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- Offering Behavior Medicine -

Getting Started With The Basics

The Goal
The reason to use veterinary prescribed behavior medication is to intentionally alter the animal’s brain chemistry. In some cases, there is a genetic or metabolic reason to continue this medication for life, but this is the exception. In most cases, the primary goal is to SPEED UP the animal’s learning by reducing its anxiety, so if 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 stopped.

Informed Consent
Most animal behavior medications do not have the size of 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, so the use of the drug is called, ”Off-Label Use.” The use and dose is 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.

Time of Day to Give Medications
Unless otherwise instructed, give behavior medications in the morning. If the instructions are to give the med twice a day, 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 possible to this goal.

Giving Meds with Food
In most cases it is best to give the medication in a small amount of special food, before the regular meal. If the med is mixed into the regular food, it is difficult to be sure it was consumed. Here is one suggested technique:

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

2)      IF the pet is “finicky” do this just before the next meal, and if possible do not leave any food down, so the pet is hunger motivated.

3)      Give the first piece of food without a pill. Some pets will “check it out” carefully.

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

5)      Immediately give the 3rd so the pet has to swallow the 2nd (with the med) rapidly.

Potential Side Effects
Anytime behavior medication is prescribed, there is the concern of side effects. Minor temporary side effects are relatively common. In some cases, mild side effects can actually provide useful information about the relative dose (slightly too high) and simply reducing the dose or just continuing will resolve the problem. In many situations, a side effect (e.g. lethargy) may wear off within 1-2 weeks, and in other situations, it may indicate the need to change medications. If any of the following potential side effects are noted, skip one dose, then resume at 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 med.

Potential Reversible, Temporary, Side Effects [1]

  • Aggression or threats

  • Anorexia (loss of appetite) OR Increased appetite

  • Anxiety

  • Confusion

  • Decreased or altered greeting behavior

  • Diarrhea or loose stool OR constipation and straining

  • Diminished hearing

  • Disorientation/stupor

  • House soiling

  • Uncoordinated movements or dizziness

  • Increased thirst

  • Increased urinary frequency, retention, or straining

  • Irritability

  • Lethargy or listlessness (decrease physical activity)

  • Licking

  • Mood changes

  • Pale gums

  • Panting

  • Repetitive behavior like spinning, circling, rocking

  • Restlessness or agitation

  • Salivation

  • Scratching

  • Seizures

  • Shivering or frequent “wet dog shakes” of fur

  • Sleep/Wake cycle changes

  • Stiffness

  • Urinary Tract Infection – (causing straining to urinate)

  • Vomiting

  • Weakness

  • Weight loss

    When to Expect Effects
    This varies with the medication. If it is in the drug category of either “SSRI” or “TCA” (2 of the most common medication families) then it takes 1- 4 weeks of medication in the body before any results can be expected. In these categories of drugs, there is minimal change in the routine personality; just 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, an experienced trainer may put the animal into provocative situations, but if done by an inexperienced person, the problem may become worse.

  • [1] Evidence requires the sign occur when on the med (after any length of time), then resolve when the medication is removed.

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