A devoted pet lover and fragrance expert, Gerrard Larriett uses his over 10 years experience in the cosmetics industry to create a spa-inspired line of pet care products.
Anxiety in dogs is common. I used my decade of experience in the fragrance industry to create a spa-inspired line of pet care products to help my dog with anxiety. Dr. Jennifer Coates explains how natural remedies and treatments can help.
Inside this article:
- Natural treatments for behavioral/activity
- Natural consumable supplements
- Aromatherapy, pheromones, and other natural remedies
- Signs of dog anxiety and side effects of conventional treatment
What Is Dog Anxiety?
Your dog can suffer anxiety when he reacts fearfully to external stimuli—like loud noises—or to events that have been uncomfortable for him previously, like visiting the veterinarian’s office. Your dog’s anxiety is a normal response to a past unpleasant event or to a fear of danger that, in some cases, is impossible for him to see.
“We can’t always identify a reason behind canine anxiety,” says Dr. Jennifer Coates, DVM, a Fort Collins, Colorado, Veterinarian and Advisory Board Member of Pet Life Today, an online informational resource for pet owners. “Genetics seems to play a role in some cases, but so can the dog’s history. Dogs who have experienced physical or emotional trauma or who have not been appropriately socialized are at higher than average risk for anxiety. High-stress, unpredictable environments can also lead to anxiety.”
The Most Common Types of Dog Anxiety
There are three primary types of anxiety in dogs:
- Behavioral Anxiety: This type presents as a persistent negative feeling about an ordinary circumstance. One of the most common anxieties in this category is separation anxiety, in which your dog has an adverse reaction to when you leave the house without him. Separation anxiety may be the most common among dogs—with some experts suggesting as many as 14 percent of dogs suffer from it.
- Situational Anxiety: This feeling in dogs comes from specific external stimuli—like a thunderstorm or fireworks. With these types of stimuli, your dog interprets the loud noises as a potential danger, but can’t see their origin and doesn’t know how to respond to the threat.
- Age-related Anxiety: Just like with humans, dogs have increasing cognitive issues as they age. (Some may have something specifically called “Canine Dysfunction Syndrome,” which is similar to Alzheimer’s in humans.) As dogs’ brains and cognitive abilities change, they can become much more stressed and anxious in general.
Typical Causes of Anxiety in Dogs
While every dog is different, some types of dog anxieties are universal. They include:
- Change in Routine: Anything that changes a dog’s regular routine can be stressful and create anxiety. If he’s accustomed to getting a walk the same time daily, and your work schedule requires that to change, he may exhibit signs of stress.
- Anxieties or Phobias Related to Past Trauma: A bad experience in a specific environment can cause anxiety any time they encounter that environment again. Veterinarian’s offices can cause anxiety, as can a dog crate if the dog has been locked in it for a long time. (Dog crates can be welcoming and comfortable places for dogs if used properly.)
- Medical Issue: While not a common cause of anxiety, any illness or injury can cause stress for a dog.
- Overall Genes and Disposition: Sometimes, certain dogs are innately more nervous and anxious than others.
How to Calm Dog Anxiety Naturally
Several natural treatments—those that don’t involve drugs—can help. They fit into three broad categories: behaviors and activities, consumable supplements, and other therapies like pheromones and aromatherapies.
Behavioral and Activity Solutions
- Distraction: If there’s a specific stimulus that is causing problems (a thunderstorm, fireworks, etc.), try to distract your dog from that stimulus. Encourage your dog to do tricks that he knows—sit, lie down, roll over—and reward him with treats. Distract him with a ball with a treat hidden inside.
- “Ignore” His Anxiety: In certain situations, it’s best to treat his anxiety and the stimulus almost as if they are not happening. “As odd as it may sound, it is usually best to ignore a dog’s anxiety to the greatest degree possible,” says Coates. “Dogs look to us for cues about how they should respond to certain situations, and providing too much attention during anxious moments can reinforce the behavior you’re trying to eliminate. Calmly let your dog know that everything is fine and then soothe them as little as you reasonably can.”
- Desensitization Training: You can use “desensitization” training to help your dog get accustomed, in tiny doses, to what he fears. If he’s afraid of large groups of people, for example, introduce him to a small group of two or three people, then slowly add a few more. Give him treats and praise for being willing to approach strangers.As the dog gets acclimated to the small version of a trigger that causes him anxiety, “gradually increase the strength of those triggers that you expose them to over time,” Coates says. She adds that a veterinarian, veterinary behaviorist, or experienced positive reinforcement dog trainer can help create a behavioral modification plan for you and your dog.
- Combination Training for Separation Anxieties: One research study evaluated how a combination of efforts by owners might help dogs with separation anxiety. Researchers recommended owners routinely take measures to help their dogs, including increasing exercise, providing relaxation training, training the dog become comfortable with his crate, and giving the dog a special toy when the owner leaves. The study found that these efforts reduced anxieties and improved behaviors in 32 of the 52 dogs (62 percent) that were part of the study.
- Exercise: Just as with humans, exercise can be an invaluable stress reliever for your dog. If he doesn’t get the regular walks and activity he is used to; anxiety can increase. Sometimes, a tired dog is a happier dog.
- CBD Oil/Cannabis Extracts: All mammals release chemicals called endocannabinoids that help the body create serotonin, which is a natural mood stabilizer. CBD, or cannabidiol, seems to support this process by soothing and calming anxiety.CBD can also work relatively quickly—sometimes within 30-60 minutes. Be sure to follow the instructions on the extract or oil bottle for proper dosing.
- Herbs: Several natural herbs like chamomile, valerian, and St. John’s Wort can help calm your dog’s anxiety. You can make the herbs into a tea, or get them in capsules.
- Supplements and Homeopathic Remedies: Many supplements and homeopathic remedies can also help soothe your dog’s anxiety. Some supplements that can help are melatonin, L-theanine, and L-tryptophan. Zylkene, made from a milk protein, can help dogs with age-related anxiety. Homeopathic remedies include aconite 30C, borax (thunderstorms), phosphorus (for all noise anxieties) and pulsatilla nigicans, and gelsemium (separation anxiety).
Other Natural Treatments
- Pheromones: Dogs naturally release pheromones, hormone-like chemicals that can affect the behavior of another animal of the same species. Lactating female dogs produce a dog appeasing pheromone (DAP) that helps bond her puppies to her and keeps them calm. There is a synthetic version of DAP that can calm anxieties in adult dogs and is delivered through a dog collar or via an air diffuser.Scientific evidence about the effects of DAP is limited and somewhat mixed. But some studies indicate that DAP can be beneficial. A 2008 study published in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, for example, found that DAP helped in reducing anxiety and fear in puppies.
- Music/Audio Products: A 2017 study conducted at the University of Glasgow found that certain kinds of music could help decrease anxiety in dogs. The researchers found reggae and soft rock music were most effective. But every dog is different; play different kinds of music at a low volume and try to assess his reaction to it through his body language. Some companies offer music specifically for anxious dogs.
- Acupuncture, Massage, and Brushing: Acupuncture involves the placing of needles just under a dog’s skin to modulate his nervous system and ease anxiety. Massage, using long, slow strokes, or small circular movements of a person’s fingers over a dog’s body can help soothe anxiety. And even simply brushing your dog for 10 or 15 minutes can make a difference.
- Anti-Anxiety Clothing: A range of shirt-like garments, like The Thundershirt, that snugly fits on a dog aids in reducing anxiety. The garments, sometimes called compression wraps, provide gentle but constant pressure around a dog’s torso. Experts believe that the clothing may induce the release of the hormone oxytocin, which calms the dog.
- Aromatherapy: Sprays and diffusers that mimic canine pheromones and other relaxing herbal scents can be a soothing experience for dogs. Learn more by reading “Ultimate Pet Aromatherapy Guide for Dogs and Cats.”
- Vet-Recommended Essential Oils (Use with caution, and with veterinarian guidance): The scent from a drop or two of essential oils can calm some dog anxieties. But it’s important to keep one thing in mind: Essential oils can be toxic if your dog ingests even a small amount. They are even more toxic for cats. So, make sure you store them in a place that’s not accessible to any pets.Experts recommend that placing just a drop or two of certain essential oils on the corner of a dog’s blanket or bed can produce a scent that can aid in calming your dog. A 2006 study in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association (JAVMA) indicated, for instance, that lavender oil was able to calm dogs with anxieties related to car travel. Many other kinds of oils can also be beneficial, so ask your veterinarian for suggestions.
Natural Remedies for Dog Anxiety
While some remedies can work for dog anxiety in general, experts also recommend some specific treatments for certain kinds of anxieties, including separation anxiety, thunder, and others.
How to Prevent Anxieties Before They Start
Experts believe that you can prevent many dog anxieties before they begin, with a well-socialized and well-trained dog. Experts say dogs who are around other puppies and people and experiences at a young age are less likely to have anxiety issues. These experiences and meetings give them a chance to understand (and not fear) a range of sights, sounds, and places. Desensitization and other training are often more effective on younger dogs.
“Early socialization is extremely important to preventing anxiety,” Dr. Coates says. “If your dog develops anxiety, seek appropriate treatment as quickly as possible to prevent it from becoming more deeply ingrained.”
Signs and Symptoms of Dog Anxiety
Uncertain if your dog is experiencing anxiety? Here are some common signs and symptoms:
- Trembling or shaking
- Barking, crying or whimpering
- Restlessness or pacing
- Chewing or destructive behavior
- Excessive licking
- Excessive panting
- Abnormal elimination (urinating and defecating in the house)
Side Effects of Conventional Drug Treatments for Dog Anxiety
Some drugs and medications are prescribed to dogs for anxiety issues. But natural remedies are safer and often work better. Here are some side effects that dogs can experience from anti-anxiety drugs and medications:
- Increased or decreased appetite
- Lethargy or drowsiness
- Increased urination
- Upset stomach, diarrhea, vomiting
- Increased aggression and anxiety
- Damage to the liver
- Skin conditions
- Withdrawal symptoms from the use of some drugs
Additional Questions about Dog Anxiety
We’ve covered a multitude of ways to handle dog anxiety naturally, but you still may have a few more questions on the topic.
What home remedy can I give my dog for anxiety?
There is a range of herbs and other supplements that can ease dog anxiety. Among them are chamomile, oatstraw, skullcap, and St. John’s Wort.
What foods calm dogs down?
In general, herbs, supplements, and other remedies work better than food for soothing your dog’s anxiety. However, some experts believe that like turkey, sweet potatoes, blueberries, oily fish, and whole brown rice may calm your dog’s anxiety.
Can I give my dog melatonin for anxiety?
Melatonin is among the supplements that may help your dog’s anxiety. While generally considered safe for most dogs, the effects of melatonin on dogs hasn’t been studied thoroughly. So, talk to your veterinarian before giving your dog melatonin to ensure it’s right for him and that you’re administering the proper dose.
Ease Your Dog’s Anxiety Naturally with Gerrard Larriett Aromatherapy Products
When our furry babies are anxious or uncomfortable, all we want to do is make them feel better. In fact, trying to find a natural way to ease my dog’s anxiety when thunderstorms roared outside is the inspiration for our line of spa-inspired aromatherapy and grooming products. Our goal is to create a soothing experience for you and your pet. We have a variety of products that can help calm and relax your pet while leaving your home smelling delightfully fresh and clean. We thoughtfully select each ingredient in our line of aromatherapy pet odor candles and pet grooming products to take the stress out of bath time.
Veterinarians and groomers around the globe highly recommend our spa-inspired line, and you’ll find that our pet care regimen offers a wide range of inviting aromas that will leave you and your pets in a state of ultimate relaxation and ease. All our products—from grooming to our pet odor, eliminating candles—are 100 percent natural and locally sourced. That means no harmful chemicals, ever!
Learn more about our line of soothing and relaxing pet aromatherapy products.