Xanax and Your Dog. A Deadly Combination

Introduction

Many pet owners have a prescription for Xanax (alprazolam) to treat anxiety or panic disorders. You may wonder if it’s safe to give Xanax to dogs suffering from similar issues. While Xanax is sometimes prescribed by vets for dogs, pet owners need to be very careful with this medication. Xanax can be lethal to dogs, even in small doses, if not given under the guidance of a veterinarian. This article covers everything you need to know about the risks of giving Xanax to dogs and how to prevent an overdose.

What is Xanax?

Xanax is a brand name for the generic drug alprazolam. Alprazolam is a benzodiazepine, which is a class of drugs used to treat anxiety, insomnia, seizures, and other neurological disorders [1].

In humans, Xanax and other alprazolam medications are prescribed to treat anxiety disorders like generalized anxiety disorder, social anxiety disorder, and panic disorder. They work by enhancing the effects of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) in the brain to promote calmness and relaxation [2].

[1] https://www.webmd.com/drugs/2/drug-9824/xanax-oral/details

[2] https://www.drugs.com/xanax.html

Can Dogs Take Xanax?

Xanax is a benzodiazepine drug prescribed to humans to treat anxiety and panic disorders. While Xanax is not FDA approved for use in dogs, veterinarians may prescribe it off-label to treat similar conditions in canines, such as fear, anxiety, and phobias.

a vet writing a prescription for xanax for a dog.

Some vets may prescribe Xanax for dogs in very limited circumstances when other medications or therapies have not worked. According to veterinary experts, Xanax should only be used for short-term treatment in dogs due to the potential for dependence and side effects.

Xanax works by enhancing the effect of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) in the brain, which has a calming effect. By binding to GABA receptors, Xanax helps dogs feel less anxious. However, it does come with risks, especially when misused or abused.

While Xanax may help some dogs with severe anxiety that causes harm, dog owners should have an in-depth discussion with their vet about the potential dangers before giving Xanax to their pet. Safer alternatives may be available for long-term anxiety treatment in dogs.

Xanax Dosage for Dogs

The dosage of Xanax for dogs depends on the dog’s weight. Xanax is typically prescribed at an initial dose of 0.01 – 0.05 mg per pound of body weight every 6 to 12 hours as needed[1]. For a 20 pound dog, the starting dose would be 0.2 – 1 mg. For a 50 pound dog, the starting dose would be 0.5 – 2.5 mg.

calculating the correct xanax dose for a dog.

The dosage should be started at the low end of the range and increased gradually if needed. Veterinarians recommend beginning with the lowest effective dose and adjusting based on the dog’s response. The goal is to use the smallest dose needed to provide the desired therapeutic effect[2].

It’s important not to exceed the maximum recommended dose, which is 0.5 mg per pound every 24 hours for dogs. Xanax should also be gradually tapered off under veterinary supervision rather than abruptly discontinued[3].

Side Effects of Xanax in Dogs

Xanax can cause various side effects in dogs. The most common side effect is sedation. Xanax is a central nervous system depressant, so it slows down brain activity and causes relaxation and sleepiness. Dogs on Xanax may seem very tired, lethargic or drowsy. This sedative effect helps alleviate anxiety, but it can also impair motor skills and coordination.

Discoordination or a loss of motor control is another potential side effect of Xanax in dogs. Dogs may seem unsteady on their feet, stumble, have difficulty walking or maintaining balance. This occurs because Xanax impacts parts of the brain that control muscle movements and coordination.

Xanax can also cause slowed heart rate, also known as bradycardia. This effect on the cardiovascular system means the dog’s heart beats more slowly than normal. While mild bradycardia may not cause issues, significant slowing of the heart rate can lead to low blood pressure, fainting or other complications.

Other possible side effects of Xanax in dogs include increased appetite, vomiting, diarrhea, salivation changes, restlessness and excitability. Most side effects are mild, but some dogs can experience more severe reactions. It’s important to monitor dogs on Xanax and consult a veterinarian if any worrisome effects occur.

Overdose Symptoms

An overdose of Xanax in dogs can cause severe and life-threatening symptoms. Some of the most concerning overdose symptoms include:

a lethargic dog showing signs of a xanax overdose.

  • Extreme lethargy – Dogs who have overdosed on Xanax may become almost impossible to rouse or stimulate. They may seem almost comatose.
  • Slow/no breathing – Xanax depresses respiratory function. In overdose, dogs may breathe very slowly or even stop breathing altogether. This can quickly lead to death if not treated promptly.
  • Coma – In severe overdoses, dogs may fall into a coma. They will be completely unresponsive and may have very slow heart and respiratory rates.

Other symptoms of a Xanax overdose can include vomiting, diarrhea, dilated pupils, low body temperature, collapse, tremors or seizures. Without swift veterinary treatment, overdoses can quickly become fatal as dogs’ breathing and heart function keeps slowing.[1]

Xanax Toxicity in Dogs

Xanax can be toxic to dogs when ingested at high doses. The toxic dose range for dogs is between 2-6 mg per pound of body weight. At these doses, Xanax can overwhelm the liver’s ability to metabolize the drug. This can lead to liver damage and failure [1].

Signs of Xanax toxicity in dogs include extreme sedation, incoordination, slowed heart rate and respiration. In severe cases, Xanax toxicity can lead to potentially fatal respiratory and/or cardiac distress. At very high doses, Xanax can be fatal for dogs [2].

If you suspect your dog has ingested a toxic dose of Xanax, take them to the veterinarian immediately. With prompt veterinary treatment, many dogs recover well. However, Xanax toxicity can be fatal if not treated quickly enough.

Treatment for Xanax Overdose

If a dog overdoses on Xanax, the main treatments are intravenous (IV) fluids and medications to counter the effects of the drug. According to the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center, dogs that have ingested high doses of Xanax should be taken to a veterinarian immediately for evaluation and treatment

IV fluids help flush the Xanax out of the body and prevent dehydration. They also help maintain blood pressure levels. The veterinarian will run blood tests to determine if the liver and kidneys are functioning properly.

Medications can help reverse the effects of Xanax overdose. Drugs like flumazenil may be administered to block the effects of benzodiazepines like Xanax on the central nervous system. Vets may also give medications to control vomiting, seizures, and heart arrhythmias if the dog is experiencing any of those symptoms.

In severe overdose cases, dogs may need to be hospitalized and placed on IV fluids and medication therapy for 1-3 days until the Xanax is cleared from their system. With proper veterinary treatment, the prognosis is often good for dogs that have overdosed on Xanax, especially if brought for treatment promptly.

Preventing Xanax Poisoning

There are a few key things dog owners can do to prevent Xanax poisoning in their pets:

Keep Xanax and any medications out of your dog’s reach. Store Xanax in a secure cabinet your dog cannot access. Never leave pills out on a counter or nightstand. Dogs are clever and may get into things you wouldn’t expect.

locking away medications so dogs can't access them.

Avoid leaving your dog unattended after giving them a dose of Xanax. It’s important to supervise your dog for at least a few hours after administering Xanax to watch for any adverse reactions or side effects. If your dog did get into more Xanax, you would be able to get them medical attention right away.

Be careful with dosage. Only give your dog the Xanax dose specifically prescribed by your veterinarian. Too much Xanax can be dangerous. Follow label instructions closely and never give your dog more Xanax than is recommended.

Talk to kids and house guests about the risks of the dog getting into medications. Make sure pills are not only kept out of the dog’s reach, but everyone in the household knows to keep medications away from the dog.

Discard unused medication properly. Do not flush pills down the toilet or throw them in the trash where dogs can get them. Talk to your vet or pharmacist about proper disposal of leftover Xanax and other medications.

Conclusion

In summary, while Xanax can be used safely in dogs under the guidance of a veterinarian, it is important for dog owners to understand the risks. Xanax is a potent medication that can lead to overdose and toxicity if misused. The side effects of Xanax in dogs can include sedation, incoordination, tremors and even seizures. Taking the proper precautions, carefully following dosing guidelines and monitoring your dog closely can help prevent an overdose.

As a dog owner, the most important thing is keeping your pet safe. Always follow your veterinarian’s instructions when giving Xanax or any medication to your dog. Never administer Xanax that was prescribed for human use. If you have any concerns about your dog taking Xanax, discuss alternatives with your vet. With proper care and caution, Xanax can be used responsibly in dogs, but owners need to be vigilant against overmedication and toxicity.

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