Being a cat can be stressful—no, really! Think about what a cat’s life out in nature looks like: lots of hunting and eating what you catch, monitoring your surroundings for threats, and napping when you feel safe. While this might sound demanding, it’s what cats are wired to do.
Now think about a domestic cat’s home life in comparison. Often, they’re either bored or are being harassed by a housemate they can’t escape from. This can actually be more stressful than living the life of a solitary hunter. It’s no wonder that calming herbs and supplements for cats are so popular now.
Calming Herbs for Cats
Let’s take a look at some of the more commonly used calming herbs for cats. Unfortunately, very little cat-specific research has been done, so information on these herbs’ effectiveness and their mechanism of action is scarce and often based on studies in people or rats.
Ashwagandha: A small shrub that is regularly used in Ayurvedic medicine, Ashwagandha has been shown to reduce the level of cortisol and other stress-related hormones.
Chamomile: One of the most widely used herbal remedies in the world, chamomile is thought to work by altering neurotransmitter levels in the brain—for example, by binding to the same receptors that are used by medications like diazepam (Valium®).
Hops: Sleepiness is a common side effect of drinking a beer or two. This may be, in part, due to the sedative effects of hops.
Lemon balm: Used since the Middle Ages, studies in people have shown that lemon balm can reduce anxiety and improve overall mood.
Passionflower: Widely recognized as a medicinal plant, passionflower is used for many purposes, including stress and anxiety relief. It’s not yet clear how it works, but it may affect neurotransmitters in the brain.
Skullcap: While studies are somewhat contradictory, skullcap has been used for centuries to reduce stress and anxiety. It may influence neurotransmitter levels within the brain.
Valerian root: Arguably the most commonly used herbal supplement for anxiety relief, valerian root has been shown to change the way that parts of the brain connect to each other.
Many herbal products designed for pets, like Pet Wellbeing Stress Gold Bacon Flavored Liquid Calming Supplement for Dogs & Cats and Animal Essentials Tranquility Blend Herbal Formula Dog & Cat Supplement, combine several calming herbs for an additive effect.
Calming Supplements for Cats
Nutritional supplements are another natural way to improve a cat’s well-being. Similar to the situation with herbs, information about the effectiveness of supplements is spotty. Always talk to your veterinarian before introducing a new supplement to your cat.
L-Theanine: Nutritional supplements that contain L-theanine, an extract of green tea, are thought to work by increasing serotonin, dopamine, and gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) levels in the brain.
L-Tryptophan: Often wrongly blamed for the “turkey coma” experienced by many after a big Thanksgiving meal, L-tryptophan may reduce stress by altering bacterial populations in the gut.
Magnesium: Low magnesium levels can increase the body’s secretion of cortisol and other stress-associated hormones.
B vitamins: Thiamine (vitamin B1) and vitamin B6 can reduce stress on their own, perhaps by affecting neurotransmitters associated with anxiety or reducing cortisol secretion. B vitamins may also affect cells’ ability to take up magnesium.
Melatonin: Better known for its sleep-inducing properties, melatonin can also relieve anxiety through numerous pathways in the body.
Milk proteins: Alpha-casozepine, a type of milk protein, is thought to bind to the same receptors that are used by anti-anxiety medications like diazepam (Valium®).
If you’re interested in trying a calming supplement with your cat, look for options that contain more than one active ingredient, such as:
Calming Scents for Cats
The power of the feline nose can be put to work to create a calming effect, both through the cat’s sense of smell and a separate structure inside the nasal cavity called the vomeronasal organ.
Cats are very sensitive to essential oils. Never give them orally or apply them directly to your cat without veterinary supervision. Calming oils, such as lavender, can be used safely in your home as long as they produce a subtle aroma and cats aren’t able to come into direct contact with them.
Some calming products for cats include multiple flower essences. Rescue Remedy® Stress Relief Pet Supplement is a homeopathic option that contains Helianthemum nummularium, Clematis vitalba, Impatiens glandulifera, Prunus cerasifera, and Ornithogalum umbellatum.
The active ingredients in Nature’s Miracle Just For Cats Calming Spray are listed only as “plant extracts,” but the product has received many good reviews from pet parents.
Better known for producing a “kitty high,” catnip has also been shown to increase the amount of time cats spend sleeping. Catnip products are available in many forms, including sprays, treats, and parts of the plant itself.
The vomeronasal organ detects pheromones, including the feline facial pheromones that promote a sense of well-being in cats. Pheromone sprays, collars, and diffusers are all available.
Natural Remedies vs. Prescription Medications for Calming Cats
With so many natural calming remedies available for cats, it can be difficult to know which, if any, to use. Picking products that are labeled specifically for cats is best because they shouldn’t contain any potentially dangerous ingredients. There’s also no need to guess at how best to use the product or what an appropriate dose might be. All that information will be available on the label.
Natural remedies tend to work best in cases of mild to moderate anxiety or when a stressful situation will be short-lived (a trip to the veterinary office, for example). Prescription medications and a behavior modification protocol are usually a better option when a cat is suffering from more severe anxiety. Chronic stress needs to be dealt with at its source with appropriate environmental enrichment.
A veterinarian familiar with your cat’s needs can put together an individualized treatment plan that will soon have your feline friend enjoying life again.
Featured Image: iStock.com/Anna Derzhina
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