Can dogs use Xanax?
- Xanax is often prescribed as an extra-label drug by veterinarians to treat anxiety-related disorders in dogs(1). It is also used as a sedative, muscle relaxant, and anticonvulsant drug to suppress seizures(2).
- The use of Xanax causes side effects on dogs like sedation, increased appetite, interference with learning, and excitement instead of tranquilization(3). Dogs may also develop a physical dependence on Xanax(4).
- There are several natural alternatives that dog owners are turning to in treating their pet’s anxiety, and among them is the use of CBD oil.
- CBD oil has anti-anxiety properties that can help improve the condition of these dogs(5).
- Before administering CBD to their dogs, pet owners should consult with their veterinarian first.
What is Xanax?
Xanax is a brand name for alprazolam, an anxiety medication that is prescribed to treat panic disorders and anxiety caused by depression(6). It is listed under benzodiazepines, a group of psychoactive drugs that treat conditions related to the nervous system.
People who have anxiety may have an imbalance of chemicals in the brain, and Xanax aids in correcting these.
A neurotransmitter that is found in the brain called gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) acts as the body’s natural tranquilizer. Those with anxiety lack GABA molecules, and Xanax tries to remedy that by enhancing the existing GABA neurotransmitters’ calming effects(7).
Taking Xanax may be addictive(8); hence, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration has classified it as a controlled substance and a schedule IV drug. Medications under this category have a low potential for abuse and a low risk of dependence(9).
Doctors usually prescribe Xanax as an anxiety disorder medication for a maximum of four months only. For panic disorders, doctors prescribe Xanax for 10 weeks at most(10).
Patients taking Xanax must strictly follow their doctor’s prescription. They should not take it with alcohol, opioid medicine, or other medications that slow down breathing or make people drowsy(11).
Can Xanax be Used on Dogs?
According to Rania Gollakner, BS, DVM, Xanax is usually taken as a sedative or tranquilizer for pet anxiety or panic. Even if the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not approved Xanax as veterinary medicine, veterinarians still prescribe this as an “off-label” or “extra-label” drug(12).
Off-label drugs are medications used in a way that is not listed on the drug’s label. The FDA gives healthcare providers the discretion to prescribe off-label use of certain medications as long as it is medically appropriate for the patient(13).
As a benzodiazepine tranquilizer, Xanax is mainly used to treat anxiety and as a medication that can be used while a dog is undergoing behavior modification (correction of behavior problems). Pet owners may give their dog Xanax for the following(14):
- Preventive medication to address triggers like loud noises (e.g., thunderstorm phobias and noise phobias) – Xanax should be administered before the anticipated triggering event.
- Situational or interventional drug for observed fears and anxieties – Xanax should be given to dogs to prevent a known fear from worsening.
- A panicolytic drug – Xanax should be given immediately when the dog experiences a panic attack. Panicolytic medications reduce flight reaction(15).
Because of its significant effects on the central nervous system, Xanax is also used as a sedative, muscle relaxant, and anticonvulsant medication to suppress seizures(16).
Xanax as Anxiety Medication for Dogs
Like humans, dogs experience anxiety, too. The most common causes of a dog’s anxiety are fear, separation, and aging(17).
American Kennel Club (AKC) reports that strangers or other animals may cause anxiety in dogs. Other fears that can cause anxiety include noise and visual stimuli, specific situations like a car ride or a first-time visit to the veterinarian, unfamiliar environments, and even surfaces like grass or wooden floors(18).
Separation anxiety in dogs, meanwhile, happens when they are left alone or taken away from their families. Older dogs also experience age-related anxiety as they may be prone to cognitive dysfunction syndrome (CDS). This condition is accompanied by a decline in a more senior dog’s memory, learning, perception, and awareness(19).
Pet owners should look out for these symptoms if they suspect anxiety in their dogs(20):
- Urinating or defecating in the house
- Destructive behavior
- Excessive barking
- Repetitive or compulsive behaviors
Xanax Dosage for Dogs
According to the Manual of Clinical Behavioral Medicine for Dogs and Cats, the published dosages for Xanax vary greatly. Dr. Karen Overall recommends a 0.25 to 0.50 mg dosage of Xanax to dogs every 12 hours or every four to six hours, as needed. The preferred starting range is 0.02 to 0.04 mg per kilogram of the dog’s weight(21).
Xanax can be purchased as 0.25 mg, 0.5 mg, 1 mg, 2 mg, or 3 mg tablets, or as an oral suspension.
Side Effects of Xanax on Dogs and Other Concerns
Common side effects include the following(22):
- Increased hunger
- Interference with learning
- Paradoxical effects like excitement instead of tranquilization
Before administering Xanax to their pets, dog owners should be aware of the following(23):
- The effects of Xanax are more potent if used with the following medications:
- Cimetidine (antacid)
- Itraconazole (antifungal drug)
- Other anxiety drugs (fluoxetine, clomipramine or clomicalm, diazepam or valium, buspirone, or amitriptyline)
- Propranolol and digoxin (heart medications)
- Patients with liver diseases or kidney diseases should use Xanax with caution.
- When administering Xanax to a pet for the first time, owners should closely monitor the dog for over-tranquilization or aggression.
- Xanax should not be used by dogs in their early pregnancy or by dogs who are nursing their puppies.
- Because Xanax is a controlled substance, veterinarians must keep records upon the prescription of the drug.
- Suddenly weaning dogs off Xanax after long-term use can cause withdrawal symptoms.
- Dogs can also develop a physical dependence on Xanax, so it is highly advised that it should only be given to dogs upon a veterinarian’s prescription(24).
CBD Oil as an Alternative to Xanax for Dogs
Instead of administering Xanax, owners of anxious dogs are turning to natural alternatives like music, massage and acupuncture, and even essential oils (25) in treating their dog’s anxiety.
Aside from these, some pet owners have also explored the use of cannabidiol (CBD), the non-psychoactive component of the cannabis plant, in alleviating symptoms of dog anxiety.
A study in 2015 (26) revealed that preclinical evidence suggests that CBD may be used to treat general anxiety disorder, panic disorder, social anxiety disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder.
The American Kennel Club also reports that dog owners use CBD on their pets because of its anti-anxiety properties(27).
Another study in 2006 that was conducted on mice reported that when CB1 cannabinoid receptors are activated, this reduces anxiety-like behaviors in the test subjects(28). CBD is one of the cannabinoids that interacts and stimulates cannabinoid receptors like CB1.
The test subjects of the 2006 study were mice. It is suggested, however, that the endocannabinoid system (ECS), which regulates the functions of cannabinoids and cannabinoid receptors, is shared by humans and all animals excluding insects(29).
It is suggested that if CBD has positive effects on humans, it must be effective on other animals, too.
Pet owners use CBD because of its lack of adverse effects on animals. Typical side effects include drowsiness, dry mouth, and lowered blood pressure(30).
CBD for veterinary use has not been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), so there is no standard dosage for CBD use on dogs. It is recommended to start with a small dose, and if there are no adverse reactions, the dosage may be increased gradually.
Before using CBD, pet owners should inform their veterinarian first.
CBD and Xanax
Though there are no studies on the interaction between Xanax and CBD, using the two drugs on dogs simultaneously is not recommended.
CBD inhibits cytochrome P450’s ability to metabolize some medications(31), including Xanax, increasing the body’s processing time of the drugs.
Xanax can be used on dogs to alleviate symptoms of anxiety disorder. However, pet owners should only administer Xanax to their pets upon a veterinarian’s prescription because of its side effects on dogs, such as sedation, increase in appetite, interference with learning, and excitement instead of tranquilization.
The use of Xanax is also habit-forming in pets. A study has found that dogs can develop a physical dependence on it. The drug should also be used with caution, as it has interactions with several medications, ranging from antacids to antifungal drugs, and even heart medications.
Owners should carefully supervise their dogs when administering Xanax to their pets for the first time because of the possible effects of over-tranquilization or aggression.
Pet owners have started to turn to natural alternatives like CBD oil to treat anxiety-related symptoms because of CBD’s lack of adverse effects on dogs and other animals.
Before adding CBD to a dog’s medication regimen, veterinarians must be consulted first.
- Gollakner, Rania. “Alprazolam.” vca_corporate, vcahospitals.com/know-your-pet/alprazolam.
- Curley, Kendall. “10 Medications for Dog Anxiety.” PetMD, 17 July 2019, www.petmd.com/dog/behavior/10-medications-dog-anxiety.
- Brooks, Wendy. “Alprazolam (Xanax) – Veterinary Partner.” Veterinary Partner, 18 June 2007, veterinarypartner.vin.com/default.aspx?pid=19239&id=4952652.
- Sloan, Jewell W., et al. “Dependence-Producing Properties of Alprazolam in the Dog.” Pharmacology Biochemistry and Behavior, Elsevier, 7 Nov. 2002, www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/009130579090303Y.
- Kriss, Randa. “CBD Oil For Dogs: What You Need To Know.” American Kennel Club, American Kennel Club, 27 Oct. 2019, www.akc.org/expert-advice/health/cbd-oil-dogs/.
- “Xanax: Uses, Dosage, Side Effects & Warnings.” Drugs.com, www.drugs.com/xanax.html.
- Cox, Stephen. “How Does Xanax Work.” National Anxiety Foundation, www.nationalanxietyfoundation.org/how-does-xanax-work/.
- Drugs.com. op. cit.
- “Drug Scheduling.” DEA, www.dea.gov/drug-scheduling.
- Drugs.com. op. cit.
- Gollakner, R. op. cit.
- U.S. Food and Drug Administration. “Understanding Unapproved Use of Approved Drugs ‘Off Label.’” U.S. Food and Drug Administration, FDA, www.fda.gov/patients/learn-about-expanded-access-and-other-treatment-options/understanding-unapproved-use-approved-drugs-label.
- Overall, Karen. “Generalized Guidelines for Using Alprazolam for Noise and Storm Phobias, Panic, and Severe Distress.” Oaklawn Animal Hospital, Mosby, 2013, oaklawnanimalhospital.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/General-Guidelines-for-using-Alprazolam.pdf.
- Blanchard, Robert J., et al. “Differentiation of Anxiolytic and Panicolytic Drugs by Effects on Rat and Mouse Defense Test Batteries.” Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews, Pergamon, 7 Nov. 1997, www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0149763496000620?via%3Dihub.
- Curley, K. (2019 July 17). op. cit.
- Kriss, Randa. “Dog Anxiety: What Dog Owners Need to Know.” American Kennel Club, American Kennel Club, 14 May 2019, www.akc.org/expert-advice/health/treating-dog-anxiety/.
- Overall, K. (2013). op. cit.
- Brooks, W. (2007 June 18). op. cit.
- Sloan, J. (2002 Nov. 7). op. cit.
- Curley, Kendall. “8 Ways to Calm Your Dog Naturally.” PetMD, 17 July 2019, www.petmd.com/8-ways-calm-your-dog-naturally.
- Blessing, Esther M, et al. “Cannabidiol as a Potential Treatment for Anxiety Disorders.” Neurotherapeutics : the Journal of the American Society for Experimental NeuroTherapeutics, Springer US, Oct. 2015, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26341731.
- Kriss, R. (2019 Oct. 27). op. cit.
- Patel, Sachin, and Cecilia J Hillard. “Pharmacological Evaluation of Cannabinoid Receptor Ligands in a Mouse Model of Anxiety: Further Evidence for an Anxiolytic Role for Endogenous Cannabinoid Signaling.” The Journal of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics, U.S. National Library of Medicine, July 2006, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16569753/.
- Silver, Robert J. “The Endocannabinoid System of Animals.” Animals: an open access journal from MDPI vol. 9,9 686. 16 Sep. 2019, doi:10.3390/ani9090686
- Kriss, R. (2019 Oct. 27). op. cit.
- Yamaori, Satoshi, et al. Potent Inhibition of Human Cytochrome P450 3A Isoforms by Cannabidiol: Role of Phenolic Hydroxyl Groups in the Resorcinol Moiety. 10 Feb. 2011, www.medicinalgenomics.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/11/Potent-inhibition-of-CYP3A-with-CBD.pdf.