Drugs to Calm Down a Hyper Dog

By Laura Payne

There is a difference between dogs who are very active and dogs who are clinically hyperactive. If your veterinarian diagnoses your dog as clinically hyperactive, she may prescribe a drug to help modify your dog’s behavior. Consult your veterinarian for an examination and diagnosis before giving your dog any calming drugs.

Activity Levels in Dogs

This dog is pulling at his leash because he wants to run.

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The odds that your dog’s seemingly unending energy is due to clinical hyperactivity are actually slim. According to Dr. Karen Becker on the Healthy Pets website, dogs who tug at leashes, pace back and forth, bark at nothing and just plain don’t sit still likely behave this way due to their breeding, the amount of exercise they receive and how you the owner react to their behavior. Breeds considered very active include English setters, poodles, German wirehaired pointers and Jack Russell terriers. Your Jack Russell bounces off the walls? So does everybody else's.

The Diagnostic Process: Step 1

This dog would rather chase his tail than settle down.

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A clinically hyperactive dog demonstrates a majority of these symptoms: agitation, reactivity, inability to adjust to common household noises, inability to settle down, continued emotional arousal and increased resting heart and respiratory rates. If you notice several of these behaviors in your dog, take him to your veterinarian for an official diagnosis.

The Diagnostic Process: Step 2

Your veterinarian will observe your dog’s activity level and measure his resting heart rate. She may administer a stimulant medication such as Ritalin, and measure your dog’s heart rate again after 30 minutes or so. A clinically hyperactive dog will have a lower heart rate and will be calmer after a dose of a stimulant, whereas a dog who's not hyperactive will likely become agitated and have an increased heart rate on the same medicine.

Prescription Drugs and Herbal Support

The drugs that veterinarians prescribe for dogs are the same as those that treat ADHD in people. Aderall, Concerta and Dexedrine are stimulant drugs, like Ritalin, that vets may prescribe off label. Your veterinarian will select the best stimulant medication and proper dosage for your dog. She will also determine a duration of treatment. Your veterinarian may recommend calming herbs such as chamomile, valerian and skullcap.

The Behavior Modification Process

While drugs play an important role in treating a clinically hyperactive dog, you play an important role, too. There are things you should do and things you shouldn’t do to promote calm behavior in your dog. Give your dog ample exercise daily -- different breeds need different amounts of exercise; some need specific types of exercise to thrive. Don’t reward your dog for bad behavior. Dogs crave attention and consider negative attention better than no attention, so if your dog is behaving in an undesirable way, the best thing to do is ignore him.

Side Effects and Cautions

Side effects you may notice in a dog taking a stimulant drug are insomnia, increased nervousness and anorexia. Also, an increase in blood pressure is possible; don't give stimulant drugs to dogs with known heart troubles. The Pet Poison Helpline lists the toxicity level of stimulant drugs for dogs as generally moderate to severe. If you notice any of the following signs, contact your veterinarian immediately: agitation, aggression, drooling, diarrhea, elevated heart rate, hypertension, panting, sedation, seizures, tumors and vomiting.