The Stressed Pet

The Stressed Pet

Small dog hiding under blanket

By Dr. Bob Parrish on Oct 22, 2018

With the holidays knocking on the door very soon, we can all look forward to the activity and entertainment and gathering of family and friends that come with Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years.

For most, this will be a time of celebration and connection. For others, the holidays can be a stressful period as so many of us over-plan and over-do above and beyond our already hectic daily activities. And far too often, we feel we have to perform perfectly in order to have a successful holiday. For those individuals (and, believe me, I once followed that same taxing path for many years), I can assure you that it’s OK to let go and enjoy the moment. Your friends and family will love you just as much, even if you don’t make your famous fruitcake this year (in fact, they might love you more if you don’t make it !)

But what about our pets??? We seldom give much thought to the stress our pets have to endure. We recognize that many are visibly stressed when you introduce a new pet into the house… when they are taken to the groomer… when construction crews come and go while remodeling inside… when they are boarded while you go out of town… when a thunderstorm rattles and shakes the house… when you take them to the vet clinic. But many are also stressed by the over-activity that we create, which, of course, happens most frequently during the holidays. We create stress by piling on more things to do, and many pets feed off those emotional changes. Add to that the distressing popping of fireworks on New Year’s Eve. Plus, a house full of guests can be very disturbing. Kids and Grandkids are a delight, but their enthusiastic presence can send the cat, and sometimes the dog, scurrying to hide under the bed for days.

The good news is that there are several different strategies as well as natural remedies to help relieve your pets’ anxiety. Just as with people, not every approach or remedy works for every pet. You’ll likely need to experiment to see what is most effective for your pets.

The first thing I encourage is to have a safe haven where your pet can go to feel at ease and away from disruptive commotion. Sort of a ‘panic room’. It may be a closet, a crate or kennel, a bedroom or bathroom or basement. Let them decide where they feel most comfortable.

With dogs, it’s often useful to try a ‘thunder’ shirt or fairly tightly wrapped garment. Also, with some dogs, if you engage them with an enjoyable activity, such as giving them a treat, or encouraging them to play, this can serve as a useful and welcome distraction.

These simple techniques don’t always work, and sometimes we are not around to comfort them when a storm rages outside, or fireworks explode down the street. From a personal perspective, my wife Catherine and I give a product derived from green tea leaves, L-Theanine, to our terrified little Corgi-mix Lucy on a daily basis. We’ve noticed that she is more relaxed and engaging since being on it.  

L-Theanine is readily available online and in pharmacies.  Make sure the active form of L-Theanine listed on the bottle is Suntheanine. You can find it in a variety of strengths: 100mg, 150mg, 200mg, 250mg capsules, and it even comes in a liquid, making it convenient to give to dogs that are fussy about taking tablets or capsules.  A general guideline for dosing when stress is high:

10-20# – 100mg every 8 to 12 hours as needed (2 to 3 times daily)

20-40# – 200mg every 8 to 12 hours as needed

40-60# – 300mg every 8 to 12 hours as needed

60-80# – 400mg every 8 to 12 hours as needed

80+# – 500mg every 8 to 12 hours as needed

As a point of reference, Catherine gives our little Lucy (26#) a 200mg capsule once a day, every day.

Many pet owners have found their pets respond well to Adaptil (dogs) and Feliway (cats) that come in a spray, or a plug-in infuser.  These products mimic pheromones, which are chemical substances naturally produced and released into the environment which can affect the behavior of other animals. We use these in veterinary situations to help relieve stress among pets. In households with multiple cats, Feliway can have a noticeable calming effect to reduce the anxiety created by territoriality or by the subtle aggression of an “alpha-kitty”.

Ashwagandha (Indian Ginseng) has received an incredible amount of attention in the last 3 to 5 years for its use to help relieve stress, boost the immune system, and its anti-inflammatory benefits in people. Most crucially, it can be safely given to pets as well.

As a guideline for Dogs, give 250mg of Ashwagandha for every 15 lbs of body weight twice a day.  

For Cats, give 100 to 150mg for a 10 lb cat twice daily.

A long-time favorite of mine for Cats is good ol’ Catnip. I recommend putting a fresh, new catnip toy in your kitty’s carrier when you are going to transport them somewhere.  While nothing works all the time, it is certainly worth trying to help your stressed kitty travel more comfortably.

While space prevents me from giving complete details, other products worth considering include Chamomile, 5-HTP, Vitamin B6 (as Pyridoxine HCl), Rhodiola and Tulsi (Holy Basil). All are known to be safe in pets when given at appropriate doses.  

Of course, if you feel the need to try some of these remedies on yourself, I think you may find great value and benefit to get you through a less stress-filled holiday. Let Aunt Martha make the fruitcake this year and be sure to hide that thunder shirt with an ugly Christmas sweater!

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