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Side Effects of Anxiety Medications in Dogs

Serotonin Syndrome

Dogs suffering from compulsive behaviors, separation anxiety, chronic pain and other conditions may benefit from medications that affect the level of serotonin in the body. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter, a chemical that works in the brain, and is found in the nervous system. It regulates behavior, awareness of pain, appetite, movement, body temperature, and function of the heart and lungs.

If a dog is taking more than one type of medication that causes levels of serotonin to increase in the body, a condition known as serotonin syndrome (SS) can result, and if not caught in time, can lead to death.

Symptoms and Types

As seen in humans, serotonin syndrome may cause:

  • Altered mental state (confusion, depression, or hyperactivity)
  • Difficulty walking
  • Trembling and seizures
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Rapid breathing (tachypnea)
  • Rapid heart rate (tachycardia)
  • Increased body temperature (hyperthermia)


Drugs prescribed as antidepressants in humans are becoming more common for use in animals. These medications alter the body’s levels of serotonin, and thus alter mood and behaviors. Some commonly used antidepressant drugs in dogs include buspirone, fluoxetine, and clomipramine.

Serotonin syndrome can be triggered when:

  • Antidepressant drugs are given in excess
  • Other drugs which affect serotonin levels are also ingested (e.g., amphetamines, chlorpheniramine, fentanyl, lithium, LSD)
  • Individuals with a system more sensitive to the chemical ingest these medications
  • Certain foods are ingested along with medications (e.g., cheese, anything containing L-tryptophan)

Signs of serotonin syndrome usually come on rapidly in dogs; anywhere from 10 minutes up to four hours after ingestion. 


Your veterinarian will conduct blood tests to figure out if your dog could have an infection, as well as to determine what substances the dog might have eaten. Neurological testing (measuring reflexes and coordination) will also be done to pinpoint a specific area of the nervous system that might be affected, like the brain or spinal cord. There is not a specific test that can be run to tell your veterinarian that serotonin syndrome is to blame. The history of drug ingestion and the signs your dog is showing should lead to the proper diagnosis.


A type of amino acid that is essential for the rebuilding and repair of damaged tissues in humans and animals


The term for a quick heartbeat


Any sub stance that allows impulses to be transmitted from one neuron to the next


High body temperature


A medical condition in which the patient has an abnormally fast heartbeat

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Vitamin B12 Supplementation in Pets with EPI

Exocrine pancreatic insufficiency (EPI) impairs an animal’s ability to digest and absorb the nutrients available in food. Because there are insufficient digestive enzymes created by the pancreas, food passes through the body basically undigested. The affected animal will begin to lose weight and have loose, foul-smelling diarrhea. Animals with EPI eat voraciously because they are not able to gain nourishment from the food they do ingest.

Treatment for this condition focuses on the use of enzyme replacements in the food. Replacements are typically required for the remainder of the animal’s life. Other factors will play a role in this disease condition, and your veterinarian will need to monitor your pet long-term to see if additional supplements, such as vitamin B12, or medications are necessary to maintain control.


Vitamin B12 (Cobalamin) Deficiency

Both dogs and cats with exocrine pancreatic insufficiency (EPI) are at risk of developing a vitamin deficiency at some point. Vitamin B12 (cobalamin) deficiency is extremely common in cats with EPI, and is seen in more than half of dogs with the condition. Because the body can store up the vitamin under normal conditions, it may take some time before it reaches a critically low point. The reason an animal becomes deficient is that vitamin B12 is not absorbed from the food eaten by animals suffering from EPI.

Dogs and cats with EPI may be additionally compromised by decreased production of a substance called intrinsic factor (IF) by the cells of the pancreas. This substance helps the body to absorb the vitamin into the bloodstream. Without sufficient IF, the animal will have even greater difficulty in getting enough vitamin B12. In the cat, the pancreas is the only site of intrinsic factor production. and when the pancreas is compromised, IF deficiency (and thus B12 deficiency) results.

Once a deficiency of B12 does occur, the animal will have difficulty gaining (or maintaining) weight, even when he or she may have been doing well on enzyme replacement therapy. The dog or cat will also become lethargic and confused. This is because vitamin B12 plays an important role in intestinal health, as well as brain function.

Because of this, any animal that is not improving on enzyme replacement therapy should be checked for B12 deficiency to determine if supplementation is necessary. Your veterinarian will need to run blood tests to check your pet’s levels of B12 in the blood. Low levels of vitamin B12 are sometimes associated with another condition called small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO). This build-up of bacteria can lead to B12 deficiency in dogs as the organisms bind the vitamin and make it unavailable for absorption by the intestine.

Treating Vitamin B12 Deficiency

Those animals who are not properly treated for B12 deficiency will have a very poor prognosis and will not show improvement when only treated for EPI. Because animals with EPI are unable to absorb certain nutrients and have a diminished capacity to produce intrinsic factor, giving them oral supplementation of B12 doesn’t help. Thus, the most effective method of vitamin B12 supplementation is by injection.

Doses are typically given weekly for many weeks, followed by every two weeks for many weeks, then monthly. Your veterinarian may consider teaching you to give your pet these injections at home, depending on the situation. Blood tests will be taken again after the course of injections has been given. This will allow your veterinarian to determine if the animal has reached sufficient levels of B12.

Your pet will continue to receive injections of B12 until levels are high enough and any secondary intestinal problems are improved. Once an animal has a normal level of B12 in the bloodstream, he or she should begin to gain weight and improve considerably, even in the face of EPI.

Image: aspen rock / via Shutterstock

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Treating Flatulence with Dietary Supplements in Dogs

Often, the dog is blamed when foul smells “perfume” a room. But if your dog has the ability to clear a room with his frequent emissions, there may be something you can do to help make things a bit less “potent.”

Causes of Flatulence

Gases are produced in the intestinal tract as a by-product of normal digestion. As these gases build up and pass through the body, they are expelled either alone or along with feces during a normal bowel movement. And while it remains a normal bodily function, certain animals produce and release an abnormal amount of gas. Persistent flatulence is not a life-threatening condition, but it can be uncomfortable for those living with the potent pup.

One of the main causes of gas in the intestinal tract is air swallowed during eating. Dogs that gulp their food and eat rapidly may have a greater amount of air in their digestive tracts than those that eat at a more sedate pace. Another cause of excessive gas buildup is food quality. If the pet food is less digestible, or has poor-quality ingredients, the animal’s digestive tract may not be able to process it properly, resulting in excessive amounts of gas. Flatulence can also result when a dog gets into the garbage and/or eats something that is not a normal part of the daily diet.

In addition, food allergies may play a role in the development of excess gas in the digestive tract. Flatulence can also come about as a result of intestinal disease or infection that interferes with the normal function of the intestinal tract. If flatulence is a result of a digestive enzyme deficiency, the animal may not be able to properly digest the food he eats.

If a severe case of flatulence is a sudden occurrence, the animal is experiencing signs of discomfort (i.e., groaning, stretching, bloating, vomiting, diarrhea), and has a diminished appetite, consult your veterinarian immediately. Your veterinarian can run diagnostic tests to rule out intestinal diseases as well as digestive enzyme deficiencies. Tests that might be recommended include blood analyses, fecal examination, X-rays, etc.

Treating Flatulence

Depending on the situation, your veterinarian may recommend a different diet; a new method of feeding your pet; or the addition of enzymes, probiotics, and/or dietary supplements to the animal’s food. A good-quality, well-balanced diet will allow for easier digestion and reduce the amount of waste being produced.

If the pet is a fast eater, there are several methods available to slow down his eating and reduce the amount of air ingested in the process. Keeping pets out of the garbage and not providing table scraps or human food treats will also reduce the incidences of indigestion, as does regular exercise.

Image: WilleeCole / via Shutterstock

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Natural Supplements for Dogs With Itchy Skin

By Lynne Miller

Dry, itchy skin is a nuisance for dogs, and pet parents are sniffing around for natural supplements for this common and vexing problem.

Treating pruritus, or itching, can be difficult since any number of things can cause it. Food allergies, seasonal allergies, fleas, ticks, mites, and skin infections are just a few of the culprits. To complicate things further, more than one thing could be making your pooch itchy. If you notice lesions on your dog’s skin or the itching is out of control, make an appointment with your veterinarian.

And before you buy any supplement, veterinarians recommend taking a close look at your dog’s diet.

Ideally, dogs should eat a diet that’s relatively high in protein and low in processed carbohydrates, says Dr. Michael Dym, a homeopathic veterinarian based in Royal Palm Beach, Fla.

“Before supplements, we must cut down on inflammation which often starts in the gut,” Dym says. For dogs that eat typical commercial pet food, “you can add every supplement known to man and it won’t stop the itching.” 

Read the label closely on your pet’s food, advises Dr. Patrick Mahaney, a Los Angeles-based holistic veterinarian. Look for food that lists meat, poultry or fish as the first ingredient, and avoid food with ingredients labeled as “byproduct” and “meal,” with the exception of flaxseed meal.

“It comes down to the quality of the ingredients,” Mahaney says. “Generally, the patients I work with are so much healthier from a skin perspective if they’re eating whole foods.”

You might feel overwhelmed by the sheer number of natural products promising relief from chronic itching. Here are a few common supplements recommended by veterinarians.

Fish Oil

The Omega-3 fats found in fish oil help reduce inflammation, which can lessen the intensity of many allergies. According to the VCA Animal Hospitals’ website, these fats can also be used to treat skin disorders such as seborrhea or seborrheic dermatitis, which occurs when the sebaceous glands of the skin produce an excessive amount of sebum, an oily/waxy material.

Omega-3s also reduce reactions to pollen and other common triggers found in the environment, Dym notes.

Fish oil can complement medicinal treatments for itching, such as oclacitinib tablets, says Dr. Lenny Silverman, a traditional veterinarian with a practice in Brooklyn, N.Y.

“We have some clients who use fish oil on a regular basis,” Silverman says.

Look for the purest form of fish oil with low flavor and low odor, ideally manufactured by a company that tests for radiation, Mahaney says. You can pierce the capsule and add the liquid directly to your dog’s moist food.

Make sure to balance the essential fatty acids in your pet’s diet.

“Most premium pet foods contain a lot of Omega-6 fats so you need more Omega-3 supplements to balance it properly,” says Dr. Jean Dodds of Garden Grove, Calif. Dodds, noting that Omega-6 fats can cause inflammation, recommends dogs get five times more Omega-3s than Omega-6s in their diet.

Too much fish oil can also have adverse effects. Consult your veterinarian before you start supplementing.

Coconut Oil

Coconut oil can improve many skin conditions including itchiness and dryness. It also can reduce allergic reactions.

You can apply coconut oil directly to your dog’s coat, dry, cracked pads, cuts and sores.

Dym likes to add a little coconut oil to food. Add coconut oil slowly to your pet’s diet, about a quarter teaspoon per every 10 pounds of body weight.

“Coconut oil is high in fat,” Dodds notes. “If you put too much in food, your dog can get diarrhea.”

Because of its fat content, coconut oil also may not be a good choice for overweight dogs, according to The Drake Center for Veterinary Care. Coconut oil also should not be fed to dogs with pancreatitis.


A condition of the skin in which too much oil (sebum) is produced


A type of oil produced by the skin


The term for a type of medication that impacts immunity, metabolism, sexual characteristics, and other such elements of a living thing


Something that causes itching


Any type of arachnid excluding ticks


A condition in which the skin becomes inflamed


A substance that causes chemical change to another


Term used to describe certain feeds; refers to c or anything else that contains compounds that prevent the process of oxidization.


A medical condition in which the pancreas becomes inflamed