I think of supplements as the metaphorical “key” to open up the door so that you pet can start to move away from fear, anxiety and stress and towards being calm and content. I know everyone wants to look to supplements as the “cure” for anxiety – but the truth is, you can’t JUST give you pup supplements and expect for them to make huge long-term improvements.
Many supplements (and medications) that help with behavior change can cause your pet to develop a tolerance over time – meaning that the longer your pup is one the supplement, the MORE and MORE you will need to give in order to have the same effect. So I want you to think of these supplements as an additional “tool” to help your pup, not as the sole avenue to help your dog with their anxiety – be that separation anxiety, noise phobias, generalized fears, or situational anxiety.
“Drug Tolerance is a dog’s diminished response to a drug, which occurs when the drug is used repeatedly and the body adapts to the continued presence of the drug.”Merck Veterinary Manual
Also know that every pup is going to respond to supplements (and medications) that deal with behavior change differently – meaning that dosing IS NOT a one size fits all. You will see that many of these supplements have a very large RANGE, generally speaking, starting low and working your way up is you’re best bet.
Another thing I want you to consider prior to starting your pup on any new supplements is to ALWAYS discuss these changes with your veterinarian. Your veterinarian will be able to direct you as to what dosing is appropriate for your pup, they will also be able to guide you as to which supplements might be most appropriate for your dog.
Certain supplements will be contraindicated in certain situations (like prior to anesthesia), or may not be appropriate for dogs with certain other medical conditions (such as diabetes, or liver disease). So please – talk to your veterinarian beforehand, and if you switch vets, make sure to tell them what supplements your pup is taking – ESPECIALLY prior to any sedated or anesthetic procedure.
So let’s talk supplements for anxiety shall we? Here are 9 supplements for dogs with anxiety!
1. CBD OIL
What is CBD Oil? So let’s start with what CBD isn’t – CBD isn’t marijuana – though both products come from the same family of plants ( cannabis ) their composition is much different. Mainly the amount of THC within the plant – CBD Oil typically has a smaller amount of THC (0-0.3%) than Marijuana which can have up to 30%. And THC is the component of the plan that gives you that “high”. CBD is cannabidiol – a component found in hemp plants.
What research do we have to support CBD Oil for Anxiety? There are actually no current research studies that have been done looking at CBD use IN DOGS for treatment of anxiety. However there is significant evidence that CBD can be helpful in human anxiety. It is believed that since all mammals have a similar systems for CBD – that dogs could benefits in similar ways. However, further research is needed on this topic so that we fully understand the dosing, side effects and contraindications associated with the use of CBD for anxiety management.
How does CBD work? CBD works with the body’s endocannabinoid system. There are a series of cannabinoid receptors – which live in the nervous system and throughout the body – these receptors work with endocannabinoid chemicals found in foods/supplements which then stimulate the production of serotonin. The production of serotonin works as a mood stabilizer. As research is still ongoing in this field we still have a lot to learn about this system – and exactly what effects CBD has on the body.
Common Side Effects of CBD? Drowiness, Lethargy, Loose Stools, Lowered Blood Pressure, Elevated Liver Values at higher doses in some dogs.
Contraindications? May not be well-suited for dogs with Liver Disease or Gastrointestinal Conditions, however more research is needed. CBD should not be given prior to surgical procedures – including dental cleanings – as it has mild blood thinning properties that have been seen in humans.
2. VALERIAN ROOT
What is Valerian Root? Valerian root ( or Valeriana officinalis ) is a flowering plant found in Europe and parts of Asia.
What research do we have to support Valerian Root for Anxiety? There is currently no research on the use a Valerian Root in dogs for anxiety, and limited research in humans – with mixed results.
How does Valerian Root work? More research is still needed to know more about how Valerian Root works for anxiety. But what researchers currently believe is that it blocks nerve transmissions that stimulate activity vita GABA receptors – thus causing a relaxation effect throughout the body.
Common Side Effects of Valerian Root? Drowsiness, lethargy, uncoordinated movement, decreased blood pressure, abnormal heart-rate, nausea, loose stools. In some dogs can cause irritability.
Contraindications? Valerian root should not be used two weeks prior to an anesthetic or sedative procedure, because it can make anesthetic drugs more potent. Other possible drug interactions are with anti-epileptic drugs and anti-fungal drugs, both of which can caused increased side effects when used with Valerian. Valerian root is also not safe for pregnant/lactating females.
3. PASSION FLOWER
What is Passion Flower? Passion flower (Passiflora incarnata) is a climbing vine found in South America.
What research do we have to support Passion Flower for Anxiety? There is currently no research on the use a Valerian Root in dogs for anxiety, however there is research in humans and small mammals (rats) that have shown positive changes to anxiety.
How does Passion Flower work? Passion flower works in two different ways, first is via the GABA receptors – which causes and sedative/calming effect on the body. The second is via harmala alkaloid – which works to inhibit the breakdown of certain types of neurotransmitters, such as dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin. Which naturally increases their levels within the body, leading to a better mood/temperament.
Common Side Effects of Passion Flower? Drowsiness, lethargy, uncoordinated movement, decreased blood pressure, abnormal heart-rate, nausea.
Contraindications? Passion Flower not safe for pregnant/lactating females. Passion flower might cause sleepiness and drowsiness. It might increase the effects of anesthesia and other medications on the brain during and after surgery.
What is Melatonin? Melatonin is a hormone that is produced by the pineal gland in the dog, which helps pups regulate their sleep cycle.
What research do we have to support Melatonin for Anxiety? Limited research has been done on dogs looking at Melatonin for stress, no known double-blinded studies have been done at this point. At this point most of the information we have is based on case studies.
How does Melatonin work? Melatonin is a derivative of serotonin and is thought to inhibit dopamine, thus creating a calming effect.
Common Side Effects of Melatonin? Changes to fertility, increased heart rate, gastric upset, itching, confusion
Contraindications? Pregnancy, Diabetes (can cause insulin resistance)
What is L-theanine? L-theanine is an amino acid found in green tea which is purified so that other components such as the caffeine in the green tea are removed – making it safe for dogs.
What research do we have to support L-theanine for Anxiety? There is some research looking at L-theanine use with storm phobias in dogs. There is also some research supporting it’s use for generalized anxiety. However there is no research on it’s use to severe phobias or separation anxiety.
How does L-Theanine work? L-Theanine works by crossing the blood-brain barrier. It is believed that since L-Theanine is very similar structurally to the neurotransmitter glutamate that it may stimulate glutamate production, causing a calming effect. However the extract mechanism is unknown.
Common Side Effects of L-Theanine? Since L-Theanine is an amino acid it is considered generally safe to take at normal levels that would be found in food – no adverse effects have been reported in dogs. In people they can sometimes experience irritability, headache, mild sedation.
Contraindications? Since the exact mechanism of action is unknown, general recommendation is to discontinue use two weeks prior to any surgical, sedated or anesthetic procedure.
What is L-tryptophan? L-Tryptophan is a naturally occuring amino acid that is found in many different proteins – the most common of which is turkey.
What research do we have to support L-tryptophan for Anxiety? There is research supporting use of Trypotophan supplemented foods for help with anxiety in dogs, however there are flaws in the study design (as they also supplemented with alpha-casozepine, which is also has anti-anxiety benefits). And other studies looking at sole use of L-tryptophan for anxiety have found no significant changes to level of anxiety in dogs..
How does L-Tryptophan work in dogs? Once absorbed L-Tryptophan helps in the production of serotonin (a mood stabilizing hormone), and melatonin (which is thought to inhibit dopamine) – both of which could potentially cause a calming effect.
Common Side Effects of L-Tryptophan in dogs? Since L-Tryptophan is an amino acid it is considered generally safe to take at normal levels that would be found in food – but can cause gastrointestinal upset – vomiting and loose stools. In people it can cause drowsiness, muscle weakness.
Contraindications? Dogs should not be given L-Tryptophan supplementation two weeks prior to anesthetic or sedation procedures or with other medications that cause sedation (such as Acepromazine), and certain pain medications (like Tramadol).
7. KAVA KAVA
What is Kava Kava? Kava kava or Piper methysticum is a plant from Pacific Islands in and surrounding areas that has been used by people for years to treat anxiety by native populations. The roots of the Kava kava plant are what are used in herbal therapies for help with anxiety.
What research do we have to support Kava Kava for Anxiety? There is no current research on Kava kava use in dogs, however in people there is research supporting it’s use for generalized anxiety disorders. And more research is needed in order to fully understand this supplement.
How does it work? Kava kava plants have kavalactones (which are psychoactive compounds) – which is thought to somehow affect the brain causing a calming effect. However the mechanism is largely still unknown.
Common Side Effects? Unsteady gait, listlessness, Long-term use, or short-term use at high doses of Kava kava can lead to liver toxicity.
Contraindications? Dogs with liver disease, should not be given within two weeks of any sedated or anesthetic procedure, should not be used with any other medications or supplements that cause “sedative” or “calming” effects. Not recommended to use with other medications that are also processed by the liver (like certain flea/tick/heartworm preventatives, or pain medications).
8. ST. JOHN’S WORT
What is St John’s Wort? St John’s Wort is a yellow flowering plant found in areas where there is poor soil – along river beds, in fields – and is very common throughout most of europe.
How does it work? St. John’s Wort is thought to work similarly to a standard antidepressant medication, however more research is still needed to fully understand the mechanism. Generally speaking St. John’s Wort works to increase serotonin and thus help regulate moods.
Common Side Effects? Though St. John’s Wort is generally considered safe for dogs. However in people side effects reported are similar to antidepressant medications such as – agitation, anxiety, vivid dreams, fatigue, and restlessness.
Contraindications? Not recommended to use within two weeks of sedated or anesthetic procedure. Not recommended for use in diabetic patients, pregnancy or puppies. There are also many different drug interactions reported in people – from heart medications, mood stabilizers – and also increases the side effects of anti-fungal medications (along with potentially other medications that are metabolized by the liver – this could include certain parasite preventatives).
What is Alpha-casozepin? Alpha-casozepin is the milk-derived bioactive peptide.
What research do we have to support Alpha-casozepin for Anxiety? There are three different studies that have looked at alpha-casozepin use for dogs with generalized anxiety, however there are no studies looking at use of alpha-casozepin for short-term anxiety such as strom phobias. Several additional studies with cats have shown positive results for management of both short-term and long-term anxiety.
How does Alpha-casozepin work? Alpha-casozepin works by using tryptic hydrolysis to achieve bioavailability to the dog – and it thought to have a similar mode of action as diazepam – by talking directly to the brain and spinal cord through GABA receptors.
Common Side Effects of Alpha-casozepin? Un-coordination and lethargy are common side effects, less common are stimulatory effects such as aggression, behavior change, and excitement.
Contraindications? No known contraindications, however liver toxicity has been found in some cats – suggesting that it may need to be given with caution to pets with liver conditions.
I hope you found this general overview of supplements to support your pup through their separation anxiety helpful! Just remember that supplements are only one tool to helping to manage your pup’s anxiety – having a good routine – along with doing counter conditioning and desensitization training are just as important (if not more so!).
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Til next time my Canine Health Nuts!