My dog (Tristan) is currently eight years old (his birthday is in July) and he has had anxiety all of his life. My husband and I were living in the southwest at the time and I wanted a dog really badly. We looked for a dog for months, going to pet adoption events around the area, yet I never got a strong feeling from any dog even though I love all animals deeply and equally. For some reason, I felt very strongly that our dog was supposed to be brown and I'd know that they were ours when I met them.
One night, we were driving past a store and we saw a woman and a young girl standing outside their car with a sign that said "free puppies". I asked my husband to stop so we could look, so we stopped the car and walked over to the other car. I asked the woman and girl if we could see the puppies and they nodded their heads yes. I looked in the trunk of their car, which was open, and saw two black and white puppies who looked a few months old, one brown puppy that was a couple months old, and one brown puppy that looked only a few weeks old in the right corner of the trunk. The smallest brown puppy was sleeping, but I knew immediately that he was supposed to be ours. I remember as soon as I saw him I started reaching for him and didn't really take much notice of the other puppies.
He woke up a little as I picked him up, looked at me, then went to sleep. I told the woman and the girl that I'd like to take the puppy home with me and they smiled and nodded their heads. At that point I realized that must not have known a lot of English because they seemed to understand what I was saying, but never said anything back. We left and got in our car, and the brown puppy slept on my lap the whole time.
We got home and he woke up. I put him down on our floor and he walked behind a chair leg and went to the bathroom. I noticed what I thought was rice in his poop was moving, so I saved it to take to the veterinarian the next day. I noticed he also had some green film over his eyes and wasn't sure if he could see me or not. That night we put him in an area to sleep and he cried all night. I felt bad, but I knew it was a process that everyone goes through with puppies.
The next day, we took him to the vet and the vet said he was a German shepherd/Australian shepherd (blue heeler) mix and that he had worms in his stools (I can't remember what kind they were) and ringworm in his eyes. We got his medication and after a couple weeks he was healed and started to grow. I held him all the time and spent all day with him. He grew very attached to me (and still is).
At the time, I didn't socialize him with many dogs because parvovirus was rampant in the area and I didn't want to risk him getting sick. I realize now that him being so young when I got him and not having a lot of socialization with other dogs and humans caused him to have more anxiety, but at the time I felt that there was little that I could do to socialize him without risk. Since the people I got him from didn't speak English, I didn't have any information about his age or history either. The vet put him at about four weeks, so I determined is birthday to be at the end of July.
Deciding to Put Tristan on Prozac
Tristan has a list of anxiety triggers that include: thunderstorms, garbage trucks (when they shake and dump the contents of a dumpster), gunfire (from video games, tv, and movies), helicopters, flies buzzing, fireworks, and the washing machine.
We have moved quite a few times since getting Tristan due to the military, school, and jobs, and each time it took him a while to get used to the change. It always took about two weeks for him to determine that wherever we had moved to was his new home, but for those two weeks, he wouldn't eat or sleep much.
The last time that we moved, we moved near Kansas City. We lived in a different state before, where there were less severe thunderstorms, and even though Tristan was scared, he wasn't terrified like he became when we moved close to Kansas City. Since living here, there are many severe thunderstorms and Tristan's anxiety has gotten much worse.
In the beginning, if there were thunderstorms overnight, we would turn on the lights where Tristan's crate is so he couldn't see the flickering of the lightning, put a black sheet over his crate so he would feel safe, turn on loud floor fans so he couldn't hear the thunder as much, and play music (he loves "You Really Got a Hold on Me" by Smokey Robinson and the Miracles) on loop. This worked for a while until the thunderstorms got so severe that he would hear them over the white noise and the music and he would howl all night.
I didn't know what else we could do, so we made an appointment to see the veterinarian nearby to get some advice.
What the Veterinarian Said
When we got to the veterinarian's office, we told her Tristan's history of anxiety and she said that I was right, that he had more anxiety than normal because I hadn't socialized him and he was so young when we got him (but that I didn't do anything wrong due to the circumstances we were in). She suggested that we put him on Prozac because it helped other dogs with anxiety. Tristan is usually between 45 and 52 lbs, so she started him on 40 mg.
What Prozac Did For Tristan
The first couple of days on Prozac, Tristan would go to sleep for a few hours right after I gave him his pill. He was still eating and drinking normally for the first four days, but after those four days, he started not eating as much.
I would say for about four and a half weeks, it was a struggle to get Tristan to eat. I had to put peanut butter on a few pieces of his kibble (he eats Zignature lamb kibble and loves it immensely) and mix it up to get him interested in eating his food. I would recommend if your dog is on Prozac and he's not eating to put something that smells strongly that they like to get them to eat their food. If they are not eating at all, talk to your veterinarian about the dosage or trying a different medication.
After about four and half weeks, Tristan began to eat on his own again, and between four and a half and five and a half weeks, he was eating normally.
As far as behavior, I didn't notice a change until five and half weeks. If Tristan heard an sound that triggered his anxiety, he was still reactive, but as soon as the sound stopped, he would stop reacting. It seemed to have made it easier for his anxiety to go away much more quickly than before, which is amazing to see.
At six weeks, our veterinarian told us that we should start training him with treats. Where we live, we see people and dogs regularly, and Tristan will randomly bark at people and try his best to get to other dogs, even if that means trying to drag us with him. Our vet said that the Prozac would calm his anxiety, but that we still needed to do behavioral training to make him less reactive to people and animals.
I would agree that he is less reactive overall and once we introduced treats, he has started to care way less about people and animals if he knows there are treats nearby. I would recommend getting treats that you know will get your dog's attention. I get Vanilla Creme Lick and Crunch cookie treats from Three Dog Bakery (I got mine at Target, but I've seen them at PetSmart before, on Chewy.com, and there are physical Three Dog Bakery stores). Tristan also likes lamb lungs (even though they smell awful). I'd recommend that you start with their most favorite treats so they are way more interested in getting those than barking or lunging.
What I do when we go out with Tristan is to make him sit first and pay attention to me, then give him the treat. If he is still looking around after that, I make him sit again and pay attention to the treat. I noticed after a couple weeks of doing this he has been looking around less and pays more attention to my husband and I when we go outside.
I believe it has been much easier to have two people out when treat training if one person can hold the leash (especially if your dog is powerful like ours is) and the other can distribute the treats. If you don't have that option, I'd recommend getting a fanny pack or something so you can pull the treats out easily without having to worry about not being able to use both hands for your dog if needed.
My Thoughts on Prozac for Dogs
Honestly, when our vet first suggested Prozac, I was against it. As a mental health therapist, I know about Prozac and know how powerful a drug it is. However, I also knew that Tristan needed help that I couldn't give him. I had tried everything that I could to reduce his anxiety, and apart from moving to a state where there is less severe weather and fewer people around, I did everything in my power to help him.
I can honestly say now that I am glad he is on Prozac and I see a big change in his behavior. I think it helped his anxiety tremendously and it didn't change his personality, which is something I was worried about. He is the same loving, happy dog with a big personality, just with less anxiety. He still gets scared when he hears loud noises, but it doesn't last for hours like it used to. It only lasts as long as the event lasts, which is acceptable to me.
If your dog has severe anxiety and you've tried behavioral modification and the things I've tried (blanketing the sound, white noise, etc.) and they didn't work, it might help to talk to your veterinarian about what you can do. For us, Prozac helped Tristan for the better.
I hope this article has helped you if you have wondered about putting your dog on Prozac. Please let me know if you have any questions. Do you have an experience with putting your animal on Prozac? Did it work? Please share your experience in your comments below!