By John Gilpatrick
A physical pain or malady, change in their daily routines, or prolonged exposure to noise, 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, Colo. “You know your pet best,” she adds. “Sometimes the changes you notice are caused by a medical problem, but just like us, pets can experience purely mental or emotional stress.”
Some veterinarians might be quick to prescribe pharmaceuticals to help a pet with stress, but as holistic veterinarian Dr. Laurie Coger says, “Why treat something with a tank when a hammer will do?”
As natural and holistic healing remedies are becoming more and more popular among men and women, the same holds true for canines and felines. Both Coates and Coger recommend consultation with a vet before employing any of these methods so you can diagnose the root cause of the stress and rule out a more serious medical or behavioral issue. But if and when you’re ready, these natural stress remedies for pets could be precisely what your furry friend 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. And contrary to popular belief, cats also need exercise and the mental stimulation it provides. Break out the laser pointer, kitty fishing pole, or any other toy that promotes activity and get your cat moving.
As Coger explains, this stress-relief technique works on several levels. By, for instance, teaching your dog a new trick, you’re diverting 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.”
A recent study by the Scottish SPCA and the University of Glasgow showed that a little Bach could be effective with dogs. The researchers observed two groups of dogs—one that had classical music played into their kennels and another that was observed in silence. After a week, the conditions were switched, and in both cases, the kennels with the music housed dogs that had less observable stress.
Lavender oil is among the most popular ancient remedies for pet stress. A 2006 study in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association (JAVMA) showed 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. “Just put a drop or two on the corner of the blanket or towel your pet will be resting on,” recommends 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. Pet owners can treat doggy stress with melatonin, a hormone that naturally rises in the bloodstream when animals sleep, says Coates. Melatonin may help pets stay calm in the short term (e.g. for a planned trip in the car or before a thunderstorm). A typical dose is around 1 mg per 20 pounds of dog.
Valerian is another commonly recommended herbal remedy that is found in many name-brand stress relief supplements. L-theanine and L-tryptophan supplements are also commonly recommended by veterinarians to help with mild to moderate anxiety, says Coates.
Before using oils, herbs or supplements on your dog, make sure to consult a veterinarian to ensure proper dosage amounts and best practices for administration. Also keep in mind that essential oils can be toxic if ingested, particularly for cats. Do not apply them directly to your pet unless you have first spoken to your veterinarian and keep them in a location where your pet cannot access them.
Calming pheromone products are available for both dogs and cats in the form of plug-in diffusers, sprays, wipes, and collars. Dog appeasing pheromone contains a version of the hormone nursing mothers produce to calm their puppies. Feline facial hormone is secreted by cats when they are greeting one another in a friendly manner and marking their home environment. “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 wellbeing,” says Coates.
Anything that makes the body work better will make the brain work better. Some locations on a dog’s or cat’s body—like the feet, the ears, and the top of the head—are natural pressure points where as little as 15 minutes of massage will make a world of difference for your pet’s stress level.
Similarly, licensed veterinary acupuncturists can treat pet stress, along with other medical diagnoses, sometimes as well or better than medication. The treatment stimulates the release of the body’s pain relieving substances without any of the potentially adverse side effects of pharmaceutical remedies.
Maybe therapy for your dog or cat is as simple as 15 minutes of brushing every night. 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 lesions or abrasions, which could be a sign of something more serious.