Pet mental health: Are anxieties, phobias or fears hurting your animal and impacting your lives?
Does your dog cry, whine or howl when you leave? Are you afraid to go out to dinner, because they may destroy the house or hurt themselves?
If this sounds familiar, you’re not alone. Anxiety is the #1 issue for pet parents and it’s a heartbreaking one to watch.
Our dogs and cats pick up on and absorb everything around them, including what we're communicating through the energy we're sending out. Today, the stress meter is off the charts. Between Covid and the uncertain world we’ve living in, it's not surprising that our furry friends are feeling the burn, too.
So, what can you do to alleviate their pain?
I’ve seen many pet parents choose the pharmaceutical route and I’m thinking that’s because they just wanted it to stop and didn’t know what else to do. But, there are many natural options available to us, which won’t alter our pet’s the brain chemistry or create unwanted personality changes.
Before we tackle how to treat anxiety, let's understand what can cause it and its different types.
There are two types of anxiety: behavioral and situational.
Behavioral anxiety is when your pet has ongoing anxiety. It can be caused by several things, including:
- abandonment by a previous owner/too many homes
- too many homes
- loss of someone close to them
Situational anxiety is fear of something specific happening now. That could be:
- going to the vet or groomer
- going outside
- loud noises like fireworks
My Chihuahua, Anabelle, was a puppy mill survivor and she is afraid of going out for walks. For the first two years of her life, she lived in a cage and never went anywhere. While she's been with us for over seven years now and has definitely improved, I’ll still find her hiding under the coffee table at walk time. Natural medicine tools have helped her and, once she’s outside, she’s much better now. And, sometimes, something is so deeply ingrained, we get them to the best place of improvement and continue to encourage and validate them along the way.
There are also three other factors I’d consider.
- Is your pet on a whole food, healthy diet? Poor nutrition can cause anxiety, as well as be the precursor to chronic conditions, illness, dis-ease and a shorter lifespan.
- Is there a health issue below the surface that could be causing low level, chronic pain and therefore, be creating anxiety?
- Is your pet suffering from vaccinosis, or over vaccination we see, especially with rabies? Anxiety and aggression are not-uncommon side effects of over vaccination.
How does the brain work?
The cerebrum is the largest part of the brain in domestic animals and the part responsible for higher order type of behavior like learning, reasoning and intelligence, including expression of emotional responses and memory and recall.
Prior to the last several years, almost nothing was known about how a dog actually thinks.Thanks to a handful of medical professionals and labs around the country, that is changing.
Dogs are now partners in discovery, as opposed to things to be experimented upon. Dr. Gregory Berns, Professor of Neuroeconomics at Emory University and co-founder of Dog Star Technologies—a company using neuroscience to enhance the dog-human partnership—has helped to train more than 100 dogs to willingly go through a brain scanner.
What did he discover?
Some of his and his colleagues findings suggest:
- that the key evolutionary event that turned wolves into dogs was an amplification of genes related to sociality
- the commonality of brain structure suggests a certain commonality in function as well. Dogs have a hippocampus because they have to remember things, too. They have an amygdala because they get aroused and excited and scared, just like we do. They may even suffer similar mental problems.
- 13 of 15 dogs tested had equal or greater activation for praise than for food. Is that love? We don’t know, but it does show that most dogs have brain systems highly tuned to social rewards, and some even respond more to their owner’s praise than food itself.
- just as in humans, they found an area of the dog visual system that is strongly and specifically activated by faces. They called it the “dog face area.” Like the praise experiment, this demonstrates that dogs have more in common with us than we realized, and that they have the basic tools to process human faces.
- when testing reactions to different smells - their human, a dog's (butt), and their own scent - dogs seemed to prefer their owner's scent best.
So, knowing what we now know, how do we address anxiety in our dogs?
Through a combination of factors, including:
- Behavioral - positive reinforcement for good behavior, sufficient exercise to tire them out so they're calm, engaging their brains with tasks and tricks, making sure they’re not vaccinated unnecessarily and learning what that means, making sure they’re on a healthy, whole food diet
- Supplemental - natural alternatives to pharmaceuticals as a first line of defense
What Are Your Options?
- Homeopathic remedies
- Herbs (teas, tinctures, salves)
- Essential Oils
- CBD Oil
- Supplements focusing on calming behavior (there are so many on the market and we won’t address here, as sourcing & bioavailability are such important considerations, too)
- Bach Flower Essences
Why I like this option for anxiety so much is how it's tailored to your individual dog (no one size fits all option) and the enormous amount of empirical proof that it works.
From the cases of Certified Veterinary Homeopath, Dr. Jeffrey Feinman:
"Dr. Jeff treated my skittish sensitive pup ten years ago. She was very aware of anything new or different. She was afraid of grocery bags, a pile of sheets, garbage cans at the end of the driveway and the first daffodil in the spring. At the time, I had a purple jacket and when I hung it on the back of a chair, she barked. Dr. Jeff told me to get a different colored jacket. Maybe she was trying to tell me to hang it in the closet.
"Anyway, she improved greatly being treated homeopathic-ally. Today, she is a loving and confident therapy dog who willingly ventures into many new situations." Taffy W.
Here is a list of common homeopathic remedies for anxiety in dogs, but, again, it's always best to do an individual case taking of that particular dog:
- Aconitum: Fear and restlessness following a frightening event, including a frightening experience at the vet or groomers.
- Argentum nitricum: Anticipatory anxiety, often with trembling and loose bowels.
- Belladonna: Extreme fear with dilated pupils and aggressive behavior. This is the classic picture of a feral cat caught in a trap, or an agitated animal crouched in the corner of a room or an animal carrier.
- Ignatia: Hypersensitivity, muscle twitches and moodiness. The animal may have a history of recent grief, loss or rehoming. These animals may sigh or whine a lot, and they can be irritable.
- Lachesis: Restless, sensitive to all stimuli, talkative and jealous. Some animals, especially dominant ones, behave like this with a new addition (animal or human) to the household.
- Natrum muriaticum: Moody outbursts, depressed and withdrawn. The animals don’t play well and often have a history of rehoming or loss.
- Nux vomica: Impatient, fearful and sensitive to stimuli. These animals may be the boss of the house in many situations, bullying the other animals and being demanding of people; yet a thunderstorm or a strange package in the house can cause them to tremble.
- Staphysagria: Gentle animals with angry or fearful outbursts. They are typically the low animal on the totem pole that wouldn’t hurt a fly, so their outburst is all the more surprising
- Pulsatilla - dogs with a mild, gentle, yielding disposition who are changeable in their moods like they can't make up their minds regarding what they want. They tend to be contradictory and prefer the open air and their symptoms could be ever changing, too.
As herbs contain active ingredients, unlike homeopathy, it’s always best to consult with an expert. Veterinarian and herbal expert, Dr. Chris Bessent, recommends these for anxious dogs:
Valerian: often used for restlessness and it acts quickly. Because valerian root inhibits the breakdown of GABA in the brain (Gamma-aminobutyric acid, an amino acid that serves as the primary inhibitory neurotransmitter in the brain), it regulates the part of the brain that processes fear and strong emotional responses to stress, encouraging calm and tranquility.
Chamomile: our go to for relaxation and soothing stress. This herb also has mild sedative powers and antispasmodic properties to calm an upset stomach in dogs with vomiting or diarrhea caused by anxiety. A good one to know.
Passionflower has similar effects to valerian. As a nervine, a group of plants that affect the nervous system, it can relax and quiet a dog with its mild sedative and calming properties.
Using them together works well, to boost each herb’s calming qualities.
She suggests looking deeper to balance emotions in a chronically anxious dog:
Heat-draining herbs like Rehmannia, asparagus tuber, ophiopogon, and Scrophularia help clear the excess emotions or heat and restore balance.
Spirit-calming herbs like biota seed and polygala help calm the spirit while preserving the dog or cat’s unique personality.
Harmonizing herbs are the supporting cast and crux. They make the other herbs more effective in addressing your dog’s emotional imbalance.
Together, the synergistic interactions of each herb work to curb the emotional highs and lows an anxious dog has. Herbsmithinc.com
I love essential oils and am learning more and more about them and their effects on dogs and cats. They are a wonderful tool in your natural healing kit and, again, contain active ingredients, so follow the guidance of someone who is an expert in this area.
The essential oils expert and veterinarian who is teaching me turned me on to doTerra oils and they are beautiful. I’ve been trying some of them on myself and my dogs and already have seen success for us all.
My Sophie had an upset tummy and in just 20 minutes after rubbing a little of DigestZen on my palms and lightly applying it to her belly, she relaxed, the gurgling calmed down and she was able to sleep. One more application the next morning and she was good to go.
I’ve also started diffusing Balance which is a special doTerra blend of oils and is calming. If your dog gets anxious going out for walks, you can apply Balance before walks. It is also pre-diluted, so you can rub some on your hands and apply directly to their coat in reverse direction, so it touches their skin.
Peace and Console are also great oils to try and can be used together.
To learn more and try doTerra for your dog or cat.
Bach Flower Remedies:
If you choose to try Bach Flower Remedies, it requires dosing several times a day for at least 2-4 weeks before you may see a change in your dog. Also, since these remedies are made for humans and have a high alcohol content, we dilute them for animals. My dogs are between 7-10lbs and I use 12-15 drops of a remedy in an ounce of filtered water, stir and give with a plastic syringe.
It is also recommended to put drops of this mixture on their ears, paws, their bedding or where they like to hang out. In other words, to expose them to the remedy in as many places and ways as possible.
- Chicory - for possessiveness; clinging behavior and attention seeking.
- Heather - for noisy attention-seekers and loneliness
- Aspen - for fear and apprehension, whose cause is unknown. Sudden anxiety and nervousness, with trembling, shaking, panting, fearful look in their eyes and even cowering.
If you want a great book to learn more about Bach Flower Remedies for animals, I recommend this one, which was recommended to me by a holistic vet. Bach Flower Remedies for Animals by Helen Graham and Gregory Vlamis.
Also, German Chamomile flowers, made into a tea is a great calming herb for dogs, and can be given via syringe several times a day. I love the company Frontier Co-op. Their German Chamomile is excellent and I use it for my dogs, as well as to create a spray to calm Sophie's skin when she is going through an itchy spell.
Not all CBD oil is created equal, and after much research, trying this on my own pets and an interview with the CCO and co-founder of this company, I am recommending ElleVet Sciences as my go to CBD product. Why: because they are one of the very few that have actual scientific studies and are third party tested. They control the ingredients because they grow the hemp plants themselves. And, they use parts of the plant like CBDA and THCA, that many other CBD manufacturers don't; parts that have significant healing properties.
You can check out my interview with Amanda Howland of ElleVet here.
And, you can purchase ElleVet with the discount code HoundHealer10.
Anxiety in dogs is a deep topic that, to properly explore and help, requires more than this post is addressing today.
If you are experiencing anxiety issues with your pet and would like to book a complementary 30-minute exploratory consult with me, you can do so here.
Jody L. Teiche is a Pet Mental Health Expert and Coach. She’s been helping pet parents naturally solve health problems in their dogs and cats, so they can avoid pharmaceutical drugs and get tools to help their pet’s own body to heal itself. Her site is TheHoundHealer.com, and her podcast, called The Hound Healer, is heard on PetLifeRadio.com, as well as all other major podcast platforms.