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Anxious Pets - How Can We Help Them?

Friday November 3, 2017

Author: Karen Spinelli

A friend and I recently had a conversation about our anxious pets.  It’s such a helpless feeling when you see someone you love struggling -  especially when it’s your animal.  If only we could communicate in words with them – to help them articulate exactly what’s wrong, and for us to help them understand each situation better.

Unfortunately, there are no easy answers…  I wish there was for my own pets’ sake. 

But what I realized is that all the options we talked about might be things other pet parents would benefit from hearing too.  Maybe you already know about them – but for me, it was helpful to list them out so I could have them all written down somewhere in one place.

If it would be helpful, I could go into more depth about each one in later articles.  You can also find more details on my Hand To Paw website –  But for now, let me at least make a quick go-to list for us all to have as a helpful summary.


Things To Help My Anxious Pet:

1)    Routine and Consistency
Anxious pets, and people, do better when they know what to expect.

2)    Engaging their Senses
This pulls their limbic system into the equation to help calm the "fight or flight" stress response.

     a)    Sight
enough that they can see their way around,  but not so much that it’s harshly bright.

     b)    Sound
Calming Music -
I like the bio-acoustic research behind the “Through a Dog’s Ear” series.  (They have “Through a Cat’s Ear” too.)

     c)    Smell
Dog Appeasing Pheromone (DAP) – I like Adaptil.  (They have it for cats too – Feliway)
Essential Oils – I like Lavender, Chamomile, Ylang Ylang, and Copaiba.  (Some trustworthy companies are Young Animal EO).

     d)    Feel
Anxiety Pressure Wraps use gentle body pressure to calm.  (I like ThunderShirt)

     e)    Taste
Well, oral Supplements/Nutraceuticals anyway - like:
Composure by VetriScience (with Vitamin B1, colostrum, and  L-Theanine which increases neurotransmitter GABA,  which then increases serotonin and dopamine).
Herbals like Rescue Remedy for Pets by Bach (contains flower essence blend).

3)    Massage
Decreases heart rate, blood pressure, and respiratory rate. It also aids in the secretion of oxytocin, the “feel-good chemical”. 
Breaks up “trigger points” which can occur when the body compensates for injuries. Increases circulation which delivers oxygen and helps clear toxins.  (You can look for a certified animal massage therapist in your area, or learn how to do it safely at home with my book, "Pet Massage - How To Safely Massage Your Own Pet At Home".)

4)    Fitness
Even short durations of physical activity before being left alone can help achieve a state of physiological relaxation, helping to decrease pent-up excess energy which otherwise could turn into stress and/or destructive behaviors.  (There are specific tips about home modifications for senior dogs here on the Hand To Paw canine fitness page.)

5)    Reiki
Energy healing that channels the flow of universal life energy (chi) to improve the flow of energy within another being.  Triggers the body’s own natural healing abilities to decrease anxiety, discomfort, and stimulate the immune system.  Gentle and safe – as evidenced by its increasing use in hospitals with human patients. (You can find more information about reiki on the Hand To Paw reiki page.)

6)    Finding Alternative Options

     a)    Grooming
Consider mobile groomers who will bring a fully-equipped grooming van right to your home.  Your dog(s) will be the only one(s) there so they get 1:1 attention and there are no other animals there to stress them.  If you do go to a facility, get to know the groomer who will be working on your dog and see the same person each time so you establish a relationship.  Make sure they have your contact information if you are not able to wait there on premise.

     b)    Boarding
Consider alternatives to kennels with home pet sitting -  having someone come over a few times each day to bring them out for the bathroom, bring them for a walk, feed them, and even get in some snuggle time.  You may even hve the option of them staying overnight at your house with them.  If you do use a kennel, many have “doggy daycare” also, so try bringing your pet there just for the day a couple times before being there for an overnight so they can get familiar with the place and its people.  Make sure they have your contact information in case of emergency.

7)    Educational Books
Three of my favorites are:
A Guide to Living With & Training a Fearful Dog  (by Debbie Jacobs)

I’ll Be Home Soon! How to Prevent and Treat Separation Anxiety  (by Patricia McConnell)

Don’t Leave Me!  Step by Step Help for Your Dog’s Separation Anxiety  (by Nicole Wilde)

8)    Medication
Prescribed by your vet who knows your pet’s health history to optimize safety.  
There are options for both long-term and targeted situational use.

     a)    Long Acting =
Reconcile  (Fluoxetine) - Selective Serotonin Re-uptake Inhibitor (SSRI)
Clomacalm   (Clomipramine) - Tri-cyclic AntiDepressant (TCA) (blocks re-uptake of serotonin/ norepinephrine, some dopamine)
Anipryl (Selegiline) - for older dogs with canine cognitive dysfunction

     b)    Short Acting =   
Alprazolam (Xanax) and Diazapam (Valium)  - Benzodiazepines
give 1 hour prior to event,  helps for 6-8 hours.

     c)    Off-label (used by vets, though not officially approved as behavioral med) =
Gabapentin (typically used to control seizures and/or chronic pain) -
Has sedating properties, so used with older dogs who may also have joint discomfort.
Phenobarbital (another one typically used for seizure control) - has sedating properties
Trazadone - sedation and anti-anxiety properties in one med
(but gives a more significant sedation, which may be more than needed)

     *Warning:  do not use Ace Promazine (a Phenothiazene tranquilizer)
although classified as a sedative, it can have paradoxical effects - making animals who are already noise sensitive, even more reactive to noise (since the body is relaxed, but the mind may stays active).  It can also decrease blood pressure too much. 

     *New to Watch:  Cannabidoil (Vet CBD by Pet Cannabis Company)  which does not contain THC,  was developed by a vet for pets, but right now only available through medical marijuana dispensaries.  It is said to help with anxiety, pain, arthritis, nausea, and even seizures.


From what I have learned and experienced, the best approach is a multi-modal approach of layering –
using multiple modalities to benefit from the enhanced synergy that comes from combining safe alternatives. 
(*Warning – do not use multiple medications at once unless directed so by your pet’s primary veterinarian.)

We could go into full articles for each one of these aspects of finding ways to help calm anxious pets.....
(and maybe we will at a later date - note to self). 

But for now, at least this can serve as an over-view to keep some ideas on the tips of our brains if and when we and our pets need it.

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