MSD Manual

Please confirm that you are a health care professional

honeypot link

Principles of Pharmacologic and Natural Treatment for Behavioral Problems


Gary M. Landsberg

, BSc, DVM, MRCVS, DACVB, DECAWBM, North Toronto Veterinary Behaviour Specialty Clinic

Last full review/revision May 2014 | Content last modified May 2014
Topic Resources

Psychotropic drugs and natural products can be used to reestablish a more stable emotional state and improve trainability in animals that are anxious, fearful, or overly reactive. Drugs might also be effective in the treatment of behavior that is abnormal, pathologic, or lacking impulse control. In addition, drugs may be indicated to improve compromised welfare. However, whereas drugs can improve the animal's emotional state and facilitate new learning, only with concurrent behavior modification can new neuronal pathways be established, new behaviors learned, and fearful responses to stimuli changed to positive ones.

Evidence-based decision making is a way to provide the best information and treatment options. Treatment should be selected using the evidence combined with the clinician’s expertise regarding the animal, client, and problem. Very few drugs have been adequately tested in rigorous, randomized, controlled trials for use in veterinary behavioral therapy. In fact, most drugs used in veterinary behavioral therapy are human drugs, very few of which have had pharmacokinetics established for animal species. This can lead to inaccurate assumptions with respect to dosage, duration of effect, contraindications, and adverse effects. In addition, there is a wide range of published dosages based on the application, individual variability, and desired outcome. Therefore, practitioners should remain current with the most recent veterinary behavior literature with respect to indications, recommended dosages, evidence of efficacy, potential adverse effects, and contraindications before dispensing any of these medications. (For dosing guidelines, see Table: Drug Dosages for Behavioral Therapy in Dogs and Cats). Depending on the drug and patient, compounding may be required to achieve an appropriate dosage and formulation for administration; however, reformulation may alter a drug’s pharmacokinetics, safety, efficacy, and stability. Recent studies on the use of transdermal preparations of behavioral drugs such as fluoxetine, amitripyline, and buspirone have found little to no absorption of transdermal preparations versus oral dosing.

A variety of natural products have been used to treat anxiety; however, only a few have demonstrated any evidence to support efficacy. Products that have published studies indicating potential therapeutic effects to calm and reduce underlying fear and anxiety include the canine appeasing pheromone (Adaptil®), the feline cheek gland pheromones (Feliway® and Felifriend®), a feline pheromone that might aid in scratching post training (Feliscratch®), l-theanine (Anxitane®), α-casozepine (Zylkene®), a diet supplemented with α-casozepine and l-tryptophan (Royal Canin Calm™ Feline and Canine), a product combining Magnolia officinalis and Phellodendron amurense (Harmonease®), a Souroubea sp supplement (Sin Susto™), as well as perhaps melatonin, and lavender aromatherapy.


Drug Dosages for Behavioral Therapy in Dogs and Cats


Dog Dosage

Cat Dosage



0.5–2 mg/kg, prna to tid

0.5–2 mg/kg, prn



0.01–0.1 mg/kg, prn to qid

0.125–0.25 mg/cat, prn to tid


0.1–1 mg/kg, bid-tid

0.05–0.2 mg/kg, one to three times/day


0.5–2 mg/kg, prn to tid

0.2–1 mg/kg, one to two times/day


0.5–2 mg/kg, prn (eg, every 4–6 hr)

0.2–1 mg/kg, prn to tidb


0.025–0.2 mg/kg/day to prn

0.025–0.08 mg/kg, one to two times/day


0.2–1 mg/kg, one to two times/day

0.2–0.5 mg/kg, one to two times/day

Tricyclic Antidepressants


1–4 mg/kg, bid

0.5–2 mg/kg/day


1–3 mg/kg, bidc

0.25–1 mg/kg/dayc


3–5 mg/kg, bid-tid

0.5–1 mg/kg, one to two times/day


1–4 mg/kg, one to two times/day

0.5–1 mg/kg, one to two times/day

Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors


1–3 mg/kg/dayc

0.5–1.5 mg/kg/day


1–2 mg/kg, one to two times/day

0.25–0.5 mg/kg/day


0.5–2 mg/kg/day

0.25–1 mg/kg/day


1–3 mg/kg/day or divided bid

0.5–1.5 mg/kg/day



0.2–3 mg/kg, prn to bid

0.2–1 mg/kg, tid



0.01–0.05 mg/kg, prn to bid



0.5–2 mg/kg, one to three times/day

0.5–1 mg/kg, one to three times/day

Serotonin Antagonist Reuptake Inhibitor


3–8 mg/kg, prn to tid



4–8 mg/kg, bid-tid

2–6 mg/kg, one to two times/day


5–30 mg/kg, bid-tid

3–10 mg/kg, bid-tid


20 mg/kg, tid

10–20 mg/kg, tid


2–5 mg/kg, bid (to 10 mg/kg, prn for sedation)

1–3 mg/kg, bid

Potassium bromided

10–40 mg/kg/day, or divided bid

Not recommended

Glial Modulator


2.5–5 mg/kg, bid

Monoamine Oxidase Inhibitor


0.5–1 mg/kg/day (in morning)

0.5–1 mg/kg/day (in morning)

a prn = as needed

b Rare reports of hepatic necrosis with diazepam in cats and potentially with other benzodiazepines

c Licensed and labeled for veterinary behavior use in some countries

d Titrate upward if inadequate clinical improvement and serum levels not adequate

e Licensed and labeled for cognitive dysfunction in some countries

A physical examination and blood and urine tests should be part of a minimum database before dispensing drugs to ensure there are no underlying medical problems that may be causing or contributing to the behavioral signs, or that might have an impact on drug selection and use. For tricyclic antidepressants and selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, 4 wk may be required to achieve optimal therapeutic effect.

Others also read
Download the Manuals App iOS ANDROID
Download the Manuals App iOS ANDROID
Download the Manuals App iOS ANDROID

Test your knowledge

Social Behavior and Problems in Chickens
Free-range chickens have a social order or rank based on multiple factors. Which of the following factors of an individual chicken does NOT influence rank in the flock?
Become a Pro at using our website 

Also of Interest

Become a Pro at using our website