Behavioral Medication for Your Dog

How the right behavioral medications can help your dog.

Jolanta Benal, CPDT-KA, CBCC-KA
5-minute read
Episode #120

Many short-term side effects fade away during treatment. If your dog is on a daily, long-term medication, and side effects hang around well after they were expected to fade, there are almost always different meds to try. Or if the medication is working well behaviorally but, say, constipates your dog, it may be best to keep using it while you manage the side effect – for instance, by adding fiber to her diet.

Some meds do have potential long-term negative effects such as liver damage, and in that case your dog should be getting regular blood tests to monitor her health. Perhaps you’ll have to consider a trade-off between your dog’s present suffering and her long-term physical health. But remember, behavioral meds are usually a temporary measure, intended to give behavior modification a speed-and-efficacy boost.

Behavioral Meds Are Often Prescribed Off-Label

Many behavioral meds are prescribed off-label. This means that although the medication is legal and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved it for certain uses, the med isn’t approved for the particular use your vet has in mind. FDA approval is a long and expensive process; drug companies don’t always leap to undertake it with respect to a treatment for animals. That a drug is being prescribed off-label doesn’t mean that it’s unsafe or that there’s no evidence for its effectiveness. But off-label prescribing does call for special care.

Find the Best Vet for Behavioral Medication

A well-educated trainer will encourage you to consider medication when she recognizes that a behavior problem may have physical causes, or when the behavior problem is one that usually calls for a combination of medication and behavioral work. But she shouldn’t recommend specific meds – that task calls on a different body of knowledge, one that non-veterinarians just don’t have.

Behavioral medicine is a specialty just as complex and arcane as oncology or orthopedics. You are best off consulting a board-certified veterinary behaviorist.

The bad news is that there are fewer than 60 board-certified veterinary behaviorists in the United States (and a few more worldwide). The good news is that through the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior you can find a vet who takes a special interest in behavioral medicine even if she’s not board-certified.


About the Author

Jolanta Benal, CPDT-KA, CBCC-KA

Jolanta holds professional certifications in both training and behavior counseling and belongs to the Association of Professional Dog Trainers and the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants. She also volunteered with Pet Help Partners, a program of the Humane Society of the United States that works to prevent pet relinquishment. Her approach is generally behaviorist (Pavlovian, Skinnerian and post-Skinnerian learning theory) with a big helping of ethology (animal behavior as observed in non-experimental settings).