Our cat hates Christmas. We have no idea why, but our once confident cat becomes a jumpy, nervous mess over the holidays. Bags that used to be fun are now viewed as horrific threats from the unknown. The Christmas tree signifies weeks of terrifying changes. Every year it gets worse and it’s heartbreaking to watch. I’m sharing the results of my extensive research here to help improve the quality of life for fearful, nervous pets.
There can be many causes for anxiety and fear in dogs and cats, including illness. The first thing you must do is eliminate any physical problems as the cause by visiting your veterinarian, such as adrenal gland problems, vitamin deficiencies, parasites, chemical imbalances in the brain, and diseases such as cancer or diabetes. If possible, we also recommend visiting a holistic veterinarian. Holistic health practitioners look for the root cause of a problem so they can address it, rather than jumping right in to relieve symptoms. A medical professional should be involved with your plan throughout it’s execution.
“Emotional, behavioral, and nervous disorders can result from nutritional deficiencies, endocrine disease, caccinosis, drug side effects, parasites, neurological disease or a psychological problem,” writes Gregory L. Tilford and Mary L. Wulff in Herbs for Pets. “Like humans, animals can suffer from chronic depression that is secondary to chemical imbalances in the brain.”
Beyond the obvious symptoms, chronic anxiety can manifest itself in behaviors such as incessant licking, pulling out fur, house/litter training issues, minor aggression and other sudden changes in behavior.
Natural Remedies for Anxiety in Dogs & Cats
What actually works for your pet’s symptoms will depend on the root cause and their specific reaction to stress. You’ll probably have to try more than one natural remedy until you find out which one (or combination) works best.
Notes of Caution:
- Cats can be extra sensitive to herbs and essential oils. Use them with extreme caution or refrain from using them entirely.
- Essential oils are too potent for pets and should be heavily diluted. Many should be avoided altogether.
- Consult with a veterinarian before introducing herbs to your pet to avoid drug interactions, problems with pre-existing conditions, etc.
- Source high-quality products to ensure success and purity.
Dietary changes can be amazingly effective in treating anxiety in pets. Switching to a raw diet or other homemade diet, complete with vitamins, minerals, healthy fats and antioxidants can improve symptoms over time. Certain vitamins may also help, such as Vitamin B5 (Pantothenic Acid).
“Pantothenic Acid, Vitamin B5, is known as the anti-stress vitamin since it is involved in the production of adrenal hormones and antibodies produced by the body’s white blood cells,” writes Shawn Messonnier, DVM, in his book Natural Health Bible for Dogs & Cats.
The best way to administer nutrients to your pet is through whole foods. For example, Vitamin B5 can be obtained from organ meat, beef, marine fish, eggs and mushrooms. Pet supplements can be used with caution.
2. Herbs and Herbal Extracts for Pet Anxiety
Herbs and herbal extracts that help calm nervousness include Catnip, German Chamomile, Hops, Passionflower, Skullcap, St. John’s Wort, Astragalus, and Lemon Balm. The easiest way to administer these herbs is with an extract that contains a combination of them, such as Stress Gold for Dogs or Calming Care for Cat Anxiety.
Natural sedatives (such as Passionflower, Valerian or Skullcap) may be used for temporary relief of symptoms when necessary, but they shouldn’t become a way of life.
3. Essential Oils and Aromatherapy
Several heavily-diluted essential oils may be used (topically or through aromatherapy) to treat anxiety or nervousness in dogs. We do not recommend them for (or around) cats, birds, and other small animals.
You’ll find a lot of information online about using essential oils for pets, much of which is dangerous and irresponsible. Whether it’s for profit or due to ignorance, following this advice can lead to toxicity. We cover that in further detail in 30 Essential Oils That May Not Be Safe For Pets and Common Diffuser Essential Oils that may be Toxic to Dogs, Cats, Birds & Other Pets.
We recommend the calming recipes in the book, Holistic Aromatherapy for Animals: A Comprehensive Guide to the Use of Essential Oils & Hydrosols with Animals, by expert, Kristen Leigh Bell.
“I have had great success with the use of essential oils for calming dogs in numerous situations,” writes Kristen. “Dogs with separation anxiety; training or show nerves; hyperactivity; hypersexuality; fear of people, places or things; fear of loud noises; essential oil blends have been ideal in all these stressful situations.”
Calming essential oils are derived from the same herbs that have been found to soothe pets, including Valerian, Sweet Marjoram, Vetiver, Lavender, Roman Chamomile, and others.
4. Flower Essences
Flower Essences (such as Bach Flower Remedies) are gentle treatments that can have a profound effect on fear, nervousness and anxiety in dogs, cats and horses. Their versatile administration options (oral, topical and sprayed) makes them a practical choice for most pet parents. Effective flower essences include Rescue Remedy, Aspen, Mimulus, Star of Bethlehem, Chestnut Bud, Sweet Chestnut, Rock Rose, and Larch. You can buy liquid blends of several of these ingredients for a convenient way to administer them.
5. CBD Oil for Anxiety
CBD (cannabidiol) oil (medical hemp, hemp oil) is a non-psychoactive component of the cannabis plant. CBD is often used to relieve stress and anxiety in dogs and cats. It should only be administered under the guidance of your veterinarian, however, especially to determine dosage. Cannabis, and any of its forms containing THC, should never be given to pets and should be kept out of their reach.
“The major psychoactive constituent of C. sativa, delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (9-THC), causes toxicosis in dogs and is therefore of limited use in canine patients,” states the study, Pharmacokinetics of cannabidiol administered by 3 delivery methods at 2 different dosages to healthy dogs. “The list of non-psychotropic compounds is expanding, but cannabidiol (CBD) is the most promising phytocannabinoid candidate, owing to its non-psychotropic effects, low toxicity, and high tolerability.”
6. Homeopathic Remedies for Stress and Anxiety in Dogs or Cats
Homeopathic remedy Aconitum napellus 30C is especially effective for situational fears, such as traveling.
“Give one pellet of this medicine an hour before leaving home; give another pellet just a few minutes before actually leaving the house,” writes Dr. Richard H. Pitcairn in his book, Complete Secrets to the Natural Health of Dogs & Cats. “This usually is enough for most animals and most trips. This medicine is very safe to use and often functions better than a tranquilizer.”
Other homeopathic remedies for stress, anxiety or fear in pets:
We prefer a convenient blend of homeopathic remedies, but you may want to try each remedy individually to find out what works best for your particular pet.
The Thundershirt creates a gentle, constant pressure that has a dramatic calming effect on dogs and cats (if you can get them to wear one). All types of anxiety, excitability and hyperactivity may be controlled or reduced by using the Thundershirt. It can be used on its own without training for less serious issues, or in combination with a behavior modification program.
We’ll keep this post updated and let you know what worked for us as we try to treat our little Grinch.
Have you successfully treated anxiety using natural remedies on your pet? Please share your experience in the comments below.
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