For dogs, anxiety is typically caused by fear or separation, though it can also develop as your dog ages. Fear-related anxiety is often triggered by loud noises, changes to the dog’s environment, unfamiliar surfaces or objects, or specific situations like car rides. Separation anxiety affects roughly 14% of dogs and usually manifests in the form of behavioral problems that occur when your dog is left alone or otherwise separated from his family.
If you pay attention to your dog’s behavior, it is fairly easy to tell when he’s feeling anxious. You may notice him trembling, hiding, tucking his tail, or looking around nervously. In extreme cases, anxiety could even lead your dog to make dangerous escape attempts.
So, how do you treat anxiety in dogs? Here are some of the most popular options:
What It Is: The ThunderShirt is a dog anxiety jacket that applies gentle but constant pressure to your dog’s body to help keep him calm, much like swaddling an infant. It helps with a wide variety of anxiety triggers ranging from fireworks and thunderstorms to air travel, vet visits, and more. The ThunderShirt comes in seven different sizes ranging from XX-Small to XX-Large which is important because a snug fit is the best way to ensure its efficacy. In addition to the original ThunderShirt, it also comes in a breathable mesh sport version with contrasting trim and reflective logo for nighttime visibility.
The Verdict: Priced around $40, the ThunderShirt is easy to put on, though it may take some dogs time to get used to wearing it, and it is safe for everyday use. You can also purchase related products such as a calming collar, calming essential oil drops, and a calming essential oil spray.
Dog Calming Pheromones
What It Is: Pheromones are a natural chemical substance produced by an animal and released into the environment which has the ability to affect the behavior of animals of the same species. Calming pheromones for dogs are designed to send a comforting message – something to the effect of “you are safe” or “you belong here.” Dog calming pheromones come in several forms including collars, plug-in diffusers, sprays, and wipes. One of the most well-known versions for dogs is the Adaptil diffuser.
The Verdict: Veterinarians say that dog calming pheromones are not a magical solution for dog anxiety, but they can help reduce anxiety-related behaviors such as crying, whining, pacing, or becoming destructive when left alone. Plug-in diffusers are generally the best for at-home use while collars are best for travel. Because the pheromones are not absorbed into the bloodstream, they are completely safe and best used in combination with behavior modification training to desensitize the dog to the things that trigger his anxiety.
Hemp Oil/CBD Oil
What It Is: Cannabidiol or CBD oil is a natural oil derived from the hemp plant, and it has become a popular natural remedy for everything from pain relief to reducing anxiety – even in dogs. Research shows that CBD oil acts on your dog’s natural endocannabinoid system to soothe his anxiety gently and naturally, boosting production of serotonin to stabilize his mood. The recommended dosage is about 0.05mg per pound, or according to the manufacturer’s directions.
The Verdict: Because CBD is a natural substance, it is entirely safe for dogs – just don’t get it confused with marijuana which contains the psychoactive compound tetrahydrocannabinol or THC. Studies show that CBD oil is effective for both chronic anxiety and severe or acute anxiety. Though generally recognized as safe, CBD oil should be purchased in the highest quality form you can find, ideally from organically-grown hemp.
What It Is: Dog calming pills can be found in pet stores and in the pet section of big box stores like Walmart and Target. Their efficacy varies depending on the active ingredient, as does their safety. Many over-the-counter dog calming tablets are made from herbal ingredients, though prescription tablets may contain pharmaceutical ingredients. Pharmaceutical anti-anxiety tablets like Xanax and Prozac are more likely to trigger side effects than herbal and over-the-counter remedies.
The Verdict: Generally speaking, individual results with dog calming tablets vary. Their efficacy can be affected by a variety of factors including the dog’s age and size, the type, and concentration of the active ingredient, and whether the tablets are used alone or in conjunction with behavior modification therapy. These tablets are typically reserved for severe cases of anxiety or for use in specific situations such as travel or vet visits. For chronic anxiety, there are safer and more effective options.
What It Is: In the same way that certain herbal remedies have been shown to reduce anxiety in humans, they can provide the same benefits for your dog. Some of the top herbs to relieve anxiety include chamomile (Matricaria recutita or Chamaemelum nobile), valerian (Valeriana officinalis), and St. John’s Wort (Hypericum perforatum). They can be taken in the form of capsules, tinctures, or teas with the dog’s food or taken directly by mouth.
The Verdict: Because calming herbal blends are all-natural, they are generally safe for chronic anxiety as well as severe anxiety and anxiety triggered by specific events. Chamomile and Valerian both act as a sedative to help your dog relax while St. John’s Wort offers antidepressant benefits. Dosage varies by body weight, so consult your veterinarian.
Every dog experiences anxiety in his own way, so you’ll need to treat his anxiety on an individual basis. Try some of the options above and talk to your veterinarian about other options that might be available. More than anything, however, keep showering your dog with love!