Thunderstorms and spring trips to the vet or groomer may be warm weather phobias that send your dog or cat into full panic mode, whining, barking frantically, trembling, pacing! Holistic veterinarians can suggest solutions for this distress which are healthier than conventional tranquilizers. An effective natural solution often requires a multimodal approach however.
Nervous attempts to calm your pet can make matters worse. You need to be the voice of reason. You need to be calm and confident. Go about your business as if everything is fine and routine. Your pet looks to you for courage and strength. Too much wooing and cooing can make him think that there is a reason to be concerned.
Play some relaxing music in your home if it is raining and lightning, or in your car if your pet is distraught while traveling in a vehicle. However, this is not the time for rock music!
Thundershirts mimic the effect attained when one swaddles an infant. The snugness of a blanket, a onesie, a tight t-shirt provides a sense of security. Some pets will hide in the bathtub, under the bed or in a closet to try to achieve this same effect on their own. Some brands of thundershirts provide extra pressure at acupuncture points which are associated with sedation. Most pets are calmer and safer if restrained in a carrier or pet seatbelt when traveling in a vehicle on the way to an unnerving appointment.
A flower essence blend called Rescue Remedy has been used for years to calm anxious humans and animals. As this is a homeopathic, it is most effective when the symptom picture is matched, if it is selected as a remedy. Since, this is often not possible, you will find this product works like a charm for some individuals and not at all for others. Because it is not consistently effective, I do not routinely recommend it, however, it does not hurt to try it. Flower essences are extremely safe.
I have found western herbal formulations to be more reliable than homeopathics, however they are very dose dependent. They only work if you give enough. I use glycerin extracts for dogs and cats. They are weaker than alcohol extracts, but sweeter, therefore much more palatable, especially for cats. My favorite product is the Animal Apawthecary Tranquility Blend. This liquid is safe for a dog or cat. I recommend one full dropper orally for a cat or tiny dog, up to four full droppers for a large dog such as a retriever. This takes twenty to thirty minutes to relax your pet, so you need to plan accordingly. This can be used several times in one day if needed. This should not be used daily long term. The energetics of foods and herbs can diminish or exacerbate anxiety. The Animal Apawthecary blend of valerian, skullcap, oatstraw and passion flower was expertly formulated by Greg Tilford, a trusted herbalist who authored Herbs for Pets and harvests quality plants from his land in Montana.
In 1969, a study performed on cats given valerian orally showed a decrease in restlessness, fear and aggression. Lab animal research has demonstrated sedative and anticonvulsant properties of valerian whole herb extract and some of its constituents via an influence on GABAnergic neurons.
If daily calming is needed, a Chinese herbal formulation may be beneficial. Dr. Huisheng Xie, founder and instructor at the Chi Institute, a foremost veterinary acupuncture school in Florida, has formulated a 16 herbal blend called “Shen Calmer”. Shen means mind. Pets and horses who are “shen disturbed” will relax, fidget less, travel better and be more receptive to training, veterinary or grooming care when they consume this plant combination on a regular basis. This brown powder can be mixed in food. One of the herbals contained within is Chai hu, also known as bupleurum. In mice studies, it has not only been shown to have sedative properties, but also immunostimulant and liver protective. Research on its constituents has demonstrated analgesic, antipyretic, anti-inflammatory and even antibiotic effects.
Another very pleasant modality used to soothe man and beast is aromatherapy. A cold air, nebulizing diffuser is the best method to deliver potent calming essential oils to an anxious patient. However, a drop on the fur or pet bed can be quick, simple, effective and inexpensive. Tiny “diffusers” are also manufactured to attach to a pet’s collar. Perhaps the essential oil with the most notoriety for calming is lavender. My favorite blend is called Peace and Calming. It contains blue tansy, patchouli, tangerine, orange, and ylang ylang. Tangerine contains esters and aldehydes which are sedating and calming. A 1995 Mie University study documented the ability of citrus fragrances to bring about a sense of security in humans. Animals are more sensitive to the effects of oils.
Many pets will calm with a gentle touch or even enjoy a massage. I call massage “petting with intent”.
You may combine, in fact you should combine, several of these techniques for maximum effectiveness.