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None of us want to see our dogs show signs of anxiety. It amps up OUR anxiety, creating a feedback loop with our precious canine. Suddenly, the whole house is anxious and in need of a blanket fort. While that’s always an option, there are better choices out there for your dog. Some of the newer products gaining popularity are calming treats and chews.
Anxiety results when the body’s natural “fight or flight” response goes into overdrive. Every creature needs that survival instinct. However, panicking over something that isn’t a threat (the opening of an umbrella, thunder, walking into a new building, etc.) isn’t healthy. That’s anxiety hijacking the body.
Dogs develop anxiety in a lot of ways:
- Improper puppy socialization
- Age-related health changes
- Traumatic experiences
- Genetics (some breeds are prone to anxiety)
Most dogs spend at least a few hours a day on their own. If you work outside the home, it might be even longer.
Do you return home to find wanton destruction? Have neighbors complained about excessive barking/whining while you’re absent?
Separation anxiety is the most common form of behavioral stress seen in dogs (cats, too, actually). A lot of times, it’s seen in animals who:
- Spent time in a shelter
- Ended up being re-homed at least once
- Were victims of abandonment
Recognizing Canine Anxiety
Obviously, our dogs aren’t going to plop on the couch and tell us they worry we’re never coming home every time we step out to get the mail. Clues tend to be subtle, making it trickier to pinpoint the source of the anxiety. Some of the things you’ll see include:
- Destructive behavior
- Excessive barking
- Repetitive or compulsive behaviors
- Unexpected aggression
- Urinating or defecating in the house
Once you figure out the cause of your dog’s anxiety, you can formulate a plan to help them. For instance, behavioral training helps dogs fearful of novel stimuli. They learn to relax in new situations instead of panicking. Regular exercise tamps down restless energy in dogs when you need to step out to run errands.
When the Fourth of July rolls around with fireworks or thunderstorms push through without warning, it’s harder to prepare for unexpected noises (okay, you expect the fireworks). That’s where calming treats come in handy.
Calming Treats and Chews
Calming treats and chews are nutraceuticals. Like glucosamine, they’re a nutritional supplement devoid of pharmaceutical medication. There ARE prescription anxiolytics available (the fancy term for anti-anxiety medications). However, not everyone likes using prescriptions.
Do you NEED to speak with a veterinarian before using a calming treat? No – they’re available over-the-counter. SHOULD you? YES. After all, your dog’s anxiety could have a medical source. While nutraceuticals don’t contain medication, they still have side effects. Also, if your dog is on any prescriptions, there may be interactions.
To stay on the safe side, chat with your vet.
What to Look For
There are a lot of calming formulations available, and every manufacturer claims they’re the best. Are they all created equal? Not really. Before you grab the first bottle or bag on the shelf, make sure you read the label thoroughly. Remember, this is a therapy, so you want to be careful.
- Ingredients: You want all-natural ingredients with a track record of efficacy. Most calming treats and chews contain herbs, amino acids, or hemp/CBD. When you read the label, make sure you apply a common-sense filter (we’ll delve into this below).
- Form: You’ll find chews, tablets, capsules, powders, and liquids. You know your dog best and what they’ll tolerate.
- Size: Every calming treat has its dosing instructions. You want to look at them carefully to make sure they’ll work for your dog. If you have a large dog that needs ten chews every time, is that practical? Can you get your dog to take that many at a time? By the same token, if you have a small dog, can you break a treat into the proper piece, so there’s no risk of overdose?
- Price: Calming treats and chews vary in cost. This ties back in with the size concern. How long is the container going to last? Make sure you check the expiration date, as well. How long is each bottle good for? If you’re only going to get a week out of it, is it worth paying a high price?
The Multimodal Approach
Calming treats and chews are excellent options for sudden-onset canine anxiety. When you hear that first rumble of thunder, knowing you can reach for the calming treats and have onset within 30-60 minutes is reassuring.
For generalized or separation anxiety, though, a multimodal approach is better. Multimodal means utilizing a variety of tools to achieve a more effective, complete response.
Dr. Erin Perotii-Orcutt, DVM, from Four Paws Veterinary Center in Seattle, recommends an entire toolbox for tackling canine anxiety. What can you keep in the toolbox?
- Pheromones that mimic the scent of mother dogs
- Pressure wraps that work along the same principle as “hug machines”
- Puzzle toys to stimulate the brain away from fretting behaviors
Used with calming chews, your dog stands a better chance of defeating that anxiety monster.
The Best Calming Chews and Treats
As a nutraceutical, calming treats and chews don’t get regulated by the FDA. That means the burden of checking that the manufacturer uses high-quality ingredients, sourced from a country with strict regulations is on you. The most significant difference between most chews are the ingredient mixtures. Dr. Perotti-Orcutt advises you to read the fine print.
L-Theanine Calming Treats
L-Theanine (also known as Suntheanine) is an amino acid. It’s believed to increase dopamine and serotonin levels in the brain. Dopamine makes you happy, while serotonin relaxes you. This is why it works to lower anxiety. Best of all, you’re not introducing anything unusual into your dog’s system.
Does your dog panic in thunderstorms? Then maxxicalm is perfect. With L-Theanine, B vitamins, and a little bit of chamomile, these calming chews are manufactured in the United States. Dogs love the taste, and they start to work within 30 minutes. Even better, you get a behavioral guidebook with your order to help you work through your dog’s anxiety.
Downside? With the dosing set at one tablet per 25 pounds, it can be hard to manage for smaller dogs.
Composure is a household name in the veterinary world. Their American-made formula contains L-Theanine and Thiamine (which is a B vitamin). Give it to your dog, and it kicks in within 30 minutes and lasts for 4 hours. Have a picky pooch? These treats come in three yummy flavors: chicken liver, peanut butter, and bacon. Composure is safe enough for daily use, and you can double or even triple the dose if needed. Have a dog with allergies? It’s soy, corn, and gluten-free!
The downsides? Composure comes in smaller doses, so while you can double and triple the treats, it may not be practical for larger dogs. Also, even with those flavor options, not all dogs are fans.
Ready Pet Go! provides peace of mind with treats manufactured in the United States, using lab-grade ingredients tested through a third-party to guarantee quality. Their formula contains L-Theanine, L-Tryptophan (yup, the same amino acid you enjoy after gorging on turkey at Thanksgiving), Thiamine, chamomile, and hemp. And what dog turns down bacon and cheese?
So what are the downsides? Larger dogs will need more chews than smaller ones, which means you’ll go through the container faster. Also, a lot of people felt these chews had no effect whatsoever (though their dogs loved the taste!)
Homeopathic Calming Treats
When it comes to calming treats and chews containing ingredients such as valerian, chamomile, and ginger root, we get into a grey zone. We know those herbs have a calming effect for US, however, there’s no scientific evidence that the herbs have the same effect on dogs. (Though ginger is known to soothe stomachs, which might be helpful if dogs get gastrointestinal upset as part of their anxiety) So while we’re appealing to OUR thought process, we might not be helping our canine family members.
A lot of calming chews like to advertise hemp or CBD as ingredients. One of the best aspects of CBD is that it doesn’t contain THC. Therefore, it’s not psychoactive. If it’s not psychoactive, the chance that it’ll impact anxiety are slim. As Dr. Perotti-Orcutt mentioned, the common-sense filter needs application when reading labels, especially with homeopathic calming treats.
NaturVet uses a combination of L-Tryptophan, Thiamin, melatonin, and ginger. You might be familiar with melatonin if you’ve ever had difficulty sleeping – it’s an herbal supplement that promotes relaxation. NaturVet’s treats are wheat-free and manufactured in the United States. With the addition of ginger, they also work great for dogs who experience car sickness.
Downsides? These calming chews are intended for smaller dogs; larger dogs will need a lot of treats for accurate dosing. They are a lot drier than most, and they don’t have a specific flavor, so some dogs might turn up their noses.
Premium Care has a big following. Their treats contain a formula of L-Tryptophan, passionflower, valerian, chamomile, and ginger. If you’re worried about allergies, you’re in luck, because the treats don’t contain corn, dairy, or soy. Premium Care offers a full money-back guarantee, but with the ever-popular duck flavoring, they’re confident you won’t need it. You’ll see a total of 3-4 hours of effective calming.
The downsides? Some people didn’t see any effects for several days. Also, if you want your dog to sleep (after all, it contains L-Tryptophan), this isn’t the treat for you. It WILL calm your dog, but they won’t fall asleep.
Zesty Bites has a formula that covers a little bit of everything: L-Theanine, Thiamine, L-Tryptophan, passionflower, chamomile, valerian, ginger, and hemp. Most people focus on their all-natural herbal ingredients as the source of effectiveness. The treats have a turkey flavor dogs love. And no need to worry about allergies – the ingredients are free of corn, grain, and soy.
So what’s the downside? You can’t use these treats daily. They’re only intended for every other feeding schedules to prevent overdosing.
What’s BL999? A strain of probiotic called Bifidobacterium longum. This particular probiotic helps dogs maintain calm behavior. You find it in Purina’s Calming Care. While not a treat, the liver-flavored powder sprinkles on top of food once a day. Have a dog on a special diet? No problem – the powder DOESN’T interfere with food allergies. Given every day, Calming Care helps manage noise phobias, separation anxiety, and novel situations. As a bonus, the formula also helps maintain a happy digestive tract.
Downside? It can take up to six weeks for full effect. However, I can attest it works.
We use this with our dog. Coming from a rescue (not to mention a history as a racing dog), she was afraid of strangers and exhibited separation anxiety. Within about five weeks, she started coming out of her shell. While she’s still wary of new people, she’ll go up to them after they settle. She whines when we first leave, but then she lays down. It’s been a dramatic change, and all we have to do is sprinkle a packet on her food once a day.
Breathe In, Breathe Out
If you’re seeing anxiety in your dog, chat with your vet. There ARE medical conditions that present with similar symptoms. You don’t want to overlook those possibilities.
Your vet won’t get offended if you explain you want to try a calming treat or chew over a prescription. Together, you can formulate a multimodal plan that will work best for you and your dog.
Addressing the root of your dog’s anxiety is the best way to manage what they’re feeling. You’ll improve their overall health, and you’ll lower YOUR anxiety in the process. Then you can use that blanket fort strictly for fun.