Does your dog hide in the bathtub during thunderstorms or bark excessively when guests enter the house? Or do they spend most of their day trembling and looking for dangers behind every corner?
If so, you understand the hardships of living with an anxious dog. The destructive behavior. Accidents in the house. Maybe even a tendency toward aggression. As hard as these things are on you, their likely even harder on your pup.
Many owners with nervous dogs turn to supplements to help their pooch chill out. But do these over-the-counter remedies actually work?
With so many dog calming products on the market, how do you know what will work for your dog? Understanding the ingredients is the first step to picking the best supplement for your anxious canine.
The answer, unfortunately, depends on the dog and the type of anxiety they suffer from. Luckily, knowing how different herbs and tinctures work to calm your dog’s system will help you find a supplement that is more likely to work for your dog’s specific situation.
In this article, we’ll look at some common calming treat ingredients and their benefits. Then we’ll review some of the best supplements on the market so you can find the right one to turn your paranoid pup into stress-free fido.
What Kind of Anxiety Does Your Pooch Suffer From?
I know, it sounds like a question that an over-priced dog psychologist might ask. But understanding the two basic types of anxiety dogs suffer from, will help you better pinpoint the right herbs and remedies to help them relax.
You know what an anxious dog looks like, but do you know what type of anxiety your pup has? Understanding this will help you pick the right calming supplement for them.
The most common type of anxiety dogs suffer from is “situational” or the kind that appears only under specific circumstances. This can be anything from thunderstorms, you leaving the house, guests coming over, certain sounds, to being boarded. Some dogs may even suffer extreme anxiety to rarer events like flying or moving to a new house.
Dogs with situational anxiety do best on supplements meant to be given on an “as needed” basis.
Dogs who are constantly anxious no matter the situation, fall into the category of generalized anxiety. Some breeds, such as chihuahuas and pointers, are more prone to this type of anxiety. These pups do best on supplements meant to be given daily and those that work to correct imbalances in the system. Dogs with compulsive behaviors and those who react anxiously to situations that happen frequently, such as a dog who is afraid of people, also fall into this category.
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Some dogs only get anxious during specific situations, like when they are around other dogs, while others are anxious almost all the time.
Common Ingredients in Calming Supplements
Calming supplements come in a variety of forms from treats to tinctures to powders. What’s in them can vary significantly as well. Which formula will work for your dog depends on each ingredient’s interaction with their system.
While working with dogs with behavioral problems, I found certain herbs worked better for dogs exhibiting certain types of anxious behaviors. What they were reacting to played a part in the effectiveness of different ingredients as well. Let’s look at some common calming supplement ingredients and how they affect the body.
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L-tryptophan is found in many protein-dense foods like turkey and tofu and can also be taken as a supplement to balance serotonin and melatonin hormones.
Does this common calming supplement ingredient sound familiar to you? That’s probably because you’ve heard the myth that gorging on turkey at Thanksgiving causes drowsiness thanks to the amino acid tryptophan. While this explanation isn’t exactly true, it is true that L-tryptophan is a precursor to the hormones serotonin and melatonin. And both of these are associated with feeling calm and sleepy.
This sounds promising as something that might decrease anxiety. Unfortunately, studies on the use of L-tryptophan in dogs have shown little to no effect on anxious behavior.
This is one of the more common herbal ingredients in calming supplements both for people and dogs. Valerian root is not only effective in calming anxiety, but also in reducing insomnia and quieting a spastic colon.
This herb can be used as a sedative when given in frequent small doses for a short period of time. This method is especially useful when started a few days before a high-stress event such as travel.
Valerian is not recommended for dog’s whose fear often turns to aggression as it is likely to compound these “hot” behaviors.
How your high-strung dog reacts when they’re stressed can dictate which herbs will work the best. Aggressive dogs do not do well on valerian but often react positively to passion flower.
This is another herb that is common in human calming supplements and teas. It can also help our canine companions by inducing a feeling of easy calm and in helping them sleep. Like valerian, this herb is especially useful for dogs who experience digestive upset during times of high anxiety.
This is by far one of my favorite herbs for dogs that suffer from generalized anxiety. Passionflower has a calmative effect on the mind and nerves. In humans, it eases racing thoughts and increases an overall sense of well-being. Passionflower is especially beneficial for dogs who are likely to fear-bite, are prone to object guarding, or tend to act jealous.
Another common calming supplement ingredient that is beneficial for generalized anxiety is skullcap. This herb affects the nervous system directly and helps reduce the sensitivity of the peripheral nerves. It is great for dogs who tremble, twitch or are generally restless and high strung.
Many calming supplements contain herbs like chamomile, skullcap, and passionflower that naturally induce relaxation in both humans and dogs.
Melatonin is a more recent addition to many calming supplements. This hormone plays a key role in regulating the internal clock and is released at night to induce sleepiness in humans. In dogs, supplementing with melatonin decreases anxiety and is especially beneficial for dogs who suffer from noise phobia.
Thiamine, or vitamin B1, is an essential vitamin for dogs that must be ingested in proper amounts. It helps regulate carbohydrate metabolism and is key in the function of the brain and other organs. While there have not been many studies on the use of thiamine as a calming supplement, it is included in many formulas along with other B vitamins for their apparent positive effect on mood and energy.
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This is another common amino acid found in calming supplements. L-theanine increase both dopamine and GABA in the brain, resulting in a more relaxed state of mind. It is so effective in reducing anxiety in dogs, that some prescription anxiety drugs utilize L-theanine in their formulas. It is especially helpful when given before specific anxiety-producing situations like fireworks and car rides.
Sometimes, even generally calm dogs can fall victim to anxiety if their life changes suddenly, like with the addition of a new baby. L-theanine and other mood stabilizers can be helpful in restoring their normal, calmer persona.
Hemp and CBD Oil
As more and more states legalize the use of medical and recreational marijuana, the addition of cannabis-related ingredients in dog calming supplements has increased. Neither hemp oil or CBD oil contain the psychoactive ingredient THC that pot is famous for. But that is where the similarities between these two ingredients end. When looking at dog calming supplements, it is important to understand the differences in these two ingredients.
Unfortunately, CBD is not widely available in all states. While hemp plants (cannabis plants that contain virtually no THC) are legal in all states, marijuana plants (cannabis plants that contain THC) are still a schedule 1 drug under federal law. The best source of CBD oil is from marijuana, not hemp, and therefore hard to find for sale on the internet and in states where pot has not been legalized.
The cannabis plant contains many beneficial mood-stabilizing compounds like hemp oil and CBD that can help your dog stay calmer and more balanced.
Hemp oil, on the other hand, is extracted from the seeds of the hemp plant and legal to sell throughout the US. But this ingredient does not contain any CBD. In fact, there is no direct link between hemp oil and a reduction in anxiety. More than likely, many calming treats for dogs contain hemp oil because of the ingredient’s perceived similarities to CBD.
But that’s not to say hemp oil doesn’t have benefits for the stressed-out pooch. It is high in omega-3 fatty acids, which have been shown to decrease anxiety in human studies. Hemp oil also supports the proper functioning of the endocannabinoid system in the body. This system is responsible for many things including emotions. So, even if hemp oil doesn’t directly reduce anxiety the way some other herbs do, it can still be beneficial to your dog.
Flower Essences and Essential Oils
Most calming supplements come in the form of treats, but tinctures and oils can also be helpful in reducing stress.
Flower essence tinctures are made by soaking different flowers in water and preserving the resulting “energized” mixture with alcohol. While the whole concept may sound a little out there to some, flower essences can have profound impacts on the emotional wellbeing of humans and animals and many people swear by them.
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Flower essences and essential oils are both derived from plants and can have a powerful impact on your dog’s anxiety.
Essential oils are created by distilling different plants down to a pure oil form. Depending on the plant type, these oils can be used to treat anything from skin problems and infections to anxiety and hypertension. In France, essential oils are even used in hospitals.
To learn more about using essential oils safely for your dog, click here.
The 5 Best Calming Supplements for Your Anxious Dog
First up on our list of the best calming treats for anxious dogs is a product that contains a long list of effective calming herbs, oils, and amino acids. Mylo anxiety relief calming treats are advertised to help with anything from separation anxiety to doggy sleep problems.
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The first ingredient in these treats is hemp seed powder. Much like the purified hemp seed oil, the powder contains a high amount of healthy omegas to support and balance your dog’s system. While this and the second ingredient, L-tryptophan, don’t directly affect anxiety, they are both key elements to maintaining emotional health.
This formula contains both valerian and passionflower which work together as a catch-all sedative for dogs of almost all types. But, with the inclusion of valerian, this might not be the best choice if your pup also has a tendency towards aggression.
Chamomile and skullcap round out the herbal additions to these treats and give them a boost of calming power. L-theanine and the neurotransmitter it supports, GABA, are also included to supply the brain with a blast of relaxation-inducing hormones.
The majority of the ingredients in this supplement work to create balance and a lasting sense of calm in your dog. For this reason, it is most effective for dogs suffering from generalized or long-term anxiety. An additional dose can be given in times of extreme stress, which is perfect if you have a high-strung dog who tends to really lose it at the vet, the groomers, or in the car.
The majority of customers who try this product are happy with the results they see. That kind of confidence in the results is good considering the price tag on this product. A single container of this calming supplement will cost you more than any other product on our list. But the wide range of ingredients makes it more likely this tool will help your dog find some calm no matter their situation.
The second supplement on our list of calming treats is one that I have personally found success with in my own anxious chihuahua. NaturVet’s quiet moments contain a shorter list of ingredients with a more targeted effect than our first supplement.
This formula contains the herbs chamomile, passionflower, and ginger. All three work together to calm the nerves and all are especially helpful if your dog experiences digestive upset during stressful events. Because this formula does not valerian and does contain high amounts of passionflower, it is a great choice if your dog can get aggressive or tends to fear bite.
Thiamine and L-tryptophan are also included in this formula to maintain balance within the emotional system.
But it is the last ingredient that really sets this supplement apart from others on the list. Melatonin is a powerful calming aid for dogs that suffer from noise phobia. If you’re looking for a supplement to keep your dog from racing to the bathtub during thunderstorms, this one is worth trying.
My chihuahua is the epitome of a nervous dog. He fears new people and new situations. But, with a continuously modified regiment of daily and targeted doses of calming supplements, he has learned how to settle down and enjoy life a little more.
The combination of balancing amino acids, vitamins, and herbs with the targeting effect of melatonin make this supplement effective for both types of anxiety. For dogs with generalized anxiety, this supplement can be used for longer periods of increased stress, such as when guests visit. But it can also be used for dogs that suffer from increased anxiety around specific situations such as storms and fireworks.
As an added benefit, these chews are about half the price of our first choice, treat for a treat. Because it contains fewer ingredients than some others on this list, it’s unlikely all dogs will see the same benefits of this product. But those with specific anxieties to noise and those with maintained periods of increased stress are likely to be much calmer on this supplement.
Our third choice comes from Zesty Paws. These calming treats are similar to our number one choice with a few key differences.
Like the Mylo treats, these ones contain valerian, hemp powder, passionflower and L-tryptophan to support and balance the nervous system while helping keep your dog more sedate. This formula also contains Suntheanine, a patented form of L-theanine that is created in a lab and said to be purer than traditional sources. This amino acid produces alpha waves that keep the brain in a more relaxed state.
Another key difference in this formula is the inclusion of ginger and magnesium. Ginger in conjunction with chamomile calms the body and the gut. Magnesium works as a muscle relaxer that can also help reduce fear and irritability in your dog.
Like our first choice, this supplement works best for dogs with generalized anxiety. It should be given daily and allowed to build up slowly in the system (half doses at first) until you know how your dog will react. Unlike our first two products, it is not recommended that the normal dose be increased to compensate for times of extra stress.
If you’ve tried treats and powders and are hoping to find something a little different to help your dog deal with stress, our fourth choice may be right for you. Rescue Remedy by Bach is a powerful flower essence that can help your dog remain relaxed even under stressful situations.
Rescue Remedy tincture is actually a mixture of five flower essences. The first, impatiens, works to lower stress and frustration. The second, Star of Bethlehem, works to alleviate the negative effects of trauma. The third, cherry plum, can transform feelings of fear into courage. The fourth, Rock Rose, is specific to calming feelings of panic and terror. And the last, clematis, helps bring focus and clarity to the present moment.
I, personally, have had success using a couple of drops of this tincture on a treat during times when my dogs were experiencing extreme anxiety. But the most memorable experience I have working with Rescue Remedy was with my horse growing up. He was a little high strung and spooked easily. A few drops on a snack before our ride and he was transformed. His head hung low, his lips were drooping and he couldn’t care less about flags blowing in the breeze or trash cans falling over.
Rescue Remedy is an all-natural tincture that uses energy imprints to help stabilize your dog’s mood.
Rescue Remedy works best for situational anxiety and when given before the fear-inducing stimulus occurs, if possible. A second dose can be given for prolonged or extra stressful situations. This supplement is unlikely to show noticeable results long-term when used for dogs who are generally high strung or always nervous.
Our final choice for the best calming supplements for anxious dogs is Vetri-Science’s Composure. Of all our treats, this one contains the shortest list of ingredients.
First, is thiamine. Like all B vitamins, this one works to support balance in the nervous system as well as many other important tasks in the body.
This formula also contains L-theanine, the amino acid that helps slow brain waves and create a sense of calm. This particular ingredient makes this supplement a powerful tool in fighting situational anxiety.
The one ingredient that really sets this supplement apart from the others is Colostrum Calming Complex. This patented mixture of peptides is made from colostrum, the type of milk first produced after a mammal gives birth. It contains a number of hormones and proteins meant to keep newborns relaxed and calm while creating a feeling of safety.
Composure chews come in different sizes for different breeds and can be easily split in half to get the right dose for your dog.
Because of the unique blend of colostrum components and balancing vitamins and amino acids, this treat is useful for both generalized anxiety and situational anxiety. However, with such a limited ingredients list, this product is less likely to be effective on a range of dogs suffering from different types of anxiety. If your dog reacts positively to B vitamins, Gaba, or L-theanine, then this product may be very beneficial. If not, then the results are likely to be more muted.
Help Your Pup Relax and Live Stress-Free
With the right calming supplement and the right behavior modification plan, your nervous Nelly will soon be howling with happiness as they learn to enjoy an anxiety-free life.
Finding the right calming supplement to help your pup deal with their anxiety is just the first step toward reaching a stress-free life. Behavioral training, including counterconditioning and desensitization, to help them overcome their fears is a must if your dog is afraid of specific objects or situations.
Adding a scheduled regimen of calming supplements in conjunction with the above will set you and your stressed-out pooch on the road to calmer days.
Sara Seitz has spent most of her life in the pet industry and has a bachelors in animal behavior from Colorado State University. Sara started working with dogs and cats as a high schooler at a rural boarding kennel. There she learned a lot about the bad and the ugly of the pet service industry. But not even the toughest day at that job would dissuade Sara from following her dream of working with animals.
In college, Sara got a job at a dog daycare and boarding facility in Fort Collins, Colorado. Her new career provided even more opportunities for learning about dog behavior than her classes did. As general manager of the daycare, Sara helped the company launch a new in-home pet sitting branch and trained to become a certified dog trainer. Between shifts taking care of peoples pets in-home and supervising dogs during playtime at the daycare, Sara organized and taught obedience classes.
Sara has always been passionate about bettering the lives of our canine companions. She soon found that advocating for and educating owners in the power of positive reinforcement training was one of the best ways to help dogs and their owners live happier lives.