Keep Calm and Fetch On
Many of us experience anxiety before a public speaking engagement or when stuck in traffic. We may think our dogs have it easy, with a cozy bed and full food dish, but both situational and generalized anxiety in pet dogs is on the rise. In fact, up to thirty percent of pet dogs show signs of feeling stressed out. Read on if your own furry friend could use a natural dose of zen.
How Can I Tell If My Dog is Anxious?
Separation anxiety, noise phobia, or fear of strangers and new situations—or even objects!—can all send an anxious dog into a tailspin. A genetic predisposition or traumatic event early in life may be to blame. Signs your pooch is anxious include barking or howling, yawning, drooling, panting, lip-licking or pacing. Some dogs will tremble, have accidents indoors, try to hide or escape, seek attention and shadow their owners, or even cause extensive property damage.
Many dogs are triggered by events such as their owner putting on shoes to leave, or fireworks and thunderstorms. Others suffer from generalized anxiety. These poor dogs are hyper-vigilant, always waiting for the next shoe to drop, then overreacting to minor events. Aggression and self-harm can be dangerous consequences. These anxiety-driven behaviors are a major cause of relinquishment to shelters, and chronic anxiety can reduce a dog’s lifespan as well as quality of life for both pets and owners.
What Can I Do to Calm My Anxious Dog?
Fortunately, there are several ways anxiety can be eased. Here we focus on over-the-counter supplements that have been scientifically proven to have a calming effect. Dogs with severe anxiety or aggression should always be seen by a veterinarian, as they may need prescription medication and a formal behavior modification plan.
Most Effective Calming Supplements
Here’s a review of science-based supplements proven to show efficacy in dogs.
L-theanine, an amino acid naturally found in green tea leaves, has been shown to reduce anxiety in dogs. Studies suggest that L-theanine can alleviate signs of noise phobia and fear of unfamiliar people. In one study, dogs with noise phobias showed less panting, drooling, pacing, and attention-seeking when taking L-theanine. The same was true in a study of dogs with thunderstorm phobia, plus they hid less and recovered more quickly after the storm. Another study showed that anxious dogs were more interactive and friendly toward strangers. This supplement may be just what your nervous pooch needs to take the bite out of thunderstorms, traffic noise on walks or car rides, and stranger worries at the dog park.
Alpha-casozepine, a hydrolyzed bovine milk protein, has been shown to effectively reduce signs of stress triggered by noises such as thunderstorms, fireworks, or traffic. It can also help reduce anxiety during grooming, travel, or socialization. One study showed a significantly lower level of cortisol, the fight-or-flight stress hormone, in anxious dogs after receiving this supplement in their diet. Alpha-casozepine works best if given at least a few days ahead, although the label may say otherwise. It may be worth a try to add this safe supplement to your nervous pup’s food dish.
Bifidobacterium longum BL999
You may have heard of the connection between the brain and the gut. Our microbiome does more than help digest food. It can actually alter signals to the brain, affecting mood. The organism B. longum BL999 has been shown to reduce anxious behaviors in dogs when added to the diet. Study dogs had lower levels of cortisol and did less spinning, pacing, jumping, and barking. These tiny helpers have real potential to help ease stress in anxious pets.
Omega Fatty Acids (OFA’s)
The effects of omega fatty acids on anxiety and depression have been studied extensively in people and animals alike. Results have clearly shown tremendous benefit. OFA’s have anti-inflammatory cell-protective effects, and can strengthen connections between nerves. They have similar effects to fluoxetine in humans, a medication prescribed to both people and dogs for anxiety. One study in dogs showed a decrease in daily anxious behaviors such as barking, pacing and jumping. Their cortisol levels and heart rates were also lowered. A daily dose of fish oil could help relax both pups and their people.
Fish hydrosylate, a supplement derived from fish protein, has shown promise in reducing daily stress as well as noise and stranger phobia. In one study, dogs fed fish hydrosylate had reduced thunderstorm anxiety in terms of both behavior and cortisol levels. In another study, dogs were more likely to interact with a stranger or gain comfort in an unfamiliar environment. Perhaps ongoing fish hydrosylate supplementation can help an anxious dog tolerate boarding or warm up to new owners after leaving the shelter.
Magnolia Officinalis and Phellodendron Amuranse
Effects of these plant extracts have been studied in people and animals. In dogs with thunderstorm phobia, a supplement containing these extracts reduced anxiety as measured during simulated storm conditions. The effects were not consistent across all the dogs tested, but this type of supplement may help ease the tension in some dogs when thunder booms.
Souroubea and Platanus species
Extracts of these plants contain betulinic acid, which has been shown in some species to reduce cortisol levels and stress. Although stress reduction has not been studied extensively in dogs, its safety in dogs has been confirmed. Some products recommend use before specific stress-triggering events such as fireworks, travel, or large gatherings.
When absorbed from the gut, L-tryptophan crosses into the brain where it serves as a precursor to serotonin. This well-known neurotransmitter gets credit for mood regulation and imparting a sense of well-being. However, clear evidence of anti-anxiety effects in dogs is lacking. Due to the promise this supplement has shown in people, many canine supplements include L-tryptophan. Evidence is largely anecdotal for its value in calming canines, but some diets and supplements claim to be very effective.
How and When Do I Choose a Calming Supplement?
Living with an anxious pooch can stress out owners just as much, between soiling accidents, barking, and property destruction. Some people feel they are unable to go out to dinner or a movie because they can’t leave their dog home alone at night. Severe anxiety often requires a comprehensive plan including medication prescribed by a veterinarian.
Milder cases often benefit from a natural route in combination with behavior modification techniques. With all supplements, the body needs time to adjust. Try one product at a time, and look for a single ingredient or combination of these supplements. Some require continued use for at least two to eight weeks before making the call. For mild anxiety, a natural supplement may be just the chill pill your pooch needs to keep calm.
As always, consult with your veterinarian for personalized recommendations for your dog.