As our world’s pace becomes faster and more frenetic, anxiety is more common in people and unfortunately for our pets. I empathize with my many anxious patients. Often, pet parents don’t recognize when their cats and dogs are anxious and many things they do to help can make it worse.
In this article, I am going to outline my approach to anxiety for both cats and dogs. I use environmental and behavioral modification, supplements, exercise and occasionally pharmaceuticals to help ease anxiety in my patients.
What causes anxiety?
Anxiety can affect any dog, but there are definitely certain breeds of dogs that experience anxiety more commonly. Working dogs that generally have high drive tend to be the most affected. I see anxiety commonly in German Shepherd Dogs, Australian Shepherds, Jack Russell Terriers, Labrador Retrievers, and Australian Cattle Dogs. I haven’t appreciated a breed of cat that is more prone to anxiety.
A pet’s environment can play a large role in generating chronic anxiety. Multiple dog and cat households can be very stressful. This is especially true if there is conflict between any of the animals. Location of food, bedding and litter boxes can aggravate interpersonal relationships between animals. Here are few tactics that are easy to implement.
- Have as many litter boxes as you do cats, plus one. So if you have three cats, have four litter boxes. If it is possible to have at least one on each floor, that is preferable.
- Feed your pet’s separately. Mealtime can be a huge source of stress. For cats it maybe helpful if they cannot see each other.
Lack of exercise is the most common culprit I see in my practice. This is true for both dogs and cats. We have taken animals that were previously living outside with large habitats and put them in small houses and apartments. The same could be said for people as well! We sit at desks all day instead of walking miles to collect food and water. Every pet’s exercise needs are different depending on breed and the health of the pet. Below are a few tips to help meet your pet’s need for exercise:
- Cats. Get a toy on a stick and string that imitates the flight of a bird. Play with your kitty for several minutes and then feed him after he catches the toy. This helps mimic the prey cycle and helps your kitty exercise.
- Dogs. Walks are a dog’s meditation. Get your dog out for at least 15 minutes each day. Many dogs will require longer walks upwards to an hour or two.
Working with a trainer that uses only positive reinforcement and training methods can go a long way in reducing anxiety in dogs. When dogs know what is expected of them and feel confident in your ability to lead and care for them, their anxiety can be greatly reduced. A good trainer will also help you identify which of your behaviors may be causing more anxiety for your pup.
Most pet parents in my practice prefer to take a more natural approach and consider supplements to treat their dog or cat’s anxiety. There are two supplements that I have a very high success rate using. I have listed them below along with their pros and cons and when I find them to be most useful.
- Nutricalm. This supplement includes a great blend of soothing herbs and l-theanine. This helps increase serotonin in the brain and in my hands has been very effective in alleviating anxiety. I find it’s most useful for situational anxiety (car ride, house guests etc). You can also use it daily for long term use. This supplement is extremely cost effective but I have found it not to be as powerful as CBD (see below).
- CBD. I have been surprised by how many pets in my practice have greatly benefited from cannabis and it’s anxiety relieving properties. It is very important to note that dogs and cats with anxiety should use cannabis with high levels of CBD. THC, the psychoactive component of the marijuana plant, should be avoided in pets with anxiety as it can worsen symptoms. You can learn more about CBD for cats here and dogs here. I use HempRx as it is a high CBD cannabis extract with no THC. It is organically grown and not extracted using any harmful chemicals. It has high levels of other medicinal terpenes and flavanoids. For cats and small dogs I use HempRx oil and chews. For larger dogs I use HempRx Forte as it is more concentrated and therefore more economical.
Like most veterinarians, I prefer to use pharmaceuticals to treat anxiety as a last resort. I think behavioral modification and supplements can be greatly helpful. However, I have a few dogs in my practice that have experienced life changing effects of Prozac. I also have many animals in the practice that require pharmaceutical such as Xanax for storm phobias or long car rides.
As an integrative veterinarian, I believe in helping my patients find balance for the most comfortable life. If a small dose of Xanax will make the cross country car ride more bearable, we should take advantage of that option. If you are going to use pharmaceuticals like Prozac, make sure your veterinarian is regularly (every 6 months) monitoring your pet’s liver and kidney values.
Remember to work with a veterinarian and trainer that you trust. You are your pet’s advocate and you deserve to feel honored and supported.