Pet Care Blog

Trazodone for Dogs: How Does It Work and When Is It Prescribed?

Dr. Ricky Walther
Professional veterinarian giving pill to German Shepherd dog in clinic

Is your dog one of those super-nervous pets? Whether it is a vet visit or loud noises, nothing seems to help ease his fears and anxiety. In that case, your vet might prescribe trazodone.

Trazodone is used in veterinary medicine for its anti-anxiety and sedative effects. Many vets prescribe the drug for canines with anxiety and behavioral disorders, alone or in combination with other psychotropic drugs.

But is this human drug actually safe for your dog? Read on to find out how trazodone is used in dogs and whether there are any side effects you should be aware of.

Pro tip: Not all pet insurance policies cover behavioral issues, but there are some that do cover consultations with a licensed vet to diagnose anxiety, as well as therapies or drugs your dog needs to help calm their nerves.

dog on bed (Image source: Great Pet Care)

What is Trazodone?

Trazodone is a serotonin modulator, i.e. it acts to normalize serotonin levels within the brain. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that promotes a sense of well-being. By normalizing the levels of serotonin, trazodone provides mild sedation and relieves anxiety.

The drug has been around since the 1980s but vets started using it in the last decade or so. Even though it’s not approved by the FDA for use in animals, trazodone is often prescribed as an anti-anxiety drug for dogs.

Trazodone can be given either on a regular basis or before stressful events. In fact, some vets prescribe it to reduce stress before a vet visit. This way, the pooch will be calmer and the vet will be able to perform the exam without any obstacle.

What can Trazodone help with?

The drug is often used to manage generalized anxiety in dogs, but most commonly prescribed to help with situational anxiety, such as pups that are easily scared when traveling.

Some vets prescribe it after surgery to restrict activity during the recovery period and facilitate the healing of surgical incisions. It is also often used as a supplemental therapy in pups that don’t respond to conventional therapies.

Trazodone can help dogs with:

  • Travel anxiety
  • Separation anxiety
  • Stress associated with vet visits
  • Noise anxiety (for instance, fear from fireworks or thunderstorms)
  • Post-surgical recovery

The use of this medicine to treat behavioral disorders in pets is 'extra-label' or ‘off label’, which means that you must follow your vet’s instructions strictly as they might be quite different from those on the label made by the manufacturer.

Trazodone side effects in dogs

Trazodone is considered to be quite safe to use in dogs, causing only mild and rare side effects. In the majority of cases, the dog will become more sedated or lethargic than expected. In some dogs, the drug may cause mild excitation or anxiety, and quite rarely this anxiety might result in aggressive behavior. GI symptoms like diarrhea or vomiting are also possible.

The list of possible Trazodone dog side effects includes:

  • Anxiety
  • Increased aggression
  • Lethargy or drowsiness
  • Panting
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting or gagging
  • Changes in appetite
  • Dilated pupils
  • Colitis (painful inflammation of the inner lining of the colon)
  • Priapism (prolonged, painful erection of the penis)
  • Ataxia (loss of muscle control)
  • Arrhythmia

If you notice any of the above-listed symptoms after administering trazodone, be sure to get in touch with your vet.

sad dog lying (Image source: Rover)

Trazodone risk factors

The drug is not recommended for dogs hypersensitive to the medication. It should also be used with caution in dogs with heart disease as well as those suffering from kidney or liver disease. Dogs with narrow-angle glaucoma should not use the medication either.

Some animal studies have found that very high doses can cause adverse effects on fetuses, so the risk of giving Trazodone to a pregnant dog versus its benefits should be considered by a vet.

Trazodone and other drugs

Trazodone is often combined with other drugs in order to maximize its benefits. Most commonly, vets combine it with other anxiolytics and mild sedatives like gabapentin to help with situational anxiety. These medications are safe to combine and they might be more effective together than trazodone alone.

The following medications should be used with caution when combined with trazodone:

  • Aspirin (which should not be used in animal patients without strict approval from a vet)
  • Antihypertensive drugs
  • Azole antifungals
  • CNS depressants
  • Cisapride
  • Diuretics
  • Digoxin
  • Fluoroquinolones
  • Metoclopramide
  • Monoamine oxidase (MAO) inhibitors
  • Macrolide antibiotics
  • NSAIDs
  • Phenothiazines
  • Tramadol
  • Ondansetron
  • SSRI antidepressants

The medication should never be used together with other serotonergic drugs. For instance, if your pup is already receiving a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor like fluoxetine, they shouldn’t receive trazodone. When trazodone is used with other serotonergic medications, i.e. medications that act on serotonin, serotonin syndrome is possible. The symptoms of serotonin syndrome include:

  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Hyperthermia (elevated body temperature)
  • Depression
  • Skin sensitivity
  • Dilated pupils
  • Blindness
  • Vocalization
  • Excessive salivation
  • Loss of control of movement
  • Disorientation
  • Paralysis
  • Seizures
  • Coma
  • Death

If you notice signs of serotonin syndrome, contact your vet immediately.

Pro tip: By enrolling in pet insurance prior to symptoms of illness, your vet bills can be covered up to 90%!

Combining Trazodone with certain antibiotics (clarithromycin, erythromycin) and antifungal agents (fluconazole, itraconazole, ketoconazole) might make canines more susceptible to the sedating effects of the drug.

Make sure to let your vet know if your dog is taking any medications, including supplements or vitamins. In addition, tell your vet if your dog has worn a tick collar or had a flea dip in the last 2 weeks and, if so, what kind. Preventic or dips containing amitraz might negatively interact with trazodone.

Trazodone dosage for dogs

Trazodone is typically supplied in the form of a small white tablet and, less commonly, it might be supplied as a liquid or a capsule.

While some canines receive this drug 2-3 times a day on an ongoing basis, many dogs only take it intermittently, i.e. before highly stressful events.

The dosage for dogs will vary depending on a number of factors, one of the most important being the dog’s weight. In general, smaller dogs receive smaller doses than larger dogs.

Vets often start with smaller doses and increase the dose if necessary. Contact your veterinarian to get dosage instructions for your dog and to check if trazodone is safe for your specific pet.

Trazodone is given orally, with food or on an empty stomach. If your dog acts sick or vomits after taking the drug on an empty stomach, try giving the next dose with food.

The drug takes effect quickly, in about one to two hours, when used for short-term stress relief. However, for long-term treatment, it can take several weeks before full effects are observed. Trazodone stops working within 24 hours, but its effects can last longer in dogs with kidney or liver disease.

If you miss a dose of dog Trazodone, you should administer it as soon as possible. However, if it’s nearly time for the next dose, skip the missed one and continue with the regular schedule. Never administer two doses of Trazodone to your dog at once.

Store trazodone in the original bottle at room temperature and away from moisture. If your vet has made a special formulation for your pet, follow the storage recommendations for the product.

Trazodone overdose in dogs

Trazodone overdoses can be serious and cause:

  • Restlessness
  • Excess sedation
  • Slower breathing
  • Depression
  • Ataxia
  • Apnea
  • Bradycardia or tachycardia
  • Hypotension or hypertension
  • Disorientation
  • Hyperesthesia
  • Urinary incontinence
  • Tremors
  • Seizures
  • Coma

Signs of overdose are typically seen about 30 to 60 minutes after exposure. Usually, the clinical signs last 10 to 12 hours, but in some cases, they might last for more than 24 hours.

If you suspect an overdose or an adverse reaction to trazodone, contact your vet right away. If they’re not available, contact an emergency facility.

In these cases, treatment is largely supportive. The vet will likely recommend IV fluids and diazepam in case there are seizures or tremors.

Final thoughts

Trazodone is used in dogs for anxiety-related conditions, including firework and thunderstorm phobias, separation anxiety, and to minimize activity after surgeries.

The drug can be given with food or on an empty stomach and might take up to two weeks to achieve a calming effect, especially when used alone. The most common side effects are decreased activity and sleepiness. If you suspect an overdose or an adverse reaction to the medication, call your vet immediately.

Make sure to follow your vet’s instructions very carefully when giving your pet any medications.

Key Takeaways

  • Trazodone is a drug sometimes prescribed to dogs with stress-induced anxiety.
  • Pet parents should be very careful when administering a vet-recommended dosage of Trazodone for dogs.
  • Always watch for potential adverse reactions any time you give your dog a new medication.
  • Pet insurance can help cover the cost prescription medications and provide peace of mind should you need to see a vet due to unexpected illness.

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Ricky Walther, DVM

Dr. Ricky Walther

Ricky Walther, DVM, is a small animal general practitioner in the greater Sacramento, California area. Realizing the positive financial and medical impact that pet insurance can provide for pet parents and the profession, he lends support and advice to companies like Pawlicy Advisor "The Pet Insurance Marketplace") that simplify the process of connecting with veterinary financing resources.

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