Dogs with anxiety tremble with fear, lick themselves until they bleed, and some of them resort to constant barking. They have indoor accidents years after being house trained, destroy everything within their reach, and some forms of anxiety can translate into aggression. It’s a serious strain on a dog’s health, and watching a precious pet struggle with anxiety is heartbreaking. Prescription drugs are a traditional way to help, but negative side effects mean they’re not right for every pup. Natural remedies are effective, and best of all, they’re safe. Once you identify the cause of your dog’s anxiety, you can start exploring natural remedies that have been proven to work.
Causes of Canine Anxiety
Dr. Karen Becker reports around 30 percent of dogs to show signs of anxiety. Among them, there are rescue dogs coping with difficult pasts and dogs emotionally scarred by traumatic experiences. At the same time, there are healthy, well-loved dogs with genetic makeups that make them prone to nervousness. It’s impossible to pinpoint a single cause affecting each of these distressed dogs, but there are several common triggers that lead to anxiety symptoms. As a pet parent, your job is to observe your dog’s behavior and relate their body language to what’s happening around them. Recognizing the cause of anxiety is the first step to relief.
Common triggers of a dog’s anxiety include:
- Loud noises
- Sudden changes to a routine
- Changes in living situation
- Novelty of new items, people, pets, etc.
- Insufficient exercise or outlets for normal breed behaviors
- Punishment-based training including shock collars, hitting and yelling
It isn’t always possible to shield your pup from the most nerve-wracking things in life, but many common triggers are completely avoidable. If the issue is fear caused by punishment, for example, Dr. Becker recommends dogs with anxiety (along with every other dog) receive positive reinforcement training. In cases where the cause of a dog’s anxiety is unknown or an inescapable part of life (like visits to the vet or thunderstorms), natural remedies will help.
Natural Remedies For Your Dog’s Anxiety
These natural, holistic strategies for anxiety relief have been proven to work, but not every dog responds in the same way. Consider your dog’s personality and health before choosing a method that will be the most effective.
Many dogs spend their days alone at home while their families are at work or school. When everyone comes home, no one has the energy to go on walks, play tug, or throw a ball. Without regular opportunities to exercise and do the things they love, dogs struggle emotionally and psychologically. Exercise relieves stress and anxiety by expending pent-up energy and releasing a feel-good chemical called serotonin. Dr. Becker says,
“Most dogs, especially working and sporting breeds, need much more exercise than they get, so a great place to start in reducing your pet’s anxiety is to increase her daily physical activity level. I can’t stress enough how important daily movement is in altering your pet’s stress response.”
Massage relieves physical pain, and the soothing experience also calms nerves. The simplest message could be sitting down to pet your dog for several minutes. Your light touches trigger an internal response to release the hormone oxytocin—the same hormone mothers feel when they hug their children.
You can also try a specific type of massage called Ttouch. This technique is vet-approved and focuses on using non-habitual movements and circular touches to calm a dog’s mind and body. Whole Dog Journal credits the Ttouch technique by allowing an animal to enter a relaxed state of mind where they can think rather than react. Ttouch is easy to learn, and you can do it comfortably at home.
Essential oils including lavender, Roman chamomile, and lemon are safe for pets and can help relieve a dog’s anxiety. They work by manipulating the dog’s neurochemistry at the most basic level. The scents alter brain activity to affect emotions as well as cognitive function. Different essential oils produce different results, and exposing your pup to safe, calming scents through an aromatherapy diffuser can lull them into relaxation.
The best way to benefit from aromatherapy is to allow your dog to inhale the scents prior to exposing them to something potentially stressful. If you know a storm is on its way or your dog has a scheduled vet visit they’re not going to like, aromatherapy can put them in the right state of mind to stay calm. You can use your own mixtures of oils to naturally calm your dog or purchase a product specifically designed for dogs with anxiety.
What a dog eats effects almost every one of their biological functions. The brain’s ability to process stressful situations is one of them. Dr. Becker stresses the importance of feeding dogs—especially dogs with anxiety—diets rich in omega-3 fats. A study done in 2008 found an omega-3 fat called EPA produced the same anti-anxiety results as a common antidepressant drug. The study was done on humans, but Dr. Becker and other veterinary professionals stand by the idea that fatty acids affect the canine brain in similar ways. The main benefit of using fatty acids over drugs is there are no side effects, and fatty acids also contribute to overall health.
Beneficial bacteria called probiotics also play a role in anxiety relief. Bacteria in a dog’s gut communicate with the brain to modulate everything from digestion and immune response to a dog’s ability to process stress. Including a probiotic supplement in a dog’s daily diet helps balance mood and reduce anxiety. You can also switch your pup to a fresh diet of whole meats and veggies to ensure they get the probiotics they need.
CBD oil is the holistic approach to dog anxiety everyone is talking about. Extracted from cannabis, CBD is a compound that interacts with a body’s endocannabinoid system. If you’ve never heard of the endocannabinoid system, think of it as the body’s command center for health and healing.
CBD oil works by bonding with specific endocannabinoid receptors located in the brain, stomach, liver, and other major organs. That bond stimulates the body’s natural ability to target biological imbalances and release chemicals to bring things back into order. For dogs with anxiety, CBD oil works as a trigger to tell the brain it needs to release mood-stabilizing chemicals. The result is a dog that is calmer and more relaxed in their own fur.
Before changing your dog’s health routine or lifestyle, it’s important to talk to your vet. Discuss in detail your dog’s anxiety symptoms, and hold nothing back. An anxious dog affects the entire household, and finding the right natural remedy will bring peace to your dog and everyone in your family. Your dog deserves the best, and a natural approach to anxiety relief will change their life for the better.