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When our dogs have a health problem, it’s tempting to go into our medicine cabinets and look for a solution. After all, our dogs can take and benefit from many of the same medications we do. But this isn’t something you should do without consulting your vet.

One of those medications is diazepam, also known as Valium. Available only by prescription, this medication can treat seizures, anxiety disorders, and other health conditions. However, as with all medications, it should only be used under the supervision of a veterinarian who understands your dog’s condition.

What Is Diazepam?

Dr. Jerry Klein, the American Kennel Club’s Chief Veterinarian, explains that diazepam is a benzodiazepine, a drug in the same class as Xanax and Klonopin. It’s classified as a DEA schedule IV-controlled substance, meaning it is illegal to consume, transfer, sell, or otherwise give away your pet’s medication.

“Valium (diazepam is the generic) is a controlled-substance medication used in veterinary medicine to relieve anxiety, try to improve appetite, help muscle relaxation, help manage sedation and as an adjunct to help manage anesthesia,” Dr. Klein explains. “It is also used in the emergency treatment of seizures and muscle spasms.”

Golden Retriever getting comforted while lying on a table at the vet.
alexsokolov via Getty Images

Benzodiazepines are medications that slow down the brain and nervous system activity. Diazepam is the most commonly prescribed benzodiazepine for both dogs and cats. It can be administered orally, intravenously, or as a suppository. It’s a fast-acting drug that can last up to 12 hours, depending on the dosage, the dog’s weight, and how it’s administered.

When Would My Veterinarian Prescribe Diazepam for My Dog?

Diazepam is used in life-threatening seizure situations where the patient has experienced a seizure lasting for more than five minutes. In an emergency, a veterinarian will usually administer the medication through a vein.

If a veterinarian prescribed your dog diazepam because they have a history of severe seizures, you would receive instructions for inserting the medication rectally, either as a pill or gel or intranasally.

Your veterinarian will determine when and how to administer diazepam depends on your dog’s health profile, breed, condition, and age. It’s also important to note that diazepam’s dosage for a person is very different for a dog.

Never administer it to your dog without first talking to your veterinarian. It’s also important to note that diazepam’s dosage for a person is very different for a dog.

Alternatives to Diazepam for Seizures

Dr. Amanda Hansberger, the medical director of Drumm Veterinary Hospital in Castleton-on-Hudson, NY, notes that veterinarians use diazepam to treat acute seizures in dogs. While she acknowledges that the medication is helpful, she says there are many safer or more effective alternatives.

“[Valium] is under strict regulation and monitoring, and [I] would never recommend giving [Valium] unless under the direction of a veterinarian,” Dr. Hansberger explains. “There are many other new behavioral and medical treatments that are used now with a higher safety margin and much less risk for abuse by the owner.”

After reviewing your dog’s medical history and assessing their symptoms, your veterinarian may suggest treatments other than diazepam. For instance, BMC Veterinary Research notes that intravenous fluid therapy, in conjunction with other methods, can correct the electrolyte imbalances that can lead to seizures.

Yellow Labrador Retriever getting a shot at the vet.
Cris Kelly via Getty Images

Surgically removing brain tumors that cause seizures can also provide a long-term solution without relying on diazepam and other benzodiazepines.

Side Effects of Diazepam

Diazepam affects each dog differently, with some dogs experiencing more side effects than others. Some side effects are simply a result of the dog’s muscles relaxing, which may manifest as them walking unsteadily or trembling. Side effects may include fatigue, increased appetite, weakness, aggression or excitement. Notify your veterinarian if you have any questions or concerns about how your dog is acting.

Diazepam can also pose behavioral side effects. When it’s used for dogs for temperament, it can have the opposite effect in some dogs. “It may cause amplification, rather than suppression, of aggressive behaviors,” says Dr. Klein.

It’s important to monitor your dog’s condition after they take diazepam. If your dog vomits or appears extremely lethargic, you should consult your veterinarian immediately. Also, be on the lookout for yellowing of your dog’s gums, eyes, and skin, as these signs could indicate jaundice.

When Your Vet Might Suggest Diazepam or Its Alternatives

Your vet might suggest Diazepam for different reasons. In most cases, it’s prescribed for dogs who:

  • Experience seizures: If your dog has frequent seizures that last a certain period, diazepam would target the central nervous system and aim to reduce these episodes.
  • Suffer from anxiety: If your dog suffers from separation anxiety or experiences stress around certain triggers (such as fireworks), a veterinarian may prescribe diazepam to help calm them down.

“In veterinary medicine, diazepam has also been used to treat behavioral problems, such as aggression, excessive grooming, territorial spraying in cats, and terror caused by loud noises,” Dr. Klein says. “If used as a drug for behavior, training, and behavior modification are often used in adjunct by certified trainers working alongside veterinarians to achieve a common goal.”

Is Diazepam Right for Your Dog?

Diazepam isn’t the best medication for every dog. Dr. Klein explains, “Diazepam should not be used in pets who are allergic to it or other benzodiazepines, or in pets with severe liver disease. The oral form should not be used in cats as it can cause liver failure.”

When making any major decision about your dog’s health, it’s best to consult a veterinarian first. They can provide the details you need to make informed decisions and help your dog lead a fulfilling life.

This article is intended solely as general guidance, and does not constitute health or other professional advice. Individual situations and applicable laws vary by jurisdiction, and you are encouraged to obtain appropriate advice from qualified professionals in the applicable jurisdictions. We make no representations or warranties concerning any course of action taken by any person following or otherwise using the information offered or provided in this article, including any such information associated with and provided in connection with third-party products, and we will not be liable for any direct, indirect, consequential, special, exemplary or other damages that may result, including but not limited to economic loss, injury, illness or death.
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