Medication for Aggressive Dogs

While dog aggression is often caused by improper socialisation and poor training, it can also be caused by several medical conditions as well. If a dog is suffering from chronic pain or has an illness, disease or genetic precondition, these too may be causes of bad behaviour and aggression. If a dog's aggression is a symptom of illness, there is no training or punishment that will change his behaviour, so you must first figure out what is causing the aggression. There are several conditions that may cause bad, unusual or aggressive behaviour in canines, which include but are not limited to tooth pain, hyperthyroidism, chemical imbalances in the brain, poor eyesight, epilepsy, head trauma and distemper.


Prescription medications can be used to treat aggression in dogs. These medications are similar to those used in human behaviour conditioning, like with clinical depression and attention deficit disorders. Hormone supplements, anticonvulsants and anti-anxiety drugs can all help to manage and control bad behaviour problems. Medication should always be used in conjunction with behaviour modification and training. A dog's behaviour cannot safely be controlled with medication alone, but it can help him to have more control over his mind and show increased compliance when it comes to training and good behaviour.


There are two different types of medications used to treat aggression in dogs. One type of medication is used to treat aggressive-specific behaviour, and the other is basic prescription medication used to treat a pre-existing medical condition that may only have an indirect effect on the behaviour. Many behavioural issues are caused by another condition, such as illness or chronic pain, and you must treat the illness before you can treat the aggression. Once the illness is managed with medication, the bad behaviour often fixes itself. Medical conditions are treated in a variety of ways depending on the condition and may include anything from hormone therapy to surgery. In cases where the aggression isn't caused by an existing medical condition, a veterinarian may administer anti-anxiety medication or antidepressants. Anti-anxiety medication is often used to treat dominance aggression, which is a behaviour caused by poor socialisation and training.


When prescription medication to treat behavioural problems is used properly and in conjunction with behaviour modification training, it will increase your dog's ability to focus on the tasks you require of him. Medication is beneficial in that it allows your dog to focus his attention on learning new skills and understanding how he is expected to behave rather than being consumed with anxious energy, pain and sadness. Medication may save the relationship between dog and owner and while your dog will lead a more happy and normal life, you too will be relieved of the constant stress associated with owning an aggressive dog.


Not all behavioural problems can be treated and cured with chemical medications. While hyperthyroidism can almost always be effectively treated with prescription medication, many other medical problems, such as genetic temperament problems or those that are congenital by nature, may be impossible to cure. When it comes to dealing with these types of issues, steps should be taken to managing the problem, rather than finding a cure. Chemical imbalances in the brain as well as physical pain will have adverse effects on a dog's behaviour. A dog will become defensive in order to protect himself when he feels external pain and the same is true for internal pain as well. While medication may help to alleviate pain, a dog may need time to relearn some of the training he lost during the illness.


It is important to identify the cause of the behaviour before treating it with medication. A veterinarian can determine many illnesses with basic blood tests. Hyperthyroidism and brain tumours can be determined using special tests administered by a veterinarian and can be treated with hormone supplements and surgery. A canine's brain chemistry, however, is similar to that of a human and is determined by levels of seritonin. A dog can be clinically depressed and even have obsessive compulsive disorders, just like a human. Anti-depressants or SSRI drugs can have a positive affect on dogs when used in conjunction with behaviour therapy. Epilepsy is a difficult condition to determine because of the various causes. Some breeds are prone to primary epilepsy, which is genetic, while other types can be caused by another condition like brain tumours and even apathy. Epilepsy can be managed with medication, but may never be cured. Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome is associated with the degeneration that comes with age, similar to senility in humans, and can be managed with the help of prescription medication.

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About the Author

Based in New York, Jillian Downer has been writing travel, fashion, and active lifestyle articles since 2004. Her work has appeared in "Travel + Leisure," "Outside Magazine," "Women's Health," "Footwear News," and "US News & World Report." Downer holds a Master of Arts in comparative literature from New York University.