Updated: Apr 6
There are so many myths about behavior medication... Here are three common ones I hear:
MYTH: The potential benefit of behavior medications is outweighed by the health risks.
FACTS: The long term effects of chronic stress are well studied in all species and, spoiler alert, they are detrimental to health, 1. While behavior medications do come with some inherent risk (as do all medications and supplements), the risk can be mitigated by working with your veterinarian or veterinary behaviorist to find a plan that is well suited for you and your dog. You can also mitigate the risk by having ensuring you get your dog in for regular check ups and bloodwork. Many veterinarians and veterinary behaviors will include this as a part of the plan. Additionally, medications are subject to regulation and have to undergo testing to ensure their efficacy, document side effects, and contraindications. Supplements are not subject to regulation and while some supplements do undergo third party testing, it is not a requirement.
MYTH: Behavior medications will turn my dog into a zombie.
FACTS: Sedation is usually not a desired effect of long term behavior medications. A well suited behavior medication, doesn’t steal your dog’s spark… in most instances, I see the opposite. The effects depend on the dog and medication plan, but generally it will help reduce anxiety and chronic stress which usually results in a decreased reactivity to stressors, a quicker recovery time post stressor, and a less intense reaction, 2. Other benefits may include it being easier for your dog to relax, rest, and learn as well as an improved quality of life. Most clients that I work with who end up going down the route of behavioral medication regret not starting it sooner.
MYTH: Using behavior medications is the result of a training fail.
FACTS: Contrary to popular belief the use of behavior medications isn’t failing. Dogs with severe anxiety, phobias, or behaviors often require additional help. Behavior medications, like training, aren’t a cure all, 2. Behavior medications can be an integral part to a behavior plan and vice versa. The earlier they are used in a behavior modification plan, the better, 3.
On a personal note, I was one of those individuals who was scared of the risks of behavior medications. It took me a long time to finally seek the use of behavior meds for my dogs. And now, I too am one of those people who regret not starting sooner. For Ollie, behavior medications have been life changing. Prior to starting, Ollie rarely wagged his tail happily, he was chronically stressed which in turn made our relationship stressed, and behavior modification felt like we were trying to climb the side of a cliff without the proper equipment. The difference in his quality of life has been night and day. He is now happy, playful, communicative, and the best version of himself. Our bond is unshakeable, even on hard days. His behavior modification has come so much easier and we have accomplished some amazing things: consent based veterinary care, consent based nail trims, decreased reactivity to strangers and dogs, increased confidence, increased relaxation, and so much more. While its possible that my own experience has skewed me in favor of behavior medications, I have seen the same effect with my clients time and time again. The studies are out there proving their efficacy. So while I, like others, come with my own set of biases, I strongly believe that science backs that the benefit of behavior medications outweighs their risk.
Additional Notes & Sources:
1 - There are many studies that confirm the effects of long term stress. Here is one: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0168159110001243
2 - These are examples of effects. The effects will depend upon your dog's behavior, the medication plan, and the behavior modification plan. This is a great article from a veterinary and training professional: https://www.drjensdogblog.com/behavior-medication-first-line-therapy-or-last-resort/