Xanax has gained popularity in the last decade, overtaking valium as the anti-anxiety drug of…
Animals with Anxiety: Xanax for Dogs and Cats
Not many people are aware that the anti-anxiety medication alprazolam (Xanax) is often prescribed for cats and dogs suffering from anxiety symptoms. Just as with human patients, however, Xanax side effects in animals can be a concern.
What is Xanax?
Xanax, the brand name for alprazolam, is a medication used to treat anxiety and panic disorders. While many drugs prescribed for people will not have the same effects when given to animals, Xanax is different. It is currently the only anti-anxiety drug prescribed by veterinarians for cats and dogs.
Alprazolam belongs to the benzodiazepine drug class and can be highly addictive if taken to excess or for an extended period of time. This is true for both humans and animals. When a Xanax addiction develops, withdrawal must take place slowly and gradually, under a doctor’s care in the case of human beings. When the patient is an animal, a veterinarian will monitor the withdrawal process.
What are the Symptoms of Anxiety in Animals?
It is not uncommon for cats and dogs to experience severe anxiety, often as a result of abuse or past exposure to trauma. Being separated from their human families is another frequent cause of anxiety in pets, and animals removed from their mothers at tender ages are also vulnerable to anxiety’s disabling effects.
Fearful responses that lead to hiding or avoidance are the most obvious signs of anxiety in animals, although in some cases anxiety may make dogs and cats react with aggression rather than submission or evasion. Certain incidents or circumstances may trigger these reactions, but generalized anxiety can also manifest in animals without any clear cause or initiating event.
Moodiness and unpredictable behavior are other signs of anxiety in pets or companion animals, as is urinating or defecating indoors (outside the litter box for cats).
Animals can’t verbalize their emotional distress, but attentive caretakers should be able to tell when something is amiss. Veterinarians know all about the prevalence of anxiety in animals and are trained to make an accurate diagnosis and offer treatment options, which may include behavioral therapy in addition to (or instead of) drugs like Xanax.
Xanax’s Impact in Animals
Xanax has a rapid and decisive effect on the brain chemistry of animals. Panic reactions are suppressed and will remain at muted intensity for as long as the drug remains in the patient’s system.
When used in pets, Xanax may cause excessive lethargy or sedation. Other times, however, it may increase aggressive behavior by lowering inhibitions that otherwise would have prevented a dog or cat from lashing out at the nearest human or animal.
Other common Xanax side effects in animals include a loss of muscle coordination, strange or obsessive behavior, irritability and depression. If dosages are too high, which is always a risk when powerful pharmaceutical drugs are prescribed for smaller animals, Xanax side effects may be even more severe than typically experienced.
Healthy animals can usually handle Xanax in small amounts without problems. But dogs and cats suffering from kidney malfunction, liver disease, glaucoma or conditions related to aging may be at risk of complications if given the drug in any dose. Also, Xanax should not be given to pregnant animals or to dogs or cats that already have a history of aggression.
One important caution: never give Xanax to an animal without a prescription from a veterinarian. Xanax prescribed for people comes in higher doses that could sicken or even kill a cat or a dog. Don’t dip into your personal medication supplies just to save the cost of a trip to the vet.
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