Reviewed and updated for accuracy on July 17, 2019 by Dr. Hanie Elfenbein, DVM, PhD
A change in routine or exposure to loud or new noises, among many other causes, can bring about significant changes in your pet’s behavior.
Behavioral changes are a good indication that your pet is stressed by something, says Dr. Jennifer Coates, a veterinarian in Fort Collins, Colorado.
“You know your pet best,” says Dr. Coates. “Sometimes the changes you notice are caused by a medical problem, but just like us, pets can experience purely mental or emotional stress.”
Although you might think medication is needed to calm your pet’s anxiety, there are many natural remedies that can work, too. It just takes time to figure out which one(s) your pet responds to the best.
Natural Solutions for Dog Anxiety
As natural and holistic remedies are becoming more and more popular, the same holds true for canines. Both Dr. Coates and holistic veterinarian Dr. Laurie Coger recommend always going to your vet first so they can diagnose the root cause of the stress and rule out a more serious medical or behavioral issue.
Once your vet has confirmed that it’s not a health issue, these natural stress remedies for pets could be precisely what your pet needs to return to his normal, happy self.
Sometimes, your stress becomes your pet’s stress. If a crazy work schedule means you aren’t taking your dog for the regular walks he’s become accustomed to, he’ll feel anxiety.
The change in routine, the loneliness and the feeling of being cooped up are all possible contributors to stress that can be eliminated by simply taking your pup outside to stretch his legs and get some fresh air.
A tired dog is a happy dog, and sometimes, the best home remedy for dog anxiety is getting them out of the house and letting them exercise. Even old dogs need regular exercise, as long as it involves activities that are easier on their aging joints.
As Dr. Coger explains, this stress-relief technique works on several levels. For instance, teaching your dog a new trick diverts his attention away from whatever is causing the stress in the first place.
You’re also engaging with him one-on-one—something many stressed dogs crave from their owners after long days alone at home. “A lot of dogs develop stress behaviors out of boredom,” she says. “But that can be avoided by simply having some fun together.”
We often think that tiredness only comes from physical exertion, but mental exertion can have the same calming effects. It doesn’t matter what new trick you teach your dog—anything that challenges him can provide stress relief.
Taking a different route for a “scent walk” can provide both physical exercise and extra stimulation as your dog sniffs new bushes and meets new neighbors.
Adding enrichment to your pet’s day by feeding him from a puzzle ball or toy provides additional mental stimulation. There is no rule that says animals should only eat out of a bowl!
A 2017 study by the Scottish SPCA and the University of Glasgow showed that the right music could be effective in decreasing signs of anxiety in dogs.
The researchers observed groups of dogs with various types of music playing. After a week, they played a different genre of music. They found that soft rock and reggae music were the most effective, but individual dogs had distinct preferences.
Playing your pet’s favorite music at a low volume can add another layer of calm to your pet’s environment. But first make sure that your dog does indeed appreciate it by watching your dog's body language.
Vet-Recommended Essential Oils (Used With Caution)
Essential oils can be toxic if ingested, particularly for cats, and you should never apply essential oils directly to your pet.
However, your dog can still benefit from aromatherapy if used properly in a household without cats.
Lavender oil is among the most popular ancient remedies for natural pet stress relief. A 2006 study in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association (JAVMA) showed that it can be effective for dogs with a history of travel anxiety before a long car ride. It’s available over-the-counter, and it’s typically innocuous when lightly applied to fabric.
“Just put a drop or two on the corner of the blanket or towel your pet will be resting on,” recommends Dr. Coates. It’s hardly the only such oil, and in fact, oils are only a fraction of what’s available for those seeking an ancient stress therapy for their pet.
Your veterinarian can give recommendations for the type of oils to use, how much to use and the proper procedure for administration.
If you have essential oils in your home, make sure they are stored in a location your pet cannot access. Pets are much more sensitive to essential oils than humans, and many of these oils can be toxic and dangerous to pets, especially cats.
Pet owners can treat doggy stress with melatonin, a hormone that naturally rises in the bloodstream when animals sleep, says Dr. Coates. Melatonin may help pets stay calm in the short-term (e.g., for a planned car trip or before a thunderstorm) or can help them sleep better.
L-theanine and L-tryptophan supplements are also commonly recommended by veterinarians to help with mild to moderate anxiety, says Dr. Coates.
Zylkene, a derivative of a milk protein, can aid in calming your pet naturally. It is often used effectively in senior dogs with new, age-related anxiety. It is safe to use every day or when you have family visit or in other situations where your dog may need multiple days of calming support.
Recently, CBD oil and chews for dogs have become available. Because there is no regulation about strength or potency, this can be a tricky supplement to utilize effectively.
CBD does not contain THC, the other active ingredient in marijuana, and therefore does not get your pet “high.” When used properly, CBD may help calm your dog, reduce pain and reduce inflammation.
Talk to your veterinarian about the proper dosing for your pet for each of these supplements.
Calming pheromone products are available for dogs in the form of plug-in diffusers, sprays, wipes and collars.
The dog-appeasing pheromone contains a version of the hormone that nursing mothers produce to calm their puppies.
“Species-specific pheromone products can help dogs and cats better handle the stress of everyday life or when specific events, like moving or trips to the veterinarian, threaten their mental well-being,” says Dr. Coates.
Massage and Acupuncture
Anything that makes the body work better will make the brain work better. Some locations on a dog’s body—like the feet, the ears and the top of the head—are natural pressure points where as little as 15 minutes of massaging your pet will make a world of difference for their stress level.
Similarly, licensed veterinary acupuncturists can treat pet stress, sometimes as well or better than medication. The treatment stimulates the release of the body’s pain-relieving substances without any potentially adverse side effects.
Maybe therapy for your dog is as simple as 15 minutes of brushing every night. Dr. Coger says it will feel great for your animal, and it’ll be more time he gets to spend with his owner. You will also have an opportunity to observe his skin for excessive licking, lesions or abrasions, which could be a sign of something more serious.
By: John Gilpatrick
Featured Image: iStock.com/fotyma