Drugs and supplements can help, but choose them carefully.
Once you’ve addressed any underlying medical issues, ask your vet about treatment options, Dr. Borns-Weil suggested. The Food and Drug Administration has recently approved a handful of prescription drugs for dog anxiety: One is Sileo (dexmedetomidine oromucosal gel), which can help nervous dogs tolerate loud noises like fireworks or thunder. There’s also Reconcile (fluoxetine hydrochloride) and Clomicalm (clomipramine hydrochloride), which are F.D.A.-approved to treat separation anxiety in dogs (and can be prescribed off-label to cats, too). A number of other human drugs can be prescribed off-label for pets as well, including various other antidepressants, the anti-seizure drug gabapentin and the blood pressure drug clonidine, Dr. Borns-Weil said.
Over-the-counter anxiety aids could also help, but all of the experts I spoke with recommended consulting with a vet before trying one. That’s because some products may not help and could actually be harmful, Dr. Borns-Weil said. For instance, although the cannabis-derived chemical CBD is safe for pets, THC is toxic for cats and dogs — and in 2020, the F.D.A. reported that nearly half of the 147 CBD products it tested were contaminated with THC even though the labels had no indication of its presence. Vets can usually recommend brands that have been independently tested and shown to be safe, Dr. Kaplan said — although Dr. Borns-Weil wasn’t convinced that CBD would do much good, as there’s no data to suggest it effectively treats anxiety in pets.
Dr. Kaplan said that studies show that other over-the-counter products can help with pet anxiety, too, including Zylkene, a calming supplement for cats and dogs that contains cow’s milk protein; Feliway, a diffuser for cats that releases calming pheromones into the air; Adaptil, a similar pheromone diffuser but for dogs; and Purina Pro Plan Veterinary Supplements Calming Care, a probiotic supplement for dogs. But again, talk to a vet before using one.
Consider other interventions, too.
While certain drugs can help, “medication alone is not a silver bullet,” Dr. Kaplan said. Owners may need to tweak their pet’s environment to make them more comfortable, or teach their pet to feel less nervous. For instance, Dr. Klein said, separation anxiety can be treated by having an owner leave the home for brief periods — at first, just a few seconds — and gradually increasing their time away.
We can teach pets to feel more comfortable in other situations, too. Although our vet prescribed Ozzy trazodone to ease his nerves before appointments, she said it would be even better for us to bring him by the office every so often just to get treats. If we can teach him to start associating the vet’s office with milk bones rather than blood draws, he may not need drugs. He’ll be thrilled, rather than scared, when it’s time for his checkup — and that’ll make things easier for everyone.