Trazodone for Dogs: When to Use and Side Effects

Trazodone is a safe, effective, and inexpensive anxiety medication for dogs.

Emily Guy Birken
Emily Guy Birken
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  • 12+ years writing about insurance and personal finance

Emily is a widely recognized expert on personal finance and has authored several personal finance books. She’s a frequent guest on national and regional media.

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Katie Powers
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Updated February 7, 2024 | Reading time: 4 minutes

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You may find that your dog exhibits symptoms of anxiety. Common signs of anxiety in dogs include panting, shaking, drooling, compulsive licking, or exhibiting destructive behaviors.[1] Many pet parents don’t know how to calm their pups and mitigate the negative behavior, but some dogs can benefit from taking anxiety medication, like trazodone.

Before you decide whether trazodone works for your furry friend, you should learn more about the medication. Your veterinarian can also answer questions about the medication and prescribe trazodone to help treat your dog’s anxiety.

Here’s what you need to know about trazodone, including when to use it and potential side effects.

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What is trazodone?

Trazodone (often known by the brand names Desyrel or Oleptro) is a medication used to treat depression and anxiety in humans. It’s a type of serotonin antagonist and reuptake inhibitor (SARI) that works to increase the serotonin present in the central nervous system. The increased serotonin helps stabilize a patient’s mood. As a short-acting drug, trazodone takes effect quickly and passes through a patient’s system within 24 hours.[2]

Vets can prescribe trazodone for off-label use because no animal medication labeled for the same usage exists. Vets use this medication to treat certain behavioral disorders in dogs stemming from anxiety and phobias.

Important Information

Veterinarians must meet several important criteria to prescribe trazodone off-label, including having a valid medical relationship with the dog and owner and keeping thorough records of extra-label prescriptions of human medication.[3]

Uses and benefits of trazodone for dogs

For occasional situations when dogs experience stress, a single dose of trazodone may be sufficient. But dogs suffering from anxiety disorders may need to take regular doses for long-term management of anxiety.

Below are some of the most common uses of this anti-anxiety medication in veterinary medicine.

Situational anxiety

Owners who can anticipate when their dogs will be in stressful situations might give their pets trazodone as needed.

Generally, you should give the medication to your dog about an hour before the stressful event so your vet visit or grooming appointment doesn’t overwhelm your animal.[4] This short-term stress relief can also help if your dog struggles with loud noises like fireworks or thunderstorms.

Sedation

Trazodone can work like a sedative on a dog’s brain. This means many veterinarians use this human drug to ensure the dog stays calm and sedated after surgery when rest and reduced activity are necessary for healing.

Pet parents may also administer trazodone if they have to travel with their four-footed companion. Airplane travel and long car rides can be extremely stressful for dogs, and the proper trazodone dosage can help relieve their anxiety.

Behavioral issues

Severe anxiety in dogs can often look like a behavioral disorder. Things like aggression, barking and howling, compulsive actions like licking or pacing, destructive chewing or scratching, hyperactivity, and urinating or defecating indoors can all be symptoms of disorders like separation anxiety.

Dogs struggling with these issues may need daily doses of trazodone to help relieve stress.

Trazodone’s most common side effects

Pet owners should be aware of some common side effects of trazodone. Though not all the side effects are causes for concern, it’s still important for you to understand how trazodone works on your dog’s brain and body.

Here are some of the side effects to be aware of:

  • Lethargy, drowsiness, or sleepiness

  • Vomiting or gagging

  • Loss of muscle control or coordination

  • Dilated pupils

  • Increased appetite

  • Aggression

More severe side effects could arise if your pet takes trazodone at the same time as other serotonergic drugs, such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). Dogs may be vulnerable to serotonin syndrome if they take trazodone with other serotonin reuptake inhibitors. This syndrome occurs when too much serotonin accumulates in the body.

Good to Know

Serotonin syndrome can cause the following symptoms: vomiting, diarrhea, restlessness, elevated body temperature, blindness, paralysis, and potentially even death. It’s vital for all pet owners to discuss potential drug interactions with their veterinarian any time their pets have a new medication.

How to administer trazodone

Trazodone comes in tablet form for your dog to swallow. Unfortunately, no liquid form of this product is available. You can give trazodone to your dog either with food or on an empty stomach. 

If your pet vomits after taking the medication without food, giving the next dose with food will generally prevent further vomiting.

How much does trazodone cost?

Since trazodone is the generic form of the brand names of Desyrel and Oleptro, it’s relatively inexpensive. You can purchase generic trazodone through online pet stores like Chewy and 1800PetMeds, where each tablet costs between $0.14 and $0.56, depending on the size of the dosage. 

How much trazodone you’ll give to your dog per dose depends on its weight.

Does pet insurance cover trazodone?

A wellness pet insurance policy will generally cover anxiety medications like trazodone, provided a veterinarian has prescribed the medicine. However, accident or accident-and-illness levels of pet insurance generally don’t cover prescription drugs.

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Alternatives to trazodone

Trazodone is one of several medications and therapeutic options for dogs with anxiety. Some other alternatives may include:

  • SSRIs and antidepressant medications: Trazodone isn’t the only type of medicine available for treating your dog’s anxiety. Your vet may also prescribe fluoxetine, clomipramine, or other anti-anxiety medication available at your pharmacy.

  • Training: It’s possible to train your dog to change its anxiety-based behavior in some cases. Training an anxious dog isn’t easy and may require the help of a professional dog trainer.

  • Anti-anxiety products: From calming shirts to pheromone sprays to calming dog crates, a number of products on the market can help owners relieve their dogs’ stress.

Trazodone for dogs FAQs

Deciding on the right treatment plan for your anxious dog is important. The following information should help you decide whether trazodone can work for your dog.

  • Is trazodone safe?

    Yes. Veterinarians have found that trazodone is generally safe for dogs to take. Owners should be aware of some potential adverse effects when they begin administering this medication to their dogs, but trazodone is a safe and effective medication for the majority of dogs.

  • Can you give your dog trazodone every day?

    While many dog owners use trazodone for situational anxiety, such as traveling or veterinarian visits, dogs with severe or persistent anxiety can benefit from a daily dose of trazodone. Make sure you discuss trazodone with your vet to determine the correct dosage for daily use.

  • How do you find affordable pet insurance?

    The best way to find affordable pet insurance is by comparing multiple quotes. It’s also a good idea to check with your current auto and home insurance insurer to see if you can also get pet insurance through the same insurer. You may save money by bundling your pet insurance with your other policies.

Sources

  1. Cornell Richard P. Riney Canine Health Center. "Anxious behavior: How to help your dog cope with unsettling situations."
  2. VCA Animal Hospitals. "Trazodone."
  3. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. "The Ins and Outs of Extra-Label Drug Use in Animals: A Resource for Veterinarians."
  4. American Kennel Club. "Trazodone for Dogs: What to Know."
Emily Guy Birken
Emily Guy Birken

Emily Guy Birken is a former educator, lifelong money nerd, and a Plutus Award-winning freelance writer who specializes in the scientific research behind irrational money behaviors. Her background in education allows her to make complex financial topics relatable and easily understood by the layperson.

Her work has appeared on The Huffington Post, Business Insider, Kiplinger's, MSN Money, and The Washington Post online.

She is the author of several books, including The 5 Years Before You Retire, End Financial Stress Now, and the brand new book Stacked: Your Super Serious Guide to Modern Money Management, written with Joe Saul-Sehy.

Emily lives in Milwaukee with her family.

Katie Powers
Edited byKatie PowersAuto and Life Insurance Editor
Photo of an Insurify author
Katie PowersAuto and Life Insurance Editor
  • Licensed auto and home insurance agent

  • 3+ years experience in insurance and personal finance editing

Katie uses her knowledge and expertise as a licensed property and casualty agent in Massachusetts to help readers understand the complexities of insurance shopping.

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