If Pete, your pit, has fear or aggression issues, your vet might recommend putting him on a medication to help calm him, like Prozac. While this alone won't magically cure your anxiety-ridden or pugnacious pit bull, it may help as you train and socialize him into a better canine citizen.
Prozac, also known by its generic name fluoxetine, is an antidepressant medication that regulates serotonin levels. The hormone serotonin acts as a neurotransmitter in the brain. It helps to control both aggressive and fear-based reactions and behaviors in some pups, just as it does in people, according to Modern Dog Magazine. The medication, a type of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor, takes around six weeks to show any improvement in behavior. For it to be effective, you must administer it daily, according to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
The Pit Bull
The term pit bull refers to several breeds of dogs, including the American Staffordshire terrier, the American pit bull terrier and the bull terrier, according to the ASPCA. These breeds were originally created to "bait" and fight large animals and later to fight other dogs, which is why some show signs of dominance or fear-based aggression toward other pets. Poor breeding has led to some pit bulls being aggressive to people as well. This doesn't mean all pit bulls are aggressive, but some are.
Fear and Aggression
While they can be separate issues, fear and aggressive behaviors tend to go hand in hand with pit bull breeds. If you have adopted a fearful pit bull that wasn't properly trained or socialized to other dogs and people as a youngster, he'll probably have issues with anxiety that can develop into aggression. This can be dangerous if not dealt with through training or medication.
The Vet's Opinion
Bring your pit bull pup to the vet for a checkup to rule out a medical condition as the cause of his fearful or aggressive behavior. Discomfort caused by an injury or illness, such as hip dysplasia or thyroid issues, both common in pit bull breeds, may prompt your pooch to act in an scared or aggressive ways, according to the Vetstreet website. Once your vet deems your pit bull healthy, it's time to look at other ways to help prevent his fearful behavior from turning into fear-based aggression, or his aggressive behavior escalating into violence against other dogs or people. Psychoactive medications may provide a solution. Prozac is one of the primary drugs prescribed to reduce both fear-related anxiety and violent impulses in our canine companions, according to Dr. Nicholas Dodman in the "New York Times."
Effects of Prozac
While drugs like Prozac may help your pooch remain calm, in some cases it can actually have the opposite effect. DogChannel.com reports that some dogs become more aggressive than they were before using the medication, according to Peter Neville’s book "Do Dogs Need Shrinks?" For instance, a merely fearful pit bull may actually become outright aggressive, or an aggressive one may start attacking others. Some dogs may become more anxious or aggressive than they were before taking Prozac if weaned off the medication. You might notice that your pooch's anxiety level increases when he's first taking Prozac. To counteract this unwanted effect, your vet may prescribe a serotonin agonist, such as buspirone, to take along with the SSRI initially, says the ASPCA.
Don't rely on just medication to even out your pit bull's moods. Seek the help of a certified animal behaviorist when dealing with a fearful or aggressive pit bull. Either of these conditions can cause such a dog to lash out at you unexpectedly. A behaviorist can work with you to safely desensitize your pooch to the stimulus that's scaring him or provoking his aggression. She may also recommend neutering your pooch to calm him.
Prevent problems and the need for medication with proper handling of your pit bull. Pit bulls are high-energy breeds that need plenty of exercise and positive reinforcement training to keep them calm. Exercise helps to naturally boost his serotonin levels to counteract his fear-based anxiety or aggressive tendencies, according to the American Kennel Club Canine Health Foundation. The AKCCHF also says that negative dominance-based training can actually cause an already fearful pooch to develop fear-based aggression in the long run. The ASPCA also warns against using such techniques with pit bulls because of their sensitive temperaments.
- Modern Dog Magazine: Pill-Popping Pups
- DogChannel.com: Dog Anxiety, Nervousness, and Behavioral Problems
- Cesar's Way: Understanding Dog Aggression
- American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals: Aggression in Dogs
- American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals: History of Dog Fighting
- The New York Times: Pill-Popping Pets
- petMD: Side Effects of Anxiety Medications in Dogs
- American Kennel Club Canine Health Foundation: Canine Aggression
- Pit Bull Rescue Central: Managing a Multi-Dog Household
- Discovery News: Are Pit Bulls Inherently Dangerous?
- Lane County Oregon: Tips for Pit Bull Owners
- American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals: The Truth About Pit Bulls
- Vetstreet: American Staffordshire Terrier/American Pit Bull Terrier
- Oxford Laboratories: American Staffordshire Terriers Dog Breed
- Animal Humane Society: Reasons for Aggression in Dogs
Based in Las Vegas, Susan Paretts has been writing since 1998. She writes about many subjects including pets, finances, crafts, food, home improvement, shopping and going green. Her articles, short stories and reviews have appeared on City National Bank's website and on The Noseprint. Paretts holds a Master of Professional Writing from the University of Southern California.