Can Trazodone Kill A Dog?

Could your anxiety medication kill your dog? ¹

Just like humans, dogs are prone to anxiety and high levels of stress. Our furry friends are constantly exposed to sounds, sights and situations that they may not understand. 

They have to endure deafening thunderstorms, unwanted visits to the vet, unfamiliar strangers entering their space, and the list goes on. 

While some dogs have the stomach to happily watch the world go by, other dogs may find themselves in a constant state of distress. 

If your dog falls into the latter group this can be exhausting, and the fearful and anxious behavior that they exhibit may even put other dogs and humans at risk. 

When solutions like training and increased socialization fail to improve your dog’s anxiety, your vet may recommend Trazodone, a common antidepressant drug. Deciding whether to treat your dog with Trazodone can be tricky. 

By the end of this article you will have all the information you need about treating your dog with Trazodone.  

What Is Trazodone?

Trazodone, also known by brand names Desyrel and Oleptro, is an antidepressant drug that is commonly used to treat depression and anxiety in humans. It works by restoring the balance of serotonin, a neurotransmitter in the brain that is commonly referred to as the ‘happy chemical’. 

Serotonin is a key component in mood regulation and the promotion of well-being. The drug works by selectively blocking serotonin uptake. This in turn increases the levels of serotonin in the system which subsequently enhances its effects. 

Trazodone has been prescribed to humans since 1981 and is now one of the most commonly prescribed medications in America. 

Trazodone has also been shown to be beneficial and safe in dogs as a treatment for canine anxiety disorders. As a result, veterinarians commonly prescribe Trazodone to dogs. 

When Will My Vet Prescribe My Dog Trazodone?

Veterinarians prescribe Trazodone for dogs to treat anxiety in a number of circumstances. Trazodone can be used to treat general-based anxiety in dogs such as separation-anxiety which is often exhibited by behaviors like barking, growling, wining and destroying property or having accidents in the house when their owner is away. 

Trazodone can also be used to treat phobia-based anxiety in dogs such as anxiety induced by high stress situations like loud noises, travel and hospitalization.

Before prescribing Trazodone, vets will often recommend behavioral based interventions like professional training. 

The risk of negative side-effects is higher for dogs who are hypersensitive to medication and for dogs that have kidney disease, liver disease or narrow-angle glaucoma.

What Dosage of Trazodone Should Be Given to Dogs?

When used to treat anxiety in dogs, Trazodone is often prescribed as an off label drug, meaning that the dosage directions given by the veterinarians may differ significantly from the label depending on the dog’s weight.  

However, veterinarians will generally prescribe dogs a dose of about 1 mg to 3 mg of trazodone per pound per day for generalized anxiety. Trazodone is fast-acting, so for separation anxiety and other panic-inducing situations like a visit to the vet, it can be given 90-minutes before.

Trazodone can be administered in combination with other drugs in order to increase the effects. When given with mild sedatives, or tricyclic antidepressants such as Amitriptyline and Clomipramine or other serotonin reuptake blockers, veterinarians will prescribe dogs a dose of trazodone starting at 0.9 mg to 2.3 mg and increase as needed to a maximum dose of 6.4 mg per pound per day. 

Certain antifungal medications such as Fluconazole can change the metabolism of Trazodone in a way that makes the dog more sensitive to Trazodone. When combined with antifungals, the dog should be given a lower dose of Trazodone.

Pet owners should make sure to inform their vet if their dog is taking any other medications or has any health conditions before the vet prescribes Trazodone.

How To Administer Trazodone To Dogs Correctly?

Trazodone usually comes in a white tablet and is available as 50 mg, 100 mg, and 150 mg immediate release tablets or higher dose extended release tablets. Sometimes it may be prescribed in the form of liquid or a capsule. 

Trazodone is administered orally. Even though it can be given to dogs on an empty stomach, this can lead to more pronounced side effects. 

Ideally, dogs should be given a small meal or snack prior to being given the Trazodone, this helps to regulate the rate that the drug is absorbed into the dogs system. Trazodone should always be given whole, not crushed. 

If you accidentally miss giving your dog a scheduled dose of trazodone you have a few options. You can give the dog a dose of trazodone whenever you remember it. But, if it is close to the time that the dog would get the next scheduled dose of trazodone anyways, the missed dose can be skipped altogether. 

Under no circumstances should a dog ever be given more than one dose of Trazodone or extra doses at once as this can lead to the dog overdosing. 

How To Give A Trazodone Pill To A Dog Successfully?

There are several instructional articles and videos that describe how to administer a pill to a dog. 

Generally, dogs that love to wolf down treats without chewing can be given the Trazodone dose by wrapping the pill in a piece of cheese or bread and putting it far enough back in the dog’s mouth for the dog to simply gulp it down. 

To increase the chances of the dog instinctively swallowing the trazodone, the pill should be put behind the hump in the dog’s mouth. The dog’s mouth should then be closed and their throat should be stroked gently in a downward motion to encourage the dog to swallow the Trazodone pill. 

These methods work best for dogs that are unlikely to bite when having something inserted into their mouth. If you feel these methods won’t work for your dog you can consult your vet. 

How Long Does It Take For Trazodone To Work On Dogs?

Trazodone is a fast-acting medication. When used for short-term situation anxiety such as separation-anxiety, it will take effect on dogs within 30 minutes to 2 hours of receiving the medication. 

When prescribed in smaller doses such as for generalized-anxiety, the dog may feel the effects of the Trazodone more gradually. 

How Long Does It Take Trazodone To Wear Off On Dogs?

Trazodone is metabolized in the liver and excreted from the kidneys. Trazodone’s effects usually last for 4 hours or more. The main compound in the drug has a half-life of 7 hours. 

The medication should stop working within 24 hours of administration, although the effects of the drug can last longer if the dog’s metabolism is compromised by liver or kidney disease.

What Are The Side-Effects Of Trazodone For Dogs?

There may be mild side-effects for dogs when treated with Trazodone. Immediate side effects may include dilated pupils, sedation, tiredness, vomiting, colon inflammation, poor muscle control, painful erection, panting, diarrhea, irregular heartbeat and increased appetite. 

Counterproductive side effects include increased anxiety and increased aggression. When Trazodone is combined with other serotonin reuptake blocking drugs, there may be a risk of serotonin syndrome

When a dog has serotonin syndrome they may experience excessive effects of serotonin caused by an overstimulation of serotonin receptors. 

Symptoms include mental changes like agitation, depression, neuromuscular abnormalities like loss of movement control, vocalization, disorientation and paralysis, and altered body function, like elevated temperature, difficulty breathing, skin sensitivity, vomiting and diarrhea. 

If you notice any of these signs while your dog is taking Trazodone you should contact your vet immediately.

Can A Trazodone Kill Dogs?

One concern when giving dogs human pills is that the pill will harm or even kill the dog. Trazodone is a prescription drug and just like for humans, the medication should only be used on dogs after consulting a medical expert— in this case a veterinarian. 

Ingesting too much Trazodone can lead to overdose and in rare cases it may even be fatal for the dog. SIgns of overdose include seizures, loss of consciousness, vomiting and coma. To avoid trazodone overdose, caution should be made to administer Trazodone exactly as instructed by a veterinarian. 

Trazodone pills should never be left anywhere where the dog can access it freely. In the case that a dog does accidentally ingest Trazodone pills, vomiting can be induced within an hour of the exposure even for asymptomatic dogs. 

Are There Any Alternatives To Trazodone For Dogs?

It may be tempting to just rummage through your medicine cabinet and give your dog a non-prescription human medication instead of visiting the vet to get your dog started on Trazodone. 

For example, some people use Benadryl (Diphenhydramine) as a sedative to calm their dog’s when traveling or during high stress situations like thunderstorms or fireworks. 

While drugs like Benadryl may alleviate symptoms for some dogs, the effects are not as pronounced in dogs as they are in people and these drugs should not be used long-term. 

It is important that you contact your veterinarian for medical advice. Do not try to self-treat your dog medically. 

Photo credits

¹ Photo by frankieleon on Flickr