Sedatives for Dogs: How and When to use them Safely
Despite evolving alongside us for thousands of years, dogs still have quite a few quirks that we still don’t fully understand. These quirks can include hyperactivity, restlessness, extreme anxiety, or aggression. Canine misbehavior has — and perhaps always will be — a problem for owners, but dog sedatives may offer some help.
We have made strides in understanding and interpreting canine behavioral patterns, but such things take time. Luckily, our medical affinity has increased wildly. Dog sedatives have gotten better since their creation, but it’s crucial to be knowledgeable so that they aren’t misused.
If you and your dog have these problems, stick around to learn more about dog sedatives so you can make a better-informed decision!
What is a sedative?
Sedatives are a class of drugs that mainly affect an organism’s nervous system, calming its behavior. Dog sedatives are most commonly used to reduce stress and anxiety in aggressive dogs. This makes it easier to treat or interact with them. In some cases, sedatives are routinely administered to improve a dog’s quality of life or cut the risk of arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat).
What are the benefits of sedation?
Sedation’s primary benefit lies in its clinical usage. Often, veterinary hospitals can trigger a massive increase in a dog’s stress level, resulting in anxiety or aggression. Nervous behavior makes a dog more difficult to handle. They also pose a safety risk to the vets and other pets within the vicinity. Sedating a dog that exhibits such tendencies can make the process much more comfortable for all parties involved.
What are the negatives of a sedative?
In most cases, sedatives are considered to be the last resort. This is because it is preferable to manage a dog’s fear or agitation with comfort and support before resorting to medication. Panicked dogs often feel better when allowed to rest or sleep in a dark, peaceful place. The biggest downfall of using a sedative is its effect on blood pressure. Sedatives cause hypotension, which is a decrease in an animal’s blood pressure, respiratory rate, and heart rate.
In cold, unsupervised settings (like when dogs are flown in airplanes), sedated canines may experience hypothermia. Issues like hypotension and hypothermia can have detrimental effects on a dog’s physical and mental well-being, which is why sedation should be used with extreme caution.
So my pet is going to get a sedative, what should I expect?
If your dog’s vet insists on a sedative, keep in mind that overnight fasting is typically required. Your dog should have its last meal on the night before it is sedated and stay off food until the veterinarian says it’s okay. Additionally, list all your pet’s current medications for your vet, as these can potentially interfere with the sedative. After the sedation, make sure your dog is allowed to rest in a warm, peaceful place and follow all the veterinarian’s instructions.
What sedatives are out there?
There are numerous options when it comes to sedatives, but the three listed below are some of the most common. Your vet may even recommend one of them for your dog down the line!
Acepromazine is both an oral and injectable drug that offers fast and reliable sedation. The injectable version is more often used than the oral type. The effects can usually be felt within 20-30 minutes.
Trazodone is often used in hospital settings to manage dogs with high anxiety levels. It has a solid safety track record but should be used cautiously on dogs with an abnormal heart rate.
Gabapentin has its roots as an anti-epileptic and pain-relieving drug for humans. Recently, however, it has gained popularity for veterinary use. Gabapentin can be used by itself, but it may be used in conjunction with Acepromazine for particularly challenging cases.
Sedatives for Dogs
Sedation often has different tiers that correspond to the dog’s stress level. For common anxiety during hospital visits or minor procedures, a low level of sedation will likely be required. For major surgeries or trauma, a correspondingly strong sedative will be used. The veterinarian judges which level of sedation your dog needs.
Some sedatives are even reversible! That’s right; a second counteracting injection will pull the dog out of its sedated state if needed.
How and When to Safely Use Sedatives for Dogs
As mentioned earlier, sedatives should be considered a last resort. Often, non-invasive measures like anxiety vests can be more helpful for your dog. If your dog does have to be sedated, these are the dosages you can expect for each of the three popular sedatives:
- Oral Acepromazine: 1-2 mg/kg dose
- Injectable Acepromazine: 0.01 – 0.05 mg/kg
- For small quantities, it can be diluted with a 0.9% saline solution so that it is easier to administer.
- Gabapentin: 1-20 mg/kg
- Trazodone: 5 mg/kg
Dealing with the Underlying Problem: Anxiety in Dogs
Anxiety is one of the most common reasons that dogs form behavioral issues. Since behavioral issues prompt many owners to consider sedation, it is safe to assume that sedation is less likely to be needed if you manage your dog’s anxiety.
While mild anxiety can be normal from time to time, severe stress could inhibit your pet in various ways. If anxiety becomes frequent or debilitating, it is time to start thinking about a solution. Unsure what anxiety in dogs looks like? Symptoms include:
- Running away from unfamiliar people or situations
- Backing away into a “safe” corner
What to Do About Anxiety in Dogs
As with most people suffering from anxiety, the best way to deal with canine anxiety is exposure therapy. This is a form of behavioral therapy in which the dog is exposed to mild versions of its triggers and is then rewarded when it reacts healthily. Exposure is gradually increased until the dog can face its main trigger without any trace of anxiety.
Short-Term Dog Sedative Solutions
When a dog’s anxiety can’t be lessened by non-pharmacological means, then short-term or reversible sedatives might be worth considering. Often, a combination approach works the fastest. Some oral sedative pairings that can induce quick sedation are:
- Acepromazine and Diazepam
- Phenobarbital and Diazepam
- Dexmedetomidine and Butorphanol
Oral Dog Sedatives
For at-home oral usage, there is an understandably limited selection of sedatives that owners can choose from. Acepromazine is the most commonly prescribed oral sedative for canines, so you can rest assured that it’s a solid choice.
However, the main issue with this drug is the inconsistencies both with the duration and the potency of its effects. An alternative way to administer the drug is by diluting its injectable form into a spray solution and directly applying it to the gums and cheeks.
Injectable Dog Sedatives
Injectable sedatives are more recommended than oral ones as the results are more predictable. Most oral sedatives have injectable counterparts, but these often require a trained professional to administer. There are plenty of options to choose from, but it ultimately depends on your veterinarian’s assessment. Make sure to voice any questions or concerns so that you can go into the experience fully confident in the safety of your pup!
Sedatives, both oral and injectable, are landmark medical discoveries that can ease many behavioral problems plaguing both humans and our canine companions. However, it should be used only as a last resort because anxiety, the underlying cause of most of the problems mentioned above, can be treated with non-invasive methods.
However, if push comes to shove and your vet advises sedation, be sure to ask all the questions you can think of about the process. Follow their instructions for pre and post-sedation, and your dog shouldn’t have any problems!
- Coates, J.C. (2017). Sedatives for Dogs: How and When to Use Them Safely. Retrieved February 27, 2021, from www.petmd.com
- Johnson C (1999) Chemical restraint in the dog and cat. In Practice 21 (3), 111-118 VetMedResource.What are the benefits of sedation?
- Cummings, K.C. (n.d.). Pre-Hospital Sedation Options for Aggressive and Anxious Dogs. Retrieved February 28, 2021, from www.mspca.org