Long-Term Daily Trazodone Use in Dogs (Pros/Cons)

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This article was updated on October 27th, 2023

Trazadone is one of many anti-anxiety medications used to treat anxiety in our canine companions. It is a short-acting medication that is most commonly used for what’s known as situational anxiety: those short-term moments when dogs just need a little help getting through. But since it’s so effective, some owners wonder if it can be given every day. Here’s what you need to know.

How does trazadone help?

dog owner with trazodone bottle

Trazodone helps increase the amount of serotonon in the brain. Generally speaking, the more serotonin in the brain, the better a dog’s mood and the less anxiety they feel. The effects of trazadone usually wear off within 24 hours, so it’s considered a short-term medication best used for infrequent causes of anxiety. For example, it can be used during:

  • Thunderstorms
  • Fireworks
  • Vet office visits

Vets often prescribe it for intermittent use, but in some cases trazodone might be prescribed for daily administration.

How often can I give my dog trazodone?

Trazodone can be given intermittently or multiple times a day for anxious dogs, as prescribed by their veterinarian. The actual dose depends on the dog’s weight. Frequency and duration depend on your dog’s individual situation.

Trazodone is typically prescribed for once a day, twice a day, or sometimes even three times a day dosing.

Dogs with chronic low-level anxiety may find relief in just once a day dosing, while dogs combating more significant issues may need more frequent dosing. Trazodone should also be started at the lowest possible dose and have that dose increased until it becomes effective.

In any case, check with your veterinarian to make sure your dog receives the right dose, since it will depend on your dog’s individual profile.

Is trazodone safe for long-term use in dogs?

The American Journal of Animal and Veterinary Sciences has indicated that trazodone is generally recognized as safe, though they do indicate that more conclusive studies are needed.

Anecdotally, veterinarians have found the medication to be safe for administration within normal dosing limits.

The most common side effects are mild when doses are appropriate:

  • Mild sedation is an expected and sometimes a welcome side effect.
  • Lethargy may be present in dogs that are sensitive, and depending on degree of lethargy, the doctor may recommend reducing the dose.
  • Gastrointestinal upset may be present in rare cases. If it doesn’t resolve even with a reduced dose, the doctor may recommend changing medications.

A study was conducted on veterinary patients after orthopedic surgery and while some patients experienced mild side effects, none of the side effects experienced warranted discontinuation of the medication.

In rare cases, more significant side effects might occur, but it is important to know that the risk for these is relatively low.

  • In rare cases, serotonin syndrome can occur with a variety of behavioral medications including trazodone, fluoxetine, and alprazolam. This syndrome typically happens when the medication is over-dosed, or when a combination of medications are used that carry risk for serotonin syndrome
  • In dogs with existing liver issues, side effects involving the liver may occur since that is where this medication is metabolized. It is important for patients receiving long-term trazodone to have periodic bloodwork to check organ function.

How do I know if trazodone is working for my dog?

Many pet owners note a relatively quick improvement of signs once a trazodone regimen has been started. While the nature of the improvement depends on the behavioral issue it’s treating, some early indicators of success may include:

  • General calmness in a dog who is usually hyper-active or hyper-vigilant
  • Specific reduction in the problematic anxiety behaviors
  • Increase in normal behavior, such as acting independently, eating more regularly, or napping
  • Improved tolerance to stress or stressful events
  • Decrease in obsessive or compulsive behaviors

While results vary, owners may see immediate improvement in mild cases, though it could take a few days or a couple of weeks to see significant improvement in severe behavioral cases.

For some dogs, there will not be resolution of signs, but there will still likely be improvement. This means the dogs may still exhibit some of the stress and anxiety related behaviors, but they’ll be far better managed with medication.

Can dogs develop a tolerance to trazodone? Might the vet need to change dosage?

Most dogs are not at risk for building up a tolerance to the medication. However, some dogs may need additional medications or other routes to help with management. This may include training, environmental modification, or even a change in diet. In some cases, working with a veterinary behaviorist is will needed.

Is it safe to stop giving trazodone after using it for a long time?

Since trazadone is commonly used as a short-term or as needed medication, tapering the dosage at the end of administration isn’t always necessary. However, if your dog has been on trazadone for the long-term, tapering the dose may help reduce any side effects or unwanted behaviors. Speak to your vet about the best way to stop giving trazadone after giving it for long-term.

Are there alternatives to trazodone?

A variety of veterinary pharmaceuticals are available for management of anxiety and stress induced behavioral issues, though each works a little differently and may be better suited to certain kinds of behavioral management:

  • Alprazolam (Xanax): This medication is fast-acting and often used for situational anxiety, such as thunderstorm phobia.
  • Clomipramine: This medication is often indicated for disorders that require longer term and more consistent treatment, such as compulsive disorders or separation anxiety.
  • Fluoxetine (Prozac): this medication is a good long-term solution for anxiety.

Are there natural remedies to calm my anxious dog?

For mild cases of anxiety or stress-induced behavioral issues, natural remedies or home interventions may have a place. You may be tempted to try these interventions at home before seeking veterinary care, but it’s still important to keep your dog’s veterinarian informed of remedies you’re trying at home and to get their suggestions too:

  • Pet safe aromatherapy products that may create a calming environment
  • Calming pheromone diffusers that act on your dog’s olfactory and nervous system to produce a calming effect
  • A thundershirt or other snug body wrap to create a comforting hug-like feel (similar to a weighted blanket or vest)
  • Pet-safe homeopathic or herbal remedies specifically made for pets and recommended by practicing veterinarians

What are the best products for me to try at home?

Thundershirt for Dogs: These may reduce anxiety for some dogs by providing comforting pressure. They’re well suited for situational anxiety but are not suitable for severe anxiety.

Thundershirt Dog Anxiety Treatment - Gray...
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Adaptil Calming Collar: This collar contains dog-appeasing pheromones that may reduce anxiety and therefore manage the behaviors associated with stress. Pheromones are not effective for all dogs, and in cases where severe anxiety is being treated, they’re best used in combination with prescription medication and behavioral management.

ADAPTIL Calming Pheromone Collar for Dogs,...
  • ADAPTIL is the #1 vet recommended and selling solution to help calm and relax you dog wherever they go

ThunderWunders Dog Calming Chews : This product contains “natural” ingredients like herbal remedies, L-theanine, and other supplements that appear to be effective in managing low-grade stress and anxiety. Effectivness varies, as some dogs respond really well and others seem to not be influenced by these supplements.

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  • Recommended to use for stressful situations such as: thunder & fireworks, separation, travel, and grooming*

Bach Rescue Remedy homeopathic drops: This product contains homeopathic flower essences shown to provide calming benefits in animals and humans. Effectiveness varies as some dogs respond well and others do not appear to be affected by use of this supplement.

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  • BACH RESCUE REMEDY PET DROPPER: Stress relief tincture for pets with natural flower essences to help ease tension, nervousness & excitability. For dogs, cats, horses, rabbits, birds & lizards

When is daily use of trazodone warranted?

If your veterinarian has prescribed daily dosing, it’s best to follow their instructions, however if the veterinarian’s instructions include an administration “as needed” statement, daily dosing may not be required. Whether or not you give trazodone daily or as needed will depend on the condition you’re trying to alleviate.

  • Separation anxiety: If trazodone has been prescribed for separation anxiety, daily dosing may be recommended if you or their preferred household member are away from the home frequently.
  • General anxiety: Daily dosing may be recommended for generalized anxiety in addition to behavioral management techniques like exercise, socialization, and environmental enrichment.
  • Noise phobias: If trazodone has been prescribed for a noise phobia (construction, fireworks, thunderstorms) recommended dosing often relies on predicting the stressor: daily or frequent dosing during construction season, fireworks season, or thunderstorm season.
  • Travel stress/car sickness: Typically the veterinarian will recommend starting it a few days before travel, then continuing until travelling has ceased and your dog is back at home

Authors

  • Dr Chyrle Bonk, Veterinarian

    Dr. Chyrle Bonk received her Master in Animal Science from the University of Idaho and her Doctorate of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) from Oregon State University in 2010. She has over 10 years of experience in small animal veterinary practice, working for a veterinary clinic in Idaho.

  • Kate Howard, Vet Tech

    Kate Howard lives in Upstate New York, and received her degree in Veterinary Technology from Alfred State College of Technology in 2010. She has been a veterinary technician for 13+ years, and spent her career working primarily in general practice and veterinary emergency care. Kate has 3 dogs, a cat, and keeps a small flock of backyard poultry.

Disclaimer: This website's content is not a substitute for veterinary care. Always consult with your veterinarian for healthcare decisions. Read More.

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