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What is clonidine used for in dogs?

Here is how this blood pressure Rx can be used to help dogs with anxiety, behavioral modification, and more

Many blood pressure medications are used off-label to help with anxiety. While beta blockers are well-known for the sense of calm they create, clonidine is another hypertension medication that may assist people when they’re trying to fall asleep or before a big speech. Specifically, it is a centrally acting alpha-2 agonist that works on certain receptors in the central nervous system to reduce the flow of noradrenaline which relaxes blood vessels, lowers blood pressure, and reduces heart rate or feelings of stress.

That chill-out effect also works for our four-legged friends. Clonidine can help dogs with behavioral disorders, like anxiety. Just keep in mind that human medications behave a bit differently when given to dogs, so you should always make sure you’re following dosage recommendations from your veterinarian—not just giving your own meds to your pup. 

What is clonidine used for in dogs?

For dogs, clonidine has four main uses:

  1. Anti-anxiety medication
  2. Behavioral modification
  3. Diarrhea treatment
  4. Pheochromocytoma diagnosis

Anxiety medication

Clonidine is primarily used as an anti-anxiety medication in anxious dogs. For example, if your pup cowers during every thunderstorm or whenever fireworks go off, you might want to give them some medication relief. 

“Clonidine is often used in dogs to treat anxiety disorders and fear-related issues, such as noise phobias, separation anxiety, and for travel,” says Chyrle Bonk, DVM, a veterinarian at Senior Tail Waggers.

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Behavioral modification

In veterinary behavior medicine, “clonidine is sometimes prescribed for behavioral issues,” says Sara Ochoa, DVM, a veterinarian at Senior Tail Waggers says. If Fido soils the rug or rips up the couch when feeling abandoned or scared, clonidine can help correct these behavior problems. Clonidine can help keep dogs relaxed and calm while you’re out for several hours—for your own peace of mind and theirs. It’s particularly useful for fear-based behavior modification if training has failed when dogs exhibit aggressive behavior or become destructive when their owners are not at home. 

Diarrhea treatment

“It can also be used to treat diarrhea in dogs and cats,” Dr. Ochoa says. Clonidine is constipating, so it can help solidify loose stools. It can help whether diarrhea is due to stress and anxiety or is caused by a stomach bug or a side effect from another medication. Severe diarrhea in dogs can cause dehydration and can be very dangerous and potentially life-threatening. If your dog has diarrhea that does not get better on its own, ask your veterinarian for medical advice. 

Pheochromocytoma diagnosis

Clonidine is used to diagnose growth hormone deficiency and pheochromocytoma in dogs, says Dr. Ochoa. Pheochromocytoma is a tumor in the adrenal glands that causes elevated blood pressure and heart rate. Clonidine typically suppresses norepinephrine and epinephrine release. When it does not affect these levels, it can be a sign that this type of tumor is present. This serious condition requires surgery to remove the tumor, so an effective diagnosis is important. 

Clonidine dosage for dogs

“The amount of clonidine that you can safely and effectively give your dog depends on your dog’s size, the extent of their issues, and if they are on any other medications,” Dr. Bonk says. “Always talk to your vet before giving any medications and only use clonidine under a veterinarian’s supervision.” 

Clonidine is usually in tablet form, which you can give your dog on its own or hidden in some food or a treat. There is also a liquid form of clonidine, which might be easier for dogs that are unwilling to take pills. 

Some pets need clonidine every day while others only need it as needed when they are experiencing particularly acute stress. “This medication usually kicks in within an hour or two if you’re looking to help with short-term relief, such as noise phobias,” says Dr. Bonk. “For longer-term use, it can take a couple of weeks to reach effect.” A dose will stay in your dog’s system for 12 to 24 hours. If your dog has been taking clonidine every day, do not stop giving it abruptly. Instead, work with your veterinarian to taper off their dose and avoid withdrawal symptoms. 

Clonidine may be prescribed on its own or with other medications to treat your pet’s anxiety. Other anti-anxiety medications for dogs include:

While all of these medications are also for humans, never give your dog a dose of your medication or assume your dog can take the same medication as you. Small animals and humans metabolize medications very differently. Similarly, if your dog is prescribed anti-anxiety medication and you are feeling anxious, do not take a dose of your dog’s medication. 

Since clonidine is a human medication, you can save on your dog’s prescription using SingleCare if you fill it at your regular pharmacy. Simply search for a coupon on, adjust for the dosage, location, and quantity, then show your pharmacist the coupon when you pick up your pet’s Rx.

RELATED: Can I save on medication for my pets?

Clonidine side effects in dogs

As with any medication, clonidine has several side effects, most of which are not serious, and will dissipate in time. Common side effects of clonidine in dogs include:

  • Dry mouth 
  • Constipation 
  • Sedation 
  • Low blood pressure (hypotension) 
  • Slow heart rate (bradycardia)
  • Collapse
  • Lethargy
  • Aggression 
  • Agitation
  • Hyperactivity
  • Short term increase in blood sugar (hyperglycemia)

Higher doses of clonidine lead to a higher risk of serious side effects. It may seem odd that a drug that usually causes lethargy and sedation can also cause agitation and hyperactivity. If you are concerned that your pet’s behavior is very far from its baseline when taking clonidine, talk to your veterinarian. They may adjust the dose, or you may decide clonidine is not the right medication for your pet. 

Is clonidine safe for dogs?

When used correctly, clonidine is safe and helpful for dogs with certain conditions. However, Dr. Ochoa says clonidine “is most often prescribed in addition to other medications.” Pet owners should be especially vigilant about telling their pet’s healthcare team about all medications their dog is taking since clonidine has several drug interactions.

Some medications that should not be taken with clonidine include:

  • Vasotec (enalapril)
  • Cartia (diltiazem) 
  • Lotensin (benazepril)
  • Digox (digoxin)

Clonidine may also interact with opioids, steroids, and other antidepressant medications. The use of clonidine with some supplements or vitamins may cause adverse effects, so do disclose those to your veterinarian as well.