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February 22, 2011

On the advice of our behaviorist from Colorado State’s veterinary school, Lilly has taken both chlomipramine and xanax/alprazolam twice a day, every day, since summer 2008. We didn’t just drug our canine heroine, though.

Helping Lilly better cope with the “scary” world at large also required hard-core behavior modification work spanning years. This includes the Relaxation Protocol, which provided the basis for everything we do for and with Lilly via training.

In most cases, these drugs are NOT intended for lifelong use. I know that, and yet after being SO SLOW to agree to meds (after trying everything you can think of) … and now regretting the years of fear and suffering Lilly endured … I’m not necessarily in any hurry to wean Lilly off her behavior-based drugs entirely.

So, why now?

Well, after having Lilly on .75 mg of xanax twice a day since our last behavior consult in summer 2009, I cut back to .50 mg twice a day in spring 2010. And, Lilly seemed fine … or as normal as ever, by Lilly-fear standards.

I didn’t really ask anyone. I just did it, but when I told our veterinarian about the cut back, she said she thought it was a good idea.

Then, earlier this year, I began experimenting with skipping the evening dose of xanax … because really what’s so scary about hanging out with us in the evening in front of the fire watching movies or TV (especially in winter).

[If you’re new to our saga, summer is typically Lilly’s higher fear season. It makes no sense. Trust me. Even our behaviorist is stumped.]

Some days dropping a dose seemed to work. Some days it didn’t, and Lilly seemed more “sheepish.” So, I’d give up and stick with the program.

Human Comparisons

I know people who do or have taken xanax quite a bit, and they tell very sad tales about HOW HARD it is to stop taking … how horrible they feel, etc.

So, I’ve always felt a little sad about giving it to Lilly.

Final Straw

A couple weeks ago, I interviewed a veterinary behaviorist for an article I was researching/writing that needed some background on obsessive compulsive disorders in dogs. (Think famous guy, lots of best sellers, very opinionated.) I’ve interviewed him before and both like and respect him.

Here’s the thing. He knows a bit about Lilly’s situation, just a bit. He told me point blank that having a PhD behaviorist giving medicine/dosage recommendations to my general practice DVM (veterinarian) was essentially like “the blind lead the ill-informed” (or some such clever turn of phrase).

While I whole-heartedly disagree with that knowledge/skill assessment, I was in no mood or position to get into a debate.

He went on to lecture me a bit about the use of xanax and how addictive it is before admitting that now that he’d essentially crushed my spirit … perhaps we should get on with the interview.

Since all members of TEAM LILLY know scads more about our case and Lilly’s unique manifestations of fear, I do NOT doubt our decision to use the drug. Truly. Xanax made a HUGE difference in Lilly’s ability to cope with day-to-day life and many of the training challenges we gave her.

BUT, since I was already in the weaning process, this dose of negativity gave me the final shove.

So, on Sunday, February 6, 2011, I stopped giving Lilly her xanax. She still takes 75 mg of chlomipramine twice a day, and I have no plans at this point to start cutting back on that.

Possible Results

By now, you’re wondering about any changes we’ve seen:

Lilly sometimes gets round-headed, with a lowered body and wiggly butt, in response to even the simplest requests.

Twice, she went into full-on, hiding-in-the-house mode, but both happened in response to a cussing streak by Tom due to a couple work-related situations. Even Ginko (who is only mildly sensitive) tried to squeeze into the master bathroom with me while I got dressed and a hiding Lilly, so I’m not sure that counts. All of us were staying out of the way until the crisis got solved.

I’ll say more when I get around to writing up our latest herding news, but Lilly lunged, barked, and growled — generally snarked — at sweet, mild-mannered Ben when he came out of the training pen after portioning out some goats for us to work last Thursday.

Otherwise, after the first few days of possible “withdrawal,” where Lilly might have seemed more sensitive, she appears completely like herself. Fine sometimes. A little scared of things sometimes. But, smiley, happy, functioning in all the usual ways.

I’ve asked Tom for his assessment, and he says he sees absolutely NO CHANGE in how Lilly is behaving or seems to feel.

So, for now … I’ll continue to withhold the xanax.

On the advice of our behaviorist from Colorado State’s veterinary school, Lilly has taken both chlomipramine and xanax/alprazolam twice a day, every day, since summer 2008. We didn’t just drug our canine heroine, though.
About the Author Roxanne Hawn

Trained as a traditional journalist and based in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, USA, I'm a full-time freelance writer for magazines, websites, and private clients. My areas of specialty include everything in the lifestyles arena, including health and home, personal finance and other consumer interests, relationships and trends, people and business profiles ... and, of course, all things pet related.

I don't just love dogs. I need them in my life. Seriously.

  1. Hiya! I’m catching up, and I’m thrilled to hear that you’ve been able to stop the xanax with almost no obvious changes. That’s great!

    When your article on OCD in dogs comes out, would you mind letting me know? I’ve searched and searched but found very little to read about it. If you have any suggestions on sources that already exist, I’d really love to hear them. I usually have R’s OCD under control but then there are the relapses…

  2. Well, I was on similar drugs for years, didn’t really feel they were helping but was afraid to stop taking them. Then I stopped taking them, nothing changed …

  3. I’m glad that Lilly is doing quite well without the xanax. I’m definitely not in the know about these issues, but I can only wish you and Lilly the best.

  4. Very interesting, Roxanne. Since Xanax primarly works on the neurotransmitter GABA, I wonder if Lilly’s body simply needs to adjust to the idea of releasing it all on its own again.

    L-Theanine also supposedly works on GABA, though I’d guess to a lesser extent than a true drug, which is something I’ve thought about when contemplating weaning Marge off of it or cutting back her dosage. Maybe that’s a supplement you can look into in place of Xanax (as long as it’s OK to be given with clomipramine) if you ever feel Lilly needs an extra ummph (like the summer).

    1. @ Sam … yes, when the veterinary behaviorist was thumping xanax, he did mention that L-Theanine has shown some good results in fearful dogs. Honestly, I think she is doing pretty darn well without the xanax.

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