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Putting the Treats in Treatments - Becker






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Behavior Medication Basics


The reason to use veterinary prescribed behavior medication is to intentionally affect the animal's brain chemistry during behavior modification. In some cases, there is a genetic or metabolic reason to continue this medication for life, although this is the exception.

In most cases, the primary goal is to SPEED UP the animal's learning by reducing its anxiety, so it can learn without this distraction. Once the new habit patterns are in place (as a result of behavior modification training), then the medication is tapered and hopefully stopped.

In most cases, the primary goal is to SPEED UP the animals learning by reducing its anxiety, so it can learn without this distraction.


Most animal behavior medications do not have the potential sales market for a drug company to do full scale testing. Therefore, if this testing has not been done, there is no label on the drug bottle for animal use. The use of the drug is called, "Off-Label Use."
The use and dose is, therefore, based on many veterinarians using the drug, and sharing their personal results in articles and lectures. In most cases, the pet owner is asked to sign an "informed consent" to be able to use this medication. If you have questions or concerns, contact the person who arranged for you to obtain the prescription.

Unless otherwise instructed, give behavior medications in the morning. If the instructions are to give the medication twice daily, try for approximately 12 hours apart. If it indicates 3x per day, try for approximately 8 hours between doses. If this is impossible, just try to get as close as you can to this goal.

In most cases it is best to give the medication in a small amount of special food, before the regular meal. If the medicine is mixed into the regular food, it is difficult to be sure it was consumed. Here is one way to go:

1.  Prepare 3 pieces of a tasty food to wrap around the medication (if given orally). This might be a slice of hot dog, a piece of soft cheese, peanut butter, bread, or some other moldable food that the dog does NOT get any other time.

2.  IF the pet is "finicky" start just before the next meal, and if possible do not leave any food down, so the pet is hungry and motivated.

3.  Give the first piece of food without a pill. Some pets will "check it out" carefully for the "slip" of a pill inside.

4.  Let the pet SEE the 3rd treat, but give the SECOND (which contains the med).

5.  Immediately after giving treat 2, give the 3rd so that the pet has to swallow the 2nd piece (with the med) rapidly.

Any time behavior medication is prescribed, there is the concern of side effects. Minor temporary side effects are relatively common. In some cases, the side effects can actually provide useful information about the relative dose (slightly too high) and simply reducing the dose will resolve the problem. In other situations, the same side effect (e.g. lethargy) may wear off within two weeks.  In other situations, side effects may indicate the need to change medications. 

If any of the following potential side effects are noted, skip one dose, then resume at ½ the previous dose until you can contact either the veterinarian or behaviorist who is supervising the case. If the symptom continues for more than 3 days, discontinue the medication and call your veterinarian.

Potential Reversible, Temporary Side Effects of Behavior Medication
Anorexia (loss of appetite)
Decreased or altered greeting behavior
Diminished hearing
House soiling
Lack of Coordination
Increased thirst
Increased urination
Lethargy (decrease physical activity)
Pale gums
Repetitive behavior like spinning, circling, rocking
Restlessness or agitation
Sleep/Wake cycle changes
Straining to urinate
Urinary Tract Infection – (causing straining to urinate)
Weight loss

This varies with the medication. If it is in the family or either "SSRI" or "TCA" (2 of the most common medication families) then it takes 1-4 weeks for the medication to be in the body before any result can be expected. In these families, there is minimal change in the routine personality and a reduction in anxiety. Therefore, the only change you might see is a decrease in the frequency of the objectionable behavior.

DO NOT TEST the animal by challenging it to do the behavior it used to do, just to see if the medication is working. Every time the animal does an objectionable behavior, the concern is that "habit pattern" is being developed. IF systematic desensitization and counter conditioning are indicated, at that time, an experienced trainer may put the animal into provocative situations.  But if done out of this context by the owner, you may make the problem worse.

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