Ultimate Dog

By Sara Seitz - Reading Time: 11 minutes
Trazodone for dogs

Trazodone for Dogs: Uses, Side Effects, & Natural Alternatives

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There is nothing easy about owning a dog with intense anxiety, fear, or behavioral issues. Addressing these severe issues requires intervention of one kind or another. For many dog owners today, this intervention includes the use of trazodone medication.

As the owner of a severely anxious rescue Chihuahua who was rehabilitated using behavior-modifying drugs, I understand both the benefits and drawbacks of this approach. After my dog suffered liver damage from these meds, I turned to alternative methods to control his anxiety. 

If you’re considering using trazodone medication for your dog, you must understand its benefits and side effects before making a decision. In some dogs, trazodone intervention may be the only way to start your dog on the road to healing. For others, natural alternatives can provide a safer, equally effective path. 

What Is Trazodone?

Trazodone, known by the brand names Oleptro and Desyrel, is a serotonin reuptake-inhibiting drug. This means that it prevents the reabsorption of the neurotransmitter serotonin, thereby increasing the concentration of this chemical in the brain.

Serotonin plays many roles in the body, but one of the most important is helping to regulate mood. Higher serotonin levels are associated with feelings of happiness and relaxation. Too little serotonin can cause depression, anxiety, and a host of behavioral problems.

In humans, trazodone is used to treat depression. After multiple studies revealed that this drug can affect anxiety and behavioral issues in dogs, many vets started prescribing it off-label to their canine patients.

How Is Trazodone Used in Dogs?

In dogs, trazodone is used to treat a variety of conditions, including:

  • Anxiety
  • Aggression
  • Situational stress
  • Storm phobia
  • Noise phobia
  • Separation anxiety
  • Surgery recovery
  • General sedation

Depending on the reason for use, trazodone can be given daily for long-term therapy or only as needed. Long-term therapy generally utilizes slow-release capsules that have a continued effect throughout the day and night. Focused therapy uses standard tablets and begins working soon after administration.

The dosage of the drug varies based on the reason for use. The starting dose is typically around 1.7mg per kg. The dose can be increased up to 19.5 mg per kg until an effective ratio is achieved.

How Long Does Trazodone Take to Work in Dogs?

When using standard tablets for focused therapy, trazodone begins to work in as little as one to two hours. Long-term treatment using slow-release tablets can take as long as three weeks to show full effects, especially if the dose needs to be adjusted.

How Should Trazodone Be Used In Anxious Dogs?

While trazodone is typically effective in helping to reduce anxiety and provide some sedation to decrease problematic behavior, it’s important to keep in mind that the drug alone is not a cure. What this drug does is help reduce your pet's reactivity to stressful stimuli in order to allow you time to train and desensitize them.

Dogs in an anxious state are incapable of learning. Their brain is too focused on fight or flight to think about how their behavior is affecting their environment. What drugs like trazodone do is lower the dog's anxiety to put them in a mental state more conducive to learning.

Once you’ve found an effective trazodone dose for your dog, it’s important to begin behavior modification and desensitization training. Behavior modification training focuses on teaching your dog more appropriate ways to react to stressful situations. Desensitization training utilizes positive association and exposure therapy to change how they feel about certain stimuli. 

When trazodone is combined with effective behavior training, most dogs can be weaned off the drug eventually. Limiting how long the dog is on the drug helps reduce the risk of dangerous side effects.

Trazodone Side Effects

Trazodone side effects in dogs range from mild to severe, depending on how long the drug has been used and how sensitive the dog is.

Typical side effects include: 

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Constipation
  • Inflammation of the colon
  • Grogginess
  • Increased thirst
  • Seizures
  • Tremors
  • Priapism (prolonged, painful erection)
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Dilated pupils
  • Ataxia (loss of muscle control in limbs)
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat)

In some dogs, trazodone can cause hyperactivity and increased aggression. In these dogs, trazodone therapy is not effective, and a different therapy approach is recommended.

Trazodone cannot be taken with other serotonin-enhancing drugs, including many anxiety medications and certain opioids. Doing so can cause serotonin syndrome, a life-threatening condition caused by serotonin building up in the bloodstream.

When used for longer periods, trazodone has the potential to cause liver and kidney damage. Most veterinarians recommend periodic blood tests to monitor kidney and liver values during trazodone treatment.

When my Chihuahua underwent drug therapy for his anxiety, he developed signs of liver dysfunction after just 45 days on the medication. Trazodone is gentler than the behavior modification drugs used back then, but it is still common for dogs that have been on it for more than six months to develop liver abnormalities.

Working with a dog behaviorist during your dog’s trazodone treatment can greatly reduce how long they need to be on the drug, therefore reducing their risk of serious side effects. 

For dogs that have taken trazodone for an extended period of time (more than a couple of weeks), it’s important to wean them off the drug gradually. Your veterinarian can help you slowly lower your dog’s dose to avoid a sudden increase in anxiety, aggression, or sleep problems. 

Natural Alternatives to Trazodone

When I chose to use drug therapy for my Chihuahua, it was only after months of trying alternative treatments. While I had seen an improvement, he still wouldn't allow my boyfriend to come into our house without hiding under the bed and barking nonstop. While we were only able to keep him on his behavior meds for a month and a half, we made incredible progress in desensitizing him to my boyfriend during that time.

In the last thirteen years, that boyfriend has become my husband, and thanks to the continued use of herbal anxiety remedies, their relationship has remained largely positive.

When it comes to natural alternatives to trazodone, there are many options. For some dogs, these alternatives are a safer option that can be just effective. For others, they may be useful to help wean the dog off of trazodone after you’ve seen improvement in their behavior.

Herbals and Supplements

There is a long list of herbal remedies and dietary supplements that have been used to treat mood and behavioral disorders in humans and dogs. Many of these are effective for dogs with anxiety, aggression, and other stress-based behaviors. Use only supplements specifically formulated for dogs. Avoid giving your dog supplements intended for human use, as these may contain additional ingredients that could be harmful to pets. For long term use, consult with your holistic vet.


Cannabidiol (CBD), a component of hemp oil, is a powerful natural remedy for anxiousness, reactivity, and aggression. This compound works with dogs’ endocannabinoid system to help regulate and balance hormones and chemicals in the brain. Studies have shown that CBD can be highly effective in reducing stress behavior during acute stress and in reducing chronic anxiety.

CBD has a cumulative effect on the body and performs best when given daily. Additional doses can be given before stressful events if needed. 

Give your dog 3 to 5 mg of CBD or 10 pounds of body weight once or twice daily for therapeutic use.

St. John’s Wort

St. John’s Wort is widely accepted as an effective treatment for mild depression in humans. Historically, it has been used as a medicinal herb to treat anxiety, as well. It’s believed to work by increasing the levels of certain chemicals in the brain, including serotonin.

St. John’s Wort capsules can be opened and put on your dog’s food once daily. The typical dose is 150mg for small dogs, 500 mg for medium-large dogs, and 1200 mg for extra-large dogs.

Valerian Root

Valerian root is a powerful anxiety reducer that works via the same pathway as Xanax. This herb stimulates the release of GABA. This chemical helps regulate nerve cell activity in the brain and has a calming effect.

Small dogs should be given 1 gram of dried root (or 7 milliliters of valerian root tincture) daily. Large dogs can have up to 7.5 grams of dried root (or 15 milliliters of tincture).


Another GABA-increasing herb is passionflower. This remedy is especially good for helping to calm obsessive thoughts, making it a great choice for dogs that experience compulsive behaviors and separation anxiety.

Passionflower extract can be added to your dog's food or water daily or as needed. The dose for small dogs is 0.5 ml, medium dogs get 1 ml, and large dogs get 2 ml.


If your dog’s anxiety stems from noise or storm phobia, melatonin can be a powerful tool. This hormone does more than regulate our sleep-wake cycle. It also helps calm nerves, reduce feelings of panic, and stop repetitive behaviors. Many owners have found that melatonin completely erases anxious behavior during storms, fireworks, and other noisy stimuli.

Melatonin should be given about an hour before the stressful event. Alternatively, it can be given daily for chronic anxiety. Small dogs can have up to 1 mg, medium dogs up to 2.5 mg, and large dogs up to 5 mg.


Magnesium is a powerful stress reducer in people. Recent studies have linked magnesium supplementation with a reduction in fearful and anxious behavior in dogs, as well. It can be especially powerful when used in conjunction with omega fatty acids and zinc.

In studies, adult medium dogs were given between 12 and 15 mg of magnesium per day. For the right dose for your dog, speak to a qualified naturopath veterinarian.

Diet Changes

Regardless of whether you try one of the natural approaches above or opt to put your dog on trazodone, you should take some time to seriously consider their diet and its role in their behavior. 

For a long time, scientists believed the gut microbiome only played a role in digestion. Today, we know that this community of trillions of microorganisms affects nearly every system in the body, including the brain and nervous system. This means the health of your dog’s gut biome has a huge impact on their mood and behavior.

The first step to reducing anxious behavior and aggression is to ensure the diet you feed is doing everything it can to support a healthy biome. This starts with feeding a species-appropriate diet that is high in quality animal protein. Raw meat diets provide the most in terms of intact nutrition and enzymes to help beneficial bacteria thrive. For those who can’t feed homemade raw, there are many commercial raw, freeze-dried, and dehydrated options worth looking into. 

In addition to feeding the highest quality diet you can, it can be very helpful to include gut-supporting supplements and additives. Probiotics, enzymes, prebiotics, and adaptogens all play an important role in restoring gut balance and keeping your dog’s biome healthy. Rather than purchasing multiple supplements, look for one option that provides all these great benefits, like CHIRP Super Food Topper.

Help Your Dog Overcome Fears and Anxiety

There is no simple solution for dog anxiety. Too often, vets tout trazodone and other behavior-modifying drugs as miracle cures. While trazodone may play an important role in helping your dog overcome their anxiety and fear of aggression, it should be taken with extreme caution, exercising full informed consent, and treated as a temporary step to help your dog get out of the vicious cycle of anxiety. Medications should always be the LAST resort.

Whether you choose to use trazodone or not, you must work with your dog to help them better adapt to their world. This means using desensitization, positive association training, and behavior modification to help train away anxiety. Natural herbal remedies can also be immensely helpful to help your dog calm down. These can be used as an alternative to trazodone or as a means to help them get off the drug once the time comes.

But before you do anything else to address your dog's anxiety, the most important thing to do is take a good, hard look at their diet. A quality, high-protein diet that naturally supports gut health is the best way to help address your dog's anxiety from the inside out.


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Hunt, A. B. G., Flint, H. E., Logan, D. W., & King, T. (2023). A single dose of cannabidiol (CBD) positively influences measures of stress in dogs during separation and car travel. Frontiers in Veterinary Science, 10. 

National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. (2020, February 26). Trazodone. LiverTox – NCBI Bookshelf. 

Niyyat, M. R., Azizzadeh, M., & Khoshnegah, J. (2018). Effect of supplementation with omega-3 fatty acids, magnesium, and zinc on canine behavioral disorders: results of a pilot study. Topics in Companion Animal Medicine, 33(4), 150–155. 

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Sara Seitz

Sara Seitz worked in the pet industry for over a decade. In addition to being a certified dog trainer, Sara gained experience working as the general manager of a dog daycare and boarding facility, as the creator and manager of a pet sitting company, as a groomer, and as a dog behavior evaluator. She also has a bachelors in animal behavior from CSU. Currently, Sara works as a freelance writer specializing in blog, article and content writing.

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