It’s simply complicated!

When we were seriously considering adopting Ray from our local Humane Society, and were starting to talk details with the staff, the subject of his anxiety medication came up in the conversation. Never having been responsible for a dog before, it had not crossed my mind that a dog could be on meds for anxiety issues.

We were advised that it was not uncommon for German Shepherds to be medicated in a shelter because they have two very strong traits which can complicate matters. They do not like being kept in small enclosed spaces, and they are often suspicious of people and dogs they do not know.

In the shelter, so much of Ray’s time would be in his adoption “cell”, which was in a room with other adoption “cells”. People looking to adopt a dog would be constantly walking by and perhaps stopping to stare at him, and he had no place to go in order to escape the attention. Other dogs barking would simply add to his stress of being there. If Ray had not been medicated, it would typically result in a total loss of self-control which would likely result in self inflicted injuries.

This was the Ray that came into our home in March, 2013, and this was the Ray that had a list of issues, medical and behavioral, which had to be addressed. Earlier this year, we started weaning him off his meds!

Theoretically, the weaning-off process was quite simple. His particular meds were available in 10mg and 20mg capsules, so reducing from his 40mg/day was simply done in 10 mg stages. All we had to do was monitor him over a 6-8 week period and, if all went well, reduce by another 10mg and repeat the process. Ray started 10mg/day on May 30, and so his next reduction will be to a “no-meds” situation. Simple …. in theory.

Like everything else related to Ray, there were complications. His reduction from 40mg/day to 30mg/day was uneventful, but reducing him from 30mg/day to 20mg/day? He barked at a server on a local cafe patio! Was it because she was waving a cloth around as she wiped a table? Was it because he wanted to move on to a dog-friendly store? Was it because he was more sensitive due to his meds reduction?

We extended his time on 20mg/day from 6-8 weeks to 12 weeks, after which we felt comfortable reducing him to 10mg/day.

He has now been on 10mg/day for a little over 2 weeks, and we are clearly excited about the potential for taking him off meds completely … but can we? Again, we have to not only monitor him in varying circumstances, but also have to determine whether any adverse behavior is the meds reduction, or unique circumstances, trigger stacking etc.

The complications are quite simply trying to identify whether his responses in given situations are normal for him (but then … a normal Ray has been a medicated Ray!), or whether his responses are due his meds reduction.

In general, we have been so pleased to see the “real Ray” slowly coming out. His energy level is noticeably higher; his facial expressions and general head movements are more noticeable, and his general attitude towards people and other dogs has been very good … but then he barked at a neighbor! He has barked at the neighbor before, so perhaps it had nothing to do with his meds reduction?

He charged past me yesterday to protect us from a front door visitor?Β  He is a German Shepherd/Rottweiler mix so being protective is no surprise, but his enthusiasm this time? Perhaps he was caught by surprise as he had been sleeping, or perhaps it was his reduced meds?

He may now be a little more alert to finding “snacks” along his walk routes. Of course he could just be getting hungry with his dinner time not being too far away, or it could be his meds reduction.

We are constantly evaluating different circumstances and trying to determine whether Ray’s response would have been expected anyway, or was it caused by his reduced meds.Β  In a few weeks time, probably around the end of July, we will be deciding whether to stop his meds completely. What are his chances of being free of his anxiety medication? I would suggest excellent! For all the constant monitoring, and his reactions that have caused us to ponder why, he has shown no signs to date of being aggressive. He is still very comfortable with being touched by total strangers, adults and children … and puppies!

Great job Ray … keep it up .. now it’s nap time!



37 thoughts on “It’s simply complicated!

  1. Charging to the door when someone is there, or he thinks someone is there, is typical canine behavior. Just so he lets people in when you tell him it is OK. My 2 go crazy when someone is at the door, but they just want pet!

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  2. I wonder all this about myself all the time, am I feeling more alert as a symptom, or is it the med change? Do I need more cookies because of the meds, or is it due to purely feminine reasons? Am I startled by a trigger, because something was startling, or is it the meds?? Ray, it is complex! It takes patience, hang in there!

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  3. Aw, Rays such a cutie. He’s very lucky to have you as his pack and that you’re so understanding of his difficulties from a bad past.

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  4. It brilliant you are doing this so mindfully to try and get Ray med-free. From my own experience with Milly I know the weaning has it’s ups and downs, and you can never be sure if a reaction is medication related or something else. After months and months of trying to reduce Milly’s dose it was concluded by our vet and the behavioural specialist that actually medication long-term was going to be best for her.. but we did try!!
    Wish you loads of luck and look forward to hearing how you get on xx

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    • Stay tuned! Ray had been on these meds since he was rescued. Here we are now, 5 years later, trying to wean him off them. If, like you, now is not the right time, then we will simply maintain his current dosage and try again some time in the future. Fingers and paws crossed! πŸ™‚

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  5. I hope the end of July brings a no-meds celebration for Ray! What a journey its been.
    Ray looks so adorable and content in your picture. You look content too, though it looks like you fell asleep while deep in thought. Or are you are thinking in your sleep? πŸ™‚

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  6. When I read that you were concerned because he barked, I started wondering why. Barking is what dogs do. But then, I realized how that is pretty much what you wonder about – Is his behavior “normal”, or is he in distress because of the lower dose of medication. That can’t be easy for you to decipher. I hope you find clarity with Ray and everyone is happy in the end.

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    • Deciphering Ray is quite complicated because he originally had startle response, and his discomfort reaction to any situation was to lunge and bark. Obviously reducing his meds is going to make him less “sedated”, and we therefore have to determine whether his reactions to any given circumstances can be considered normal canine behavior … or a resurfacing of his earlier issues.

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  7. Ray seems to be doing great. Try not to over-think this Colin, although I would be going through all the “what ifs” myself. Ray will never be perfect, medicated or unmedicated. Ray will be Ray. Perhaps he will need a low maintenance dose forever. And that’s fine. That’s how most of us humans survive!!

    If he’s healthy and happy, and you and Carol are happy with him, you’ve all won.

    Ummmm, by the way, Ray asked me to wish you a Happy Father’s Day and to tell you how much he loves you. He thinks you’re the best dad ever…..but he’d like to see a few more treats come his way!
    πŸ”Ή Ginger πŸ”Ή

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  8. I know rescue organisations do the very best they can for their animals, but it must have been awful for poor Ray. When I adopted LM, she was in an enclosure with 3 other dogs and just hyper the whole time. She still never approaches another dog by choice.
    I’m so very happy that the real Ray can finally surface. Enjoy! πŸ™‚

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