Four Things Adopters Should Know About Animals on Psychotropic Medications

Did you catch The Role of Psychopharmacology in Shelter Animal Management, presented by Karen van Haaften, DVM, DACVB, earlier this fall? As a follow-up to the presentation, we’re sharing some additional information to support potential adopters of animals who have been prescribed psychotropic medications. These tips will help them understand the full situation and their role in a successful outcome, as provided by Christine Calder, DVM, DACVB, Director of Behavior Services at Midcoast Humane. Thank you, Dr. Calder, for sharing these with us!

  • Many animals are surrendered to shelters for untreated psychological disorders, while other animals have a difficult time transitioning into the shelter environment. This can result in situational fears and anxiety. Medications can help to improve the welfare and quality of life of an animal while in the shelter environment and during transition into a new home.
  • There are different types of psychotropic medications used in the shelter. Fast-acting medications include trazodone, gabapentin, and benzodiazepines. These medications often are effective within 1-2 hours; longer-acting medications, such as fluoxetine or clomipramine, can take weeks to months to see the benefits of use. Ultimately, the type of medication prescribed depends on the animal and their individual needs. 
  • Medications are never a “quick fix” and must always be used in conjunction with environmental management and appropriate behavior modification. Medical conditions causing or contributing to the behavior need to be addressed and a diagnosis made before prescribing these medications. Follow-up in the shelter and home environment is imperative. 
  • Most aggression is fear-based. Therefore, anxiety-reducing medications often can help these animals when used in conjunction with a behavior modification plan. The goal is not to prevent aggressive behavior, but rather to raise the threshold for triggering an aggressive response from that animal. 
  • Bonus! This One’s for Adoption Counselors:
    Medications can be a useful screening tool during the adoption process. Adoption counselors need to be comfortable discussing medication use with adopters, including why certain medications were chosen for that animal, environmental management needs, and long-term care for that animal. Long-term care often includes routine veterinary visits, annual bloodwork requirements, and a monthly expense for the medication.  

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