Behaviorists come in many flavors. I don't know what experience your behaviorist has, but it doesn't take any specific training, credentials or schooling to call yourself one. A veterinary behaviorist, on the other hand, is a vet interested in animal behavior and you can expect a little more rigor. There are also drugs other than prozac that have a variety of different indications that a veterinary behaviorist would probably have more experience with. I would definitely take the referral and get a second opinion on the drugs.
posted by rocketpup at 8:14 AM on June 18, 2013

Best answer: I think you should take your vet's advice and go to a veterinary behaviorist if you can afford it.

My parents took their dog to a veterinary behaviorist (this was a person who was a vet, but who focused on dog psychiatry). Their dog has generalized anxiety disorder. The behaviorist was able to provide a diagnosis and work with my parents to find the right combination of medications. It took some adjustments, but we found a combination of drugs that takes the edge of of the dog's anxiety.

The medication isn't a cure-all, but the dog will now leave the house (he had been becoming agoraphobic) and is able to do simple things like walk past a parked bike, a person with a hat, or a car with its hazard lights on.

The veterinary behaviorist was a huge help. She was able to customize the dog's treatment. The dog is currently on Zoloft, Clonidine, and Lorazapam. It took this particular combination to calm him. Your dog may require different medications. Of all the drugs they tried, the Clonidine was what tipped the scales.

This is all to say I recommend going to an veterinary expert for these issues. Our regular vet told my parents she couldn't handle the dog's issues. It sounds like your vet is doing the same. I consider it the responsible thing to do.

Lastly, don't feel guilty about providing your dog with mood altering drugs. You're doing it for the dog and not yourself. There could very well be a biological reason for your dog's behavior. We found out later that the littermate of my parents' dog also has the same fear issues, despite the dogs being raised in different houses. My parents' dog is so much happier now that he can do normal dog things.
posted by parakeetdog at 9:26 AM on June 18, 2013 [3 favorites]

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