- Medication type: Sedative, Anxiolytic
- Form: Capsule, Tablet, Solution
- Prescription required? Yes
- FDA approved? No
- Life stage: All
- Brand names: Desyrel, Oleptro
- Common names: Trazodone
- Available dosages: 50 mg tablet is the most common dosage. Also available in 100 mg, 150 mg, and 300 mg tablets; 50 mg, 100 mg, and 150 mg capsules; and 50 mg/ml solution.
- Expiration range: 2 years
Trazodone is a drug that is widely used in veterinary medicine, for both its sedative and anti-anxiety effects. Although this drug was first developed over fifty years ago for use in humans, it is only in the last ten years that veterinarians began to use this drug for dogs.
Some dogs are prescribed trazodone for the management of underlying behavioral or anxiety disorders. In this scenario, trazodone is often combined with other psychotropic medications, although it may also be used alone. Trazodone may be administered on a regular, consistent basis or used as an “event drug” before stressful events.
Trazodone is also prescribed by many veterinarians to decrease stress associated with veterinary visits. Administering trazodone to fearful dogs can not only decrease anxiety for those dogs, but can also increase the chances that the veterinarian is able to perform a comprehensive exam, obtain an accurate diagnosis, and provide appropriate treatment.
What is Trazodone?
Trazodone is a serotonin modulator. This drug acts to regulate levels of serotonin (a neurotransmitter) within the brain, providing mild sedation and alleviating anxiety.
Trazodone was initially developed in Italy in the 1960s, as a treatment for human depression. The drug did not gain rapid widespread use, however, because it caused sedation in patients. Over time, dosing recommendations were modified and the drug was then approved for human use in the United States in the 1980s.
Despite its long history of human use, trazodone has only been used in veterinary patients for approximately the last 10 years. While it is not FDA approved for use in animals, veterinarians prescribe trazodone as off-label as an anti-anxiety medication for dogs.
What Does Trazodone Look Like?
Trazodone is typically supplied as a small white tablet, which is scored down the middle. Less commonly, trazodone may be supplied as a capsule or as a liquid (suspension).
How Does Trazodone for Dogs Work?
Trazodone provides mild sedation and decreases anxiety in dogs.
This medication normalizes levels of serotonin within the brain. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter (a chemical used by nerve cells to send signals to each other) that promotes a sense of well-being. By stabilizing serotonin levels within the brain, trazodone promotes calm behavior and decreases anxiety in dogs.
What Is Trazodone Used For in Dogs?
Trazodone can be used to address a wide variety of scenarios in dogs. Trazodone can play a role in the management of generalized anxiety, but it is more commonly used to address situational anxiety and provide temporary calming.
Dogs that are fearful or difficult to control in certain contexts, such as travel or veterinary visits, may benefit from the administration of trazodone. In addition, some veterinarians prescribe trazodone for dogs after surgery, in order to minimize activity during the recovery period and allow time for surgical incisions to heal.
Trazodone is commonly used to help with the following:
- Stress associated with veterinary visits
- Travel anxiety
- Thunderstorm anxiety
- Noise phobias (such as fireworks)
- Separation anxiety
- Post-surgical confinement
Trazodone Side Effects in Dogs
Side effects of trazodone in dogs are rare and typically self-limiting. In some cases, dogs simply become more lethargic or sedated than expected. Less commonly, dogs may experience mild anxiety or excitation as a result of the drug.
In very rare cases, this anxiety or lowering of inhibitions may lead to an increased likelihood of aggressive behaviors. Gastrointestinal signs, such as vomiting and/or diarrhea, may also be observed.
Possible side effects of trazodone for dogs include:
- Changes in appetite
- Increased aggression
If you notice any side effects after giving your dog trazodone, contact your veterinarian to discuss.
Reactions With Other Drugs and Medications
Trazodone is often combined with other medications, to maximize its clinical benefits.
Most commonly, trazodone is combined with gabapentin (another mild sedative and anxiolytic) to address situational anxiety. This combination is often used to treat anxiety associated with veterinary visits or other high-stress events. These drugs can be safely combined and the combination of drugs may be more effective than the use of trazodone alone.
Trazodone should not be combined with other drugs that act on serotonin. For example, dogs that are receiving a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) such as fluoxetine should not receive trazodone, except in rare circumstances. Because both drugs act on serotonin levels, combining these drugs can cause problems unless doses are calibrated very carefully by a veterinarian.
Trazodone should be avoided in dogs receiving a monoamine oxidase inhibitor (MAOI), such as selegiline. Additionally, combining trazodone with azole antifungal agents (ketoconazole, itraconazole, fluconazole) and certain antibiotics (erythromycin, clarithromycin) may make dogs more susceptible to the sedating effects of trazodone.
Trazodone Dosages for Dogs
Trazodone dosage for dogs varies, based upon a number of factors. Like any other medication, the recommended dose of trazodone is based upon your dog’s weight. Big dogs receive larger doses than small dogs.
Trazodone has a relatively wide recommended dosing range. Veterinarians often start a dog’s treatment at the low end of the dosing range and then increase the dose if needed, in order to achieve the desired benefits while minimizing the risk of side effects. If you feel that your dog’s trazodone dose needs to be adjusted, contact your veterinarian.
What if My Dog Misses a Dose of Trazodone?
If you miss giving your dog a dose of trazodone, you can give the missed dose at your earliest convenience. You should always separate trazodone doses by at least 8 hours, so you may need to delay your dog’s next dose to get back on a consistent schedule.
Cost of Trazodone for Dogs
In general, you can expect to pay $1-$2 per dose for trazodone, depending on your dog’s size.
While some dogs receive this medication two to three times per day on an ongoing basis, many dogs only take trazodone intermittently, prior to high-stress events (such as a veterinary visit or travel).
Trazodone Storage Instructions
Trazodone should be stored at room temperature in a light-resistant container. It does not require refrigeration or other special handling.