Updated: Apr 2, 2021
We all know what stress is, we feel it in some way most days. Did you know that stress can have very negative impacts on your dog as well? Now, not all stress is bad, but the type of stress we want to avoid for our dogs also tends to be related to a behavioral issue. Aggression, reactivity, arousal issues, and more, all can have roots in fear, frustration, and anxiety. That being said, they all do have one thing in common, they cause your dog to be stressed.
Acute stress, or something very stressful over a short period of time, can cause harmful effects almost immediately. Decreased appetite, diarrhea, vomiting, and even colitis can be seen in animals suffering from acute stress. We see this in some dogs their first night in a boarding kennel or an animal shelter. Sometimes, you may even see this with a dog right after you adopt them and bring them to your home. Why some dogs display acute stress and others do not has a lot to do with their genetics as well as their experiences earlier in life.
Chronic or prolonged stress may be harder for people to identify or notice, but it is equally important. The longer a dog has to deal with stress the more likely they are to develop a behavior problem, for that problem to become more severe, or for them to even become ill. Heart disease, gastrointestinal disease, immune system suppression, decreased appetite or even anorexia, are just some diseases that can be caused by stress. Also, if your dog is already dealing with an underlying disease, stress can exacerbate that problem.
When we talk to people about reducing their dog’s stress, the most common phrase we hear is, “you mean like prozac?” The answer is, “Well, no, but... sort of.” As dog trainers we are not veterinarians and suggesting a pharmaceutical medication that would help your dog is far beyond our area of expertise. We have some amazing references for those who need that help though. We pick and choose what we can based on what we have in our so-called “tool box.” Here, we’ll go over our top choices for stress reducing supplements and aids.
Solliquin is a once daily, chewable tablet that can improve your dog’s behavioral health. This particular supplement does not have ingredients that will cause drowsiness in your dog but instead, helps them to naturally create their own defense against the effects of stress. Active ingredients include magnolia and phellodendron extracts, l-theanine from green tea, and whey protein concentrate. These ingredients can help in the production of glutathione, an antioxidant that can help protect the body's cells from the effects of stress, and serotonin, a neurotransmitter that can help mediate fear and anxiety.
Composure is a once daily, chewable treat that supports relaxation during times of stress and anxiety. This supplement also does not have ingredients that can cause drowsiness but it should be noted that Composure-Pro, does. Active ingredients include Thiamine (Vitamin B1), Colostrum Calming Complex® Biopeptide Blend, and L-Theanine. L-Theanine helps the body to increase levels of dopamine and serotonin to promote calming effects while Thiamine has antioxidant properties that can also guard the body from the effects of stress. VetriScience, makers of Composure, note in a self published study that, “colostrum calming complex supports brain activity, relaxation and cognitive function.” All things that help to support a dog during times of stress.
Adaptil comes in a variety of ways and releases a species specific pheromone that helps dogs to feel calm. All pheromones are species specific and they are released involuntarily and received that way as well. When puppies are with their mother, she releases a pheromone called “Dog Appeasing Pheromone” which helps puppies, adult dogs too, to feel calm and safe. Adaptil has developed a synthetic form of this pheromone and packaged it neatly in room diffusers, collars, and room sprays.
Now, don’t get hung up on the name. ThunderShirts are not just for thunder phobic dogs. This type of calming aid works through gentle, constant pressure. This constant pressure has been shown to cause the release of endorphins which promote a general sense of well being. A ThunderShirt should not be worn at all times as the dog will eventually get used to the feeling and the effects won’t be as great. Instead, this one should be used during times of stress.
Are you confused yet? The "why" behind these supplements isn’t necessarily what should play a big role in how you select them but rather, what works for your dog. Remember that every dog is an individual and trial and error can be the best way to go about finding the best supplement for your dog. Things to consider induce; price, ease of finding the product, will your dog actually eat it, any food allergies, etc. Whatever you decide on, remember that your dog, while dealing with stress, isn’t giving you a hard time. That behavior problem you’ve been dealing with is actually your dog struggling and having a hard time. Be patient, take a deep breath, and make a plan to help them better handle their stress with a training program and calming supplements when needed.
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