Natural and calming remedies for your pet

Me and my 13 year old anxious Border Collie, Penny.

Me and my 13 year old anxious Border Collie, Penny.

My anxious, lovable dog Penny
First off, Im a big sucker for rescue dogs. Anyone who has spoken to me in any length has probably understood that I have a deep place in my heart for dogs–older rescue dogs in particular. Over the years I have had the pleasure of sharing my life with many of these wonderful, funny, amazing, loyal creatures. And as any animal lover knows, our beloved pets often have personality quirks–just like humans do. It also seems that many of us who share our lives with these animals also have to deal with some of the quirks that are not so fun–namely anxiety.

Take my older Border Collie Penny, for example. When we adopted Penny from the Oregon Humane Society 7 years ago she was a “last chance” dog whose adoption fee was a tellingly low $50. When we met her at the shelter, both of her ears were turned back, tail tucked, and she ran around and around the cage, coming to rest in front of us panting, but with that look that begged us to take her home and make her a part of the family.  The perky Humane Society volunteer plopped Penny’s 1″ thick paper veterinary file in front of me, and smilingly pushed the adoption papers forward with a pen.

Flash back 7 years ago…
When we got her home, we started to realize how severe her anxiety was. Penny’s vet file (and the well meaning volunteer’s) information was woefully inaccurate and incomplete. We finally came to find out that Penny had been on massive doses of Clomicalm (the animal pre courser to Prozac). She had been shuttled in and out of homes and shelters for 4 years because of her extreme separation anxiety. One afternoon shortly after her adoption, I discovered her on the roof of our house upon coming home from an hours trip to the grocery store. She had panicked when I left and jumped out of a screened window on to the dormer roof below to try and find me. My neighbor fished her off of the roof with his ladder just as I arrived gaping open mouthed, groceries falling to the street. Needless to say, Penny and I delivered chocolates and wine to our neighbor and were extremely grateful! I never made that mistake again, and after that incident, Penny was never alone again, either.

Flash forward 7 years…
Penny is no longer on massive doses of anti-anxiety medication to control her fears.  And although she still needs a small amount of Prozac to help regulate her fear, the discovery and addition of some tried and true natural anxiety remedies has helped create a much calmer and happier dog. She no longer has permanently turned back ears and tucked tail, and she can even be left alone for a few hours at a time without any damage to our home or herself. A very happy ending for a dog who was “last chance”.

The natural anxiety remedies that really work!
First, something to remember: not all remedies work for all animals. Remember that just like humans, animals personalities, degree of fear intensity, brain and body chemistry, etc. are all factors of a remedies efficiency. I have known pet owners who swear by one remedy, and for another it didnt work at all. The key is persistence and the ability to try it all once. Below is a short list of some of the remedies that have worked well for Penny, and some that didnt work so well for her, but that have been reported to work well for other animals.

Herbs and Herbal remedies:
Adding herbs to  your dogs diet in the form of powders or pills to the food or water can help even out a dogs fears. Make sure you have your vet approve of these herbs before administering so you can avoid any unpleasant or dangerous interactions with your pet’s medications or health conditions that might be contraindicated.

  • Chamomile: This herb reduces anxiety in dogs that are stressed out. It calms the nerve as well as induces sleep. You can give chamomile tea to your dog before a long drive or soak a treat in the tea.
  • Lemon Balm: A sedative herb that is effective in treating excitability and dog anxiety.
  • Oat: Oat is an excellent nerve-calming herb and is nutritious as well. Cooked oatmeal can be added to your dog’s food.
  • Valerian: Valerian reduces tension, anxiety, overexcitability in dogs.
  • Skullcap: Skullcap is effective for nervous tension. It also helps epileptic dogs.
  • Echinacea: This herb has immune-strengthening qualities and can be used continually (in moderation) to boost the body’s immune system under stress.
  • Bach’s Flower Remedy “Rescue Remedy

Compression Wraps:
Compression wraps or “thunder shirts” are tightly fitting fabric wraps that seems to calm dogs who wear them. Published scientific studies on the wraps is scant, but scientists say they are likely to take the edge off the anxiety in some dogs. Two popular brands are the “Thunder Shirt” and the “Anxiety Wrap”. Penny has the “Anxiety Wrap”, and while it wasnt a miracle cure, it certainly does help.

Pet Pheramone productsDog pheromone products are used for general stress, separation anxiety, noise phobias, such as those caused by storms or fireworks, and travel. Pet pheromone products are said to mimic natural cat or dog pheromones and come in various forms, including sprays, plug-in diffusers, wipes, and collars.

Massage: Massage reduces anxiety in humans, and it turns out it does in pets, too. Simply sitting down and stroking your dog or cat can relax both of you pretty profoundly. Research shows that petting your dog stimulates creation of the hormone Oxytocin–the same hormone that is created between human touch. Aside from massage, owners of anxious or fearful dogs should be encouraged to explore other types of therapeutic touch, including Tellington Touch or “T-Touch” training, developed by Linda Tellington-Jones for which a variety of books and videos are available.

Traditional western medications: Although this post is about natural remedies, it is worth mentioning that there are a variety of prescription drugs that were originally developed for human use, but have many uses for pets as well. If your pet’s anxiety is severe, a combination of both natural remedies and prescription drugs may do the trick. Consult with your vet on what is best and appropriate for your pet.

And finally, be aware that the following factors can contribute to behavioral or emotional problems in pets:

  • Medical – Pain from medical conditions can cause an animal to act stressed, to stop eating and drinking, and to pant excessively.
  • Environmental Stress – A family pet can sense discord in a household and may act jumpy, distrustful or defensive. Evaluate your environment to see if there are ways to alleviate tension so that your companion feels safe and valued as a member of your household. Check where the animals bed is placed to make sure he/she feels safe in that area especially.
  • Anxiety – Kenneling and travel can produce anxiety in pets.  Some pets experience nausea in the car, while others may associate a ride in the car with being left at a kennel or a trip to the vet.  This type of anxiety, as well as separation anxiety, can result in a range of unwanted conduct from your pet.   Acting in a calm, unhurried manner will help reduce some anxiety.  Products containing natural calming herbs such as valerian root, chamomile and passion flower help to sooth the nervous system. Flower essence (Rescue Remedy) have been used successfully for many years to reduce anxiety.
  • Exercise – Lack of exercise and attention often results in destructive or annoying behavior such as barking, digging or chewing on the wrong things.  A daily walk or game of catch provides an outlet for your dog’s energy. And it is good for your health too!
  • Loud noises – While you can’t always prevent loud noises, you can reduce the fear or anxiety your pet feels by providing companionship during holiday celebrations or thunderstorms.
  • Nutrition – Make sure that your dog or cat is getting a high quality diet with the proper balance of nutrients. For example, an all protein diet can cause anxiety or hyperactivity and chemical additives can lead to aggression or hypersensitivity.  If your dog or cat begins behaving badly or has sudden changes in their demeanor, evaluate what they are eating.  As the old saying goes,you are what you eat.