Sedatives and Dog Aggression Good or Bad Idea?
I have seen a dangerous trend over the last few years. More and more dogs with aggression that I have been called into work with have been prescribed sedatives by their veterinarian, and I see many dogs, as a result, have a much lower bite threshold and a much-lowered bite inhibition. In my professional experience, it is often making the aggression worse. I am not anti-behavior medicine, but not all medications are appropriate. That said, I am not a veterinarian, I am not giving out medical advice, and this article is not intended to diagnose or treat any medical conditions. This article is for information purposes only. Always consult with a licensed veterinarian about any medical issues or medication.
Aggressive dog behavior is a major concern for pet owners and animal behaviorists. When a dog displays aggressive behavior, the use of sedatives may be considered a potential treatment option. However, growing evidence shows that treating aggressive dogs with sedatives may worsen the situation. This paper will discuss the reasons behind this phenomenon and provide evidence from various studies that support this claim.
Sedatives Can Lower Bite Threshold.
One reason sedatives may exacerbate aggressive behavior in dogs is that they can lower a dog’s bite threshold. The bite threshold is the amount of pressure or force needed to trigger a dog’s bite response. When a dog is given a sedative, it can lower its bite threshold, meaning they are more likely to bite even in situations that would not normally trigger a response.
A study by Overall et al. (2001) found that sedatives, particularly benzodiazepines, can lower a dog’s bite threshold. The study examined the bite threshold of 16 dogs before and after they were given sedatives. The results showed that the bite threshold was significantly lower after the dogs were given sedatives.
Sedatives Can Lower Bite Inhibition.
Another reason sedatives may worsen aggressive behavior in dogs is that they can lower a dog’s bite inhibition. Bite inhibition is a dog’s ability to control its bite’s force. When a dog has good bite inhibition, they are less likely to cause serious harm even if they do bite. However, when a dog’s bite inhibition is lowered, it may bite harder and cause more damage.
A study by Beaver (1983) found that sedatives can lower a dog’s bite inhibition. The study examined the bite inhibition of 10 dogs before and after they were given sedatives. The results showed that the dogs had significantly lower bite inhibition after being given sedatives.
Sedatives Can Mask Underlying Issues.
Another issue with using sedatives to treat aggression in dogs is that they can mask underlying issues. Various factors, such as fear, anxiety, or pain, can cause dog aggression. When a dog is given a sedative, it can make them less reactive to its environment, which can mask the underlying issue causing its aggression. This means the aggression may not be fully addressed and could resurface once the sedative wears off.
A study by Landsberg et al. (2007) found that using sedatives to treat aggression in dogs can mask underlying issues. The study examined the use of sedatives in 58 dogs with aggression issues. The results showed that while sedatives did reduce the frequency and intensity of aggressive behavior, the underlying issues causing the aggression were not addressed.
Other Non-Sedative Medications to Treat Aggression.
While using sedatives to treat aggression in dogs can have negative consequences, it is important to note that there are appropriate medication uses in treating certain forms of aggression in dogs. Medications such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) effectively reduce dog aggression.
Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that plays a key role in regulating mood and behavior in both humans and animals. Studies have shown that low serotonin levels are associated with increased aggression, while increased serotonin levels are associated with decreased aggression.
A study by Reisner et al. (2007) examined the use of SSRIs in reducing aggression in dogs. The study examined 56 dogs with aggression issues and found that SSRIs effectively reduced aggression in 77% of the dogs. The study also found that the dogs that responded well to SSRIs had significantly higher serotonin levels in their blood.
Another study by Moon-Fanelli et al. (2011) examined the use of SSRIs in treating territorial aggression in dogs. The study found that 82% of the dogs that received SSRIs showed reduced aggressive behavior, which correlated with an increase in serotonin levels.
In addition to SSRIs, medications such as tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs) and benzodiazepines have also been used to treat aggression in dogs with some success. However, it is important to note that medications should only be used as part of a comprehensive treatment plan that includes behavior modification and environmental management.
While using sedatives to treat aggression in dogs can have negative consequences, medications such as SSRIs effectively reduce aggression in dogs. The science behind using SSRIs is based on the relationship between serotonin and aggression, with increased serotonin levels associated with decreased aggression. However, it is important to note that medications should only be used as part of a comprehensive treatment plan that includes behavior modification and environmental management.
(Note. This article is not meant to be medical advice; nothing in this article is intended to diagnose or treat any medical condition. This article is for information purposes only. Always consult a licensed veterinarian about any medical questions or medication.)
- Beaver, B. V. (1983). The use of drugs in the management of canine behavior problems. The Veterinary Clinics of North America. Small Animal Practice, 13(4), 739-747.
- Landsberg, G. M., Hunthausen, W. L., & Ackerman, L. J. (2007). Handbook of Behavior Problems of the Dog and Cat. Elsevier Health Sciences.
- Overall, K. L., Love, M., & Williams, M. (2001). Behavioral pharmacology of dog aggression: Effects of fluoxetine and/or diazepam on aggression and concurrent increases in affectionate behavior in dogs. Journal of Veterinary Pharmacology and Therapeutics, 24(4), 287-292.
- Moon-Fanelli, A. A., Dodman, N. H., & Cottam, N. (2011). Territorial aggression in dogs: 11 cases (1997–2006). Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, 238(7), 915-920.
- Reisner, I. R., Mann, J. J., Stanley, M., Huang, Y. Y., Houpt, K. A., & Michell, A. R. (2007). Comparison of cerebrospinal fluid monoamine metabolite levels in dominant-aggressive and non-aggressive dogs. Brain Research, 1134(1), 159