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Published: Mar 27, 2024 7 min read

Trazodone is commonly prescribed to treat depression and insomnia in humans. In the realm of pet care, the drug's extra-label use has been effective at managing anxiety and other behavioral issues in dogs (and pet insurance may cover its cost).

In this guide, we explain how trazodone works, how its used, and common side effects to watch out for. Keep reading to learn more.

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What is trazodone for dogs?

Trazodone (brand names Desyrel and Oleptro) is an antidepressant that's part of a class of drugs called serotonin antagonist and reuptake inhibitors (SARIs). In humans, these types of drugs can help with depression and insomnia by regulating serotonin and inhibiting 5-HT2 receptors in the nervous system.

In dogs, trazodone impacts serotonin levels as well, alleviating anxiety and aggression in situations that would otherwise be very triggering. It's a valuable tool in pet therapy both to keep dogs calm for short periods of time and to manage chronic anxiety disorders.

Common uses of trazodone for dogs

"Mostly we use it for anxiety and to keep them calm and tranquil after orthopedic surgery or any surgery," says Dr Lindsay Butzer, D.V.M. and veterinarian at Clint Moore Animal Hospital.

Trazodone is commonly prescribed in veterinary medicine to treat various behavioral disorders:

  • Separation anxiety
  • Reactivity
  • Compulsive behaviors
  • Stress
  • Barking
  • Howling
  • Noise phobias

Trazodone also works as a part of comprehensive behavior modification that includes training and ongoing treatment with a behavioral specialist.

In cases of aggressive behavior, however, Dr. Butzer stresses that trazodone won't prevent your dog from biting. "You can't give trazodone to a dog that's extremely aggressive for biting and think that it's not gonna bite you. It can still bite. For this situation, you need to seek a behaviorist or [unfortunately] put the dog down," she says.

Trazodone safe doses for dogs

The dose of trazodone depends on the dog's weight, its medical history and any possible drug interactions.

Generally, the dosage ranges from one to 15 milligrams per kilogram of your dog's body weight. Behavioral issues may be treated with a lower dose of three to eight milligrams, according to the drug dosage chart by Merck Veterinary Manual.

Depending on the intended effect, trazodone can be administered every eight to 24 hours or on an as-needed basis. For example, you may only need to give your dog trazodone in anticipation of a stressful event like a visit to the groomer or a thunderstorm.

Common trazodone side effects in dogs

Though it's generally well-tolerated, trazodone can cause adverse side effects in some dogs, and patients with liver, kidney or heart disease may not tolerate the drug at all.

Common side effects of trazodone in dogs include drowsiness, sedation, gastrointestinal upset, ataxia (loss of coordination) and changes in appetite.

According to Dr. Butzer, long-term use may also pose some challenges: "It actually does build up in the system and they can become resistant to it, and then you may need to switch to something else like Valium or Xanax for the dogs."

And if you need to take your dog off trazodone after chronic use, it's best to do it gradually. Otherwise, your dog can suffer withdrawal symptoms like increased agitation, anxiety and restlessness.

Serotonin syndrome

Serotonin syndrome is a life-threatening condition that can affect dogs when they have an excess of serotonin in their bodies. It's the biggest risk to watch out for when treating dogs with trazodone and other drugs or supplements that increase serotonin levels (known as serotonergic drugs).

Dogs can develop serotonin syndrome if they ingest too much of their own medication, or if they accidentally consume their owner's medication. It can also occur if the veterinarian mistakenly prescribes two separate serotonergic drugs to your dog. That's why it's crucial to tell your vet all the medications your dog is taking.

The onset of serotonin syndrome can occur within one to two hours after your dog ingests the medication or develop slowly over several hours or days.

These are the signs of serotonin syndrome to watch out for:

  • Restlessness
  • Agitation
  • Disorientation
  • Increased temperature
  • Vomiting and diarrhea
  • Muscle rigidity
  • Excessive panting
  • Elevated heart rate
  • Dilated pupils
  • Drooling or hypersalivation
  • Tremors

Medications you should not mix with trazodone

Certain medications can increase the risk of side effects and serotonin syndrome or even reduce trazodone's effectiveness. Antifungals, for example, can increase trazodone concentrations, and gabapentin — an anti-anxiety medication that's commonly given with trazodone — can exacerbate the sedative effects if the dosage isn't right.

These are some of the medications to be cautious of when using trazodone:

  • Antibiotics
  • Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) like fluoxetine and sertraline
  • Antifungals such as ketoconazole, itraconazole and fluconazole
  • Monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs) including phenelzine, amitraz and selegiline
  • Opioids such as tramadol
  • Trazodone for dogs cost

Here's how much trazodone costs at popular online pet stores. Keep in mind that these prices can differ from those at your local veterinary clinic and that you still need a veterinary prescription to buy trazodone online.

Trazodone dosage x number of tablets


50 mg x 60


50 mg x 100


100 mg x 60


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Trazodone for dogs FAQs

How long does trazodone take to work?


The full effects of trazodone typically begin within one to two hours, though it ultimately depends on the dog. Having food in the stomach can also delay absorption.

The drug may take several days or weeks to work when it is prescribed daily as part of a long-term treatment plan.

What does trazodone do for dogs?


Trazodone enhances serotonin's effect on your dog's body, effectively calming them and helping them relax in stressful situations.

Is trazodone safe for dogs?


Trazodone is safe for dogs when used as prescribed by a veterinarian. Side effects of trazodone in dogs are usually limited to drowsiness and lethargy, and these go away once the drug passes.

However, Trazodone can pose a significant risk to your dog's health if it's over prescribed or mixed with similar drugs, as this can lead to serotonin syndrome.

How long does it take for trazodone to wear off in dogs?

A single dose of trazodone typically takes between six to 24 hours to wear off. This process may take longer if your dog has been taking trazodone for a while, and you'll want to wean them off carefully to avoid withdrawal symptoms.

Does pet insurance cover anxiety medication?


Pet insurance coverage for anxiety medication depends on whether the insurance company covers behavioral modification. Anxiety medication is most likely covered if your provider offers this benefit with its base policy or as a rider.

That said, pet insurers may not cover "off-label" medications like trazodone because these drugs aren't yet approved for animal use by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). This doesn't mean that the medication is unsafe (FDA testing can be prohibitively expensive), but it may affect whether pet insurance covers it or not.

Summary of Money’s Trazodone for Dogs

  • Trazodone is an antidepressant with extra-label applications in veterinary medicine. In dogs, this medication is a valuable tool for managing anxiety and anxiety-related problems like aggression.
  • Veterinarians often prescribe it to help dogs cope with loud noises, separation anxiety, travel and vet visits. The medication can also help keep your dog calm after surgery.
  • The full effects of trazodone are noticeable after one to two hours, and your dog may take six to 24 hours to clear the drug.
  • The main risk factor of trazodone is serotonin syndrome, a potentially life-threatening condition caused by excess serotonin in the body. Dogs are at risk of this complication if they consume too much trazodone or if they're prescribed multiple drugs that affect serotonin levels similarly.