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by Jenny Smiechowski –
Anxiety is one of the most common mental health issues people face. But it doesn’t only affect people. It affects pets too. Thunderstorms, fireworks, a visit from a stranger—any one of these triggers can send your pet spiraling into a full-blown anxiety attack.
Of course, some pets are more prone to anxiety than others. Pets with separation anxiety, for example, feel anxious whenever they are separated from their owner, no matter what the season. Dogs with separation anxiety may go to the bathroom inside the house, destroy household objects or furniture, bark, howl, chew, dig or pace whenever you leave them alone (1).
Cats with separation anxiety suffer from similar symptoms. They may meow excessively, go to the bathroom outside of the litterbox, urinate on your clothes or furniture, stop eating, eat too fast or groom themselves too much (which can result in bald spots or skin wounds) (2).
You can tell the difference between separation anxiety and other behavioral issues because, with separation anxiety, the undesired behaviors pretty much only take place when you’re not home and rarely (if ever) when you’re home with your pet (1).
Pets may also have specific phobias. Firework and thunderstorm phobias are the most common, but some pets are also afraid of riding in the car, the veterinarian, the vacuum cleaner, strangers and even children (3).
Essentially, like human anxieties, pet anxieties come in all different shapes, sizes, and severities. But, the good news is, natural remedies (like herbs, nutritional supplements, and homeopathy) can offer a safe and effective solution to most of them.
These remedies can put your pets at ease whether they hate being left alone, they’re scared to death of thunder or anything in between. Here are five of the most effective natural remedies you can use to calm your fearful pet:
You may have heard that omega 3 supplements can ease anxiety and depression in people (4). Well, studies show they can do the same for pets too. A 2016 study, for example, found that anxiety-prone dogs who received omega 3s displayed significantly fewer signs of anxiety than dogs who didn’t receive these fatty acids. More specifically, 87 percent of dogs who received omega 3s had reduced levels of cortisol (the stress hormone) and a lower heart rate in anxiety-provoking situations after 12 weeks of taking the supplement (5). The supplement also slashed anxious behavior in half for anxiety-prone dogs. They jumped, paced, spun and barked 40 to 50 percent less frequently after 12 weeks (5). As an added bonus, supplementing your dog’s diet with omega 3s will also improve their skin, coat, joints and cognitive health (6). And don’t worry…if you prefer kitties over puppies, omega-3s are safe and effective for your feline friends too (7).
St. John’s Wort is another natural anxiety remedy that works in both pet and people. Although there hasn’t been a ton of research on St. John’s Wort’s effect on pets like cats and dogs, it’s been shown time and time again to reduce psychological stress in laboratory animals (8). That’s why many veterinarians recommend it to pet owners for issues like mild anxiety, phobias, and depression (8). It’s safe for use in dogs and cats, but it does cause reactions with certain drugs, so make sure to consult with your vet if your pet is taking any medications or preparing for any surgical procedures (9).
Research shows the amino acid L-theanine can significantly curb anxious feelings in pets. In one study, researchers found that two out of three anxiety-prone dogs who received the supplement showed fewer signs of fear, such as trembling, dilated pupils, an increased state of awareness, inhibition, flight and avoidance (10). And the supplement had a similar effect on cats (10). Researchers believe L-theanine works by increasing levels of brain chemicals like serotonin and dopamine, which are tied to anxiety and depression in pets and people (10).
Valerian is an impressive herb when it comes to treating anxiety. It works by releasing a feel-good chemical in the brain called gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) (11). This is the same chemical released by prescription anti-anxiety medications like Xanax and Valium (11). But valerian has an advantage over these drugs because it doesn’t cause the same side effects, like addiction and impaired cognitive function (12). Valerian has been used as a natural sedative in pets and people for many years and is pretty safe. It’s especially helpful for dogs with fear-induced phobias like thunderstorms and vet visits (12). But you should know, it has the opposite effect on cats. Rather than sedating them, it makes them happy and frisky, similar to catnip (13).
In addition to the herbal and nutritional supplements listed above, there are a variety of homeopathic remedies that can alleviate your pet’s anxiety. The remedy that’s best for him or her will depend largely on the type of anxiety he or she is dealing with. Pets with separation anxiety, for example, benefit from homeopathic remedies like Arsenicum album, Calcarea carbonica, and Phosphorus. For other anxiety issues, you could try homeopathic remedies like Scutellaria (which comes from the anti-anxiety herb skullcap), Passiflora (which comes from the anti-anxiety herb passionflower) or Argentum Nitricum (one of the best known homeopathic remedies for anxiety and fear). These three homeopathic remedies, along with others, are found in PetAlive’s PetCalm™ for Anxiety in Pets.
Now, before you start giving your pet a bunch of new supplements, it’s a good idea to consult with your veterinarian—especially if your pet’s anxiety problems are a new development. Your vet can examine your pet and run tests to make sure your pet’s anxious behavior doesn’t have a physical cause like an illness or an injury. Once you rule out physical issues, you can begin trying treatments to help your pet feel calmer and happier.
If you’re only interested in treating your pet’s anxiety through natural means, you may want to seek out a holistic vet, if you haven’t already. They’re experts in herbal, nutritional and homeopathic remedies, so you can ask them about the remedies listed above and learn about any other recommendations they may have. They can help you determine which natural anxiety treatment is best for your pet and what dosage they need to take. In addition to supplements, they can also guide you toward environmental and behavioral tools that can keep your pet safe, calm and anxiety-free.
- “Common Dog Behavior: Separation Anxiety.” ASPCA. N.D. Web 5 Jul. 2017. <https://www.aspca.org/pet-care/dog-care/common-dog-behavior-issues/separation-anxiety;.
- “Separation Anxiety in Cats.” Pam Johnson-Bennett. N.D. Web 5 Jul. 2017. < http://www.catbehaviorassociates.com/separation-anxiety-in-cats/;.
- Bender, Amy. “Top Ten Common Dog Fears and Phobias.” The Spruce. 4 Apr. 2017. Web 5 Jul. 2017. < https://www.thespruce.com/common-dog-fears-and-phobias-1117897;.
- Crane, Misty. “Fish oil calms anxiety, OSU study finds.” The Columbus Dispatch. 19 Nov. 2011. Web 8 Jul. 2017. <http://www.dispatch.com/content/stories/local/2011/11/19/fish-oil-calms-anxiety-osu-study-finds.html;.
- Ledger, Rebecca. “Pet Therapy | Omega 3 may help calm anxious pets.” Vancouver Sun. 16. Jun. 2016. Web 8 Jul. 2017. <http://vancouversun.com/health/family-child/pet-therapy-omega-3-may-help-calm-anxious-pets;.
- Becker, Karen. “Ignore the Bad Rap… This Helps Heal Many Pet Disorders.” Healthy Pets Presented by Mercola. 11 Jun. 2015. Web 8 Jul. 2017. <http://healthypets.mercola.com/sites/healthypets/archive/2015/06/11/omega-3-fatty-acids-benefits.aspx;.
- Weil, Andrew. “Fish Oil for Dogs?” DrWeil.com. 12 Jan. 2007. Web 8 Jul. 2017. <https://www.drweil.com/health-wellness/balanced-living/pets-pet-care/fish-oil-for-dogs/;.
- Mardsen, Steve, Messonnier, Shawn and Cheryl Yuill. “St. John’s Wort.” VCA. 8 Dec. 2008. Web 8 Jul. 2017. <https://vcahospitals.com/know-your-pet/st-johns-wort;.
- Robinson, Narda. “The promises and perils of St. John’s wort.” Veterinary Practice News. 3 Nov. 2014. Web 8 Jul. 2017. <http://www.veterinarypracticenews.com/The-promises-and-perils-of-St-Johns-wort;.
- Lobprise, Heidi. “Supplement Can Bolster Pets’ Anxiety Treatment.” Veterinary Practice News. 5 Jan. 2012. Web 8 Jul. 2017. <http://www.veterinarypracticenews.com/January-2012/Supplement-Can-Bolster-Pets-Anxiety-Treatment/;.
- “Valerian Root Solves Insomnia, Anxiety & Even Blood Pressure.” DrAxe.com. N.D. Web 8 Jul. 2017. < https://draxe.com/valerian-root/;.
- Messonnier, Shawn. Natural Health Bible for Dogs & Cats: Your A-Z Guide to Over 200 Conditions, Herbs, Vitamins, and Supplement. New York, NY: Prima Publishing, 2001. Web 8 Jul. 2017.<https://books.google.com/books?id=gWHMki60uK0C;.
- Selvaggio, Lisa. “Valerian for Cats: A Safe Alternative to Catnip.” PetGuide.com 8 Sept. 2016. 8 Jul. 2017. <http://www.petguide.com/blog/cat/valerian-for-cats-a-safe-alternative-to-catnip/;.