Dexmedetomidine for Dogs: Uses, Dosage, & Side Effects

Dexmedetomidine for dogs is an FDA-approved sedative, pain reliever, and anesthetic adjunct used in veterinary practices. It acts as a highly selective alpha-2 adrenergic agonist, helping to calm the dog and reduce anxiety. The drug can be found under brand names like Dexdomitor® and Sileo®.

Here’s what you should know about dexmedetomidine’s uses, dosage, and side effects for dogs.

Uses of dexmedetomidine for dogs

Dexmedetomidine works by stimulating alpha-2 adrenoceptors in the central nervous system. Activation of these receptors leads to a decrease in the release of norepinephrine — a hormone involved in the body’s “fight or flight” response. This results in sedation, muscle relaxation, and analgesia. The drug’s action on the central nervous system also contributes to its anxiolytic effects, making it useful for managing stress and anxiety in dogs. Unlike some other sedatives, dexmedetomidine does not significantly depress respiratory function, which can be an important consideration in animals with compromised respiratory health.


The primary applications of dexmedetomidine in dogs include:

  • Sedation for minor procedures: It is often used for imaging studies, wound care, and minor surgical procedures where general anesthesia is not required.
  • Preanesthetic medication: Dexmedetomidine can be given before the induction of anesthesia to reduce stress and anxiety, as well as to provide preemptive analgesia.
  • Pain management: It is effective in managing both acute and chronic pain, often used in combination with other analgesics to enhance pain control.
  • Behavioral management: In some cases, the drug is used to calm dogs who exhibit severe anxiety, especially during vet visits or stressful situations.

Dosage of dexmedetomidine for dogs

Dog sedated with dexmedetomidine at the vet.
(Photo Credit: Sergei Novak | Getty Images)

The following is a guideline for the typical use of the drug in dogs and must not replace your vet’s advice for your individual pet.

The dosage of dexmedetomidine for dogs varies based on the intended use and the individual dog’s health status, weight, and response to the drug. Vets typically administer it as an injectable — Dexdomitor® — either intravenously (IV) or intramuscularly (IM). Here are some general dosage guidelines:

  • Sedation and analgesia: 500 mcg/m² IM or 375 mcg/m² IV
  • Preanesthesia: 125 or 375 mcg/m² IM

The onset of action is generally rapid, with effects becoming noticeable within minutes when given IV and slightly longer when administered IM. Your vet will carefully monitor your dog’s vital signs and adjust dosages as necessary to achieve the desired level of sedation and analgesia.

Dexmedetomidine is also available as an oromucosal gel — Sileo® — which is absorbed through the gums and must not be swallowed. To ensure proper absorption, avoid giving your dog food or water immediately after administering the medication. When using syringes that have previously been used for dosing, make sure there is enough medication left for a complete dose before administering it. Moreover, always wear gloves when handling the gel to prevent accidental human exposure.

Store the medication in its original container at room temperature, away from direct sunlight, and out of reach of children and pets. Once opened, syringes containing the gel formulation should be used within four weeks.

Side effects of dexmedetomidine for dogs

Dexmedetomidine is generally safe when used correctly. However, it can cause some side effects, such as:

  • Temporary lethargy
  • Bradycardia (slow heart rate)
  • Hypotension (low blood pressure)
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Hypothermia (low body temperature)
  • Pain at the site of injection (when given IM)

These side effects usually resolve once the drug wears off — typically within 24 hours. In cases where it is necessary to rapidly reverse the effects of dexmedetomidine, atipamezole — an alpha-2 adrenergic antagonist — can be administered. Atipamezole is a reversal agent that effectively counteracts the sedation and analgesic effects, allowing for a quick recovery of the dog’s normal physiological state. This is particularly useful in emergency situations or when a faster recovery is desired post-procedure.

Dexmedetomidine should not be used in pregnant or nursing dogs, senior pets, or those younger than 16 weeks. It is also contraindicated in dogs with:

  • Severe heart disease
  • Respiratory disorders
  • Liver or kidney problems
  • Known sensitivity to the drug

Furthermore, always inform your vet of any other medications your dog is currently taking. The following drugs are known to interact with dexmedetomidine:

  • ACE inhibitors (enalapril, benazepril)
  • Acepromazine
  • Amlodipine
  • Anesthetics
  • Atenolol
  • Atropine
  • Benzodiazepines (diazepam, midazolam)
  • Epinephrine
  • Glycopyrrolate
  • Metoprolol
  • Opioids (morphine, tramadol)
  • Sildenafil
  • Telmisartan (Semintra®)
  • Yohimbine

Dexmedetomidine is given on an as-needed basis, rather than being regularly administered. As such, it’s crucial to understand the specific circumstances under which you can administer this medication to your dog. If you have any doubts, always consult your vet for guidance.

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