Sedatives for Dogs: how and When to use them Safely
Dogs have been our companions since time immemorial, but we still don’t fully understand their behavior. While canine aggression, panic, and restlessness are still a bit of a mystery to us, we have made giant strides in medicine. So it is no surprise that we might turn to sedative drugs to handle these behaviors when all else fails.
If your dog experiences behavioral issues, then keep reading to understand what exactly sedatives are and what to expect when you use them.
What is a sedative?
A sedative is a drug that alters your dog’s behavior by affecting its nervous system. Sedatives usually reduce tension and anxiety, inducing a temporary calm or sometimes sleep.
While certainly useful, these drugs, as with all drugs, carry the risks of side effects. If you can help your dog with other interventions, it’s best to go that route first before trying sedatives.
What are the benefits of sedation?
Sedation offers a multitude of benefits, but it’s primarily used to combat extreme aggression or anxiety in dogs during medical procedures. Stressed, anxious dogs pose a significant safety risk to the practitioners and other animals within the vicinity, so sedation is often used to calm them down and prevent harm.
People also commonly use sedatives to manage their pet’s pain caused by surgeries, injuries, and other serious illnesses. Used in this way, sedatives can increase the quality of your dog’s life.
What are the negatives of a sedative?
Sedatives can cause some worrisome side effects, which is why they are often considered only when all other interventions fail. For example, they can lower blood pressure and induce a low heart rate. This can cause complications or even hypothermia if the dog is left unattended in a cold space.
Because of these risks, non-pharmaceutical remedies like quiet rest and behavioral therapy are often owners’ first go-to.
So my pet is going to get a sedative, what should I expect?
The first thing that you should expect is to ask your dog’s veterinarian about the procedure. Ask them why exactly it is necessary, what the risks are associated with the drug that s/he will use, and detailed instructions regarding the pre and post-sedation care.
We stress this part because dogs are very different from each other, so ensuring that you follow your veterinarian’s instructions down to the last letter will give you a better shot at providing the proper care that your dog will require.
When your dog receives the sedative, you can expect them to be out of it for a while. They will likely sleep. When they awake, they’ll be groggy for a few hours afterward.
What sedatives are out there?
There are many sedative options. Listed below are three of the most commonly prescribed sedative drugs for dogs:
Acepromazine is a star in the canine sedative world. It has a very solid track record and comes in both an oral and injectable form that can start working within 20-30 minutes.
Trazodone is geared towards dogs with more debilitating forms of anxiety. This drug is often used in hospital settings. Take extra care when administering to dogs with arrhythmia.
Gabapentin is one of those veterinary drugs that was originally made for humans. It can be used alone or in combination with acepromazine, depending on the severity of your dog’s condition.
Sedatives for Dogs
Sedatives are the last line of defense against extreme misbehavior or chronic pain. Because of the wide variation between breeds and the specific need of the dog, a variety of drugs and dosages are used, sometimes in combination with each other.
Before sedation, your dog will usually be required to fast for a day before the procedure. They will require tons of rest afterward. Additionally, a sedative can have serious side effects, so consult with a trusted veterinarian before you make a choice.
How and When to Safely Use Sedatives for Dogs
The safest way of administering sedatives for your dogs is through injectable sedation. But, this requires the hand of a trained professional. If you are intent on sedating your dog, make sure to consult with a certified veterinarian beforehand.
Be warned: it’s best to steer clear of sedation for air travel. Sedatives lower your dog’s blood pressure, making it harder for them to regulate their temperature. As such, when left unattended in a cold environment like in an air cabin, they run the risk of developing hypothermia.
Dealing with the Underlying Problem: Anxiety in Dogs
When dogs lash out or withdraw to a corner, the most common underlying cause is anxiety. Like in people, anxiety contributes to a spike in stress levels, and this can lead to violent outbursts or bouts of intense fear. Recognizing anxiety in your dog and having it assessed by a trained professional is key to resolving it.
What to Do About Anxiety in Dogs
There are several approaches to handling your dog’s anxiety, but so far, the most effective way to deal with it is through behavioral therapy. This allows for a more permanent recovery for your dog. It’s also the least invasive method.
For short-term fixes, offering your dog’s favorite food or treats, letting it rest in a dark, quiet place, and maybe playing a calming tune can all help soothe their nerves.
Short-Term Dog Sedative Solutions
Short-term sedation usually refers to a type of reversible sedation. After initial sedation, a counteracting drug is injected into your dog to remove the sedative’s effects. This is beneficial for short visits or procedures and can be much less invasive than letting the drug run its course.
Oral Dog Sedatives
Oral dog sedatives are mostly used when you are in a hurry and have no time to go to a veterinarian for more consistent management. The biggest benefit of oral sedatives is that they can be administered from the comfort of your home, albeit while following strict instructions. The downside to this, however, is its unpredictability, as oral sedatives can produce inconsistent results.
Injectable Dog Sedatives
Injectable dog sedatives are the most clinical option since they require trained professionals for administration. They are often more potent than their oral counterparts but are also much more stable when it comes to their results.
There are several reasons why sedation might be the only real option for your dog. But as long as there is a chance for an alternative route, then you opt for that treatment before choosing sedatives. Despite their numerous benefits, sedatives also carry some serious risks, so you should have a thorough chat with your veterinarian before using them.
- 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