Should You Medicate Your Dog for Stress or Anxiety?
This is a subject that often incites strong opinion both for and against. With the launch of Sileo late in 2016, a product developed in the US specifically for the treatment of noise fear, Holidays4Dogs asks whether medicating anxious or dogs is useful. Or, does this prevent the dog from experiencing natural canine instincts, thereby impacting on animal welfare?
If you have a very anxious, or nervous dog, who finds experiences such as strangers coming to the door, loud noises, or novel situations difficult, you may have wondered whether medication might help.
The main thing that any owner should do when considering, what some would describe as a drastic measure, is to seek professional opinion and ask lots of questions beforehand. There are a great deal of different opinions on whether dogs should receive medication for canine anxiety, or stress.
How does medication work?
Sileo was launched in the US and specifically addresses dogs who have a fear of loud noises such as fireworks. Research has shown that around half the pet dog population has some issue with noise aversion. However, many would argue this is a perfectly natural reaction.
Sileo works by blocking norepinephrine which is a chemical similar to adrenalin in the dog’s brain. The medication is administered by rubbing gel onto the dog’s gums. This is then absorbed into the cheek tissue and begins to take effect after about thirty to sixty minutes. The effect last for around two to three hours and, in essence, mildly sedates the dog; it is in fact a similar drug to that used by vets for minor surgery on animals.
However, there are concerns the drug has a negative effect on the heart rate of some dogs. In addition, because the drug can be used in a home setting, there is the worry dogs could be given too much. In a society where taking medication as a quick fix has become the norm, this is likely to extend to providing the same for our pets too, rather than taking the time to get to the root of the problem.
There have certainly been a lot of advances in behavioural medication for dogs in recent years. For dogs with chronic fears, this can certainly impact on the quality of their lives and well being. However, many behaviourists are of the opinion that giving medications alone is never enough, without addressing the cause of the anxiety and providing training and behaviour modification at the same time.
If the dog is displaying aggressive tendencies, for example, medication is unlikely to help. Instead, owners need to learn how to handle their dogs to prevent problems occurring.
There is a worrying trend of administering drugs to pets as a way of modifying behaviour – something which is of concern to dog trainers and behaviourists. In fact, the Canine and Feline Behaviour Association UK, do not condone the use of drugs at all, even in conjunction with behaviour training.
Alternatives to drug treatments.
There are alternatives to medicating your dog for anxiety. Exercise is one of the best treatments for reducing anxiety and stress in humans and dogs! A good aerobic exercise workout has a similar mind altering effect as mild drugs and will help make a dog feel more relaxed and calm.
A consistent training programme is an essential, but this must be a reward-based positive approach. Inconsistency, or aggressive training methods, will result in a confused and stressed dog. As a result, they are more likely to demonstrate aggressive, or fearful tendencies.
For specific issues, such as fear of loud noises, you can embark on a programme of desensitization. This involves using recordings of particular sounds, such as fireworks.
In conjunction with positive training methods and counter conditioning, the dog’s panic reaction can be successfully reduced. Separation anxiety is another common issue in pet dogs, but this too can be helped with behaviour modification.
A good diet promotes mental well being in dogs just as it does in people. Research has proved that a having a healthy breakfast, for instance, improves mental performance. It also helps to make people feel alert and better able to deal with the trials and tribulations of the working day. It is a similar scenario for pets too – a healthy diet optimizes the dog’s physical and mental well being.
Natural Remedies are a good alternative to conventional medications. There are several natural herbs that are safe for dogs. These include;-
- Valerian is commonly used to reduce tension and anxiety.
- Skullcap is effective for nervous tension, including over excitability.
- Echinacea is a good remedy for boosting the immune system during times of stress.
- Chamomile is a good herb for reducing stress, calming nerves and inducing restful sleep.
Compression jackets, or pressure wraps, are a possible solution for dogs that are anxious, or fearful. They work in a similar way to the concept of swaddling a new born baby. This has had impressive results in university studies and has shown to bring about marked improvements in over 80% of dogs suffering from nervousness or, over excitability. One such product marketed as the, ‘Thunder-shirt’ is available to purchase from pet retailers and on-line.
In a nutshell, there may be times when medication could be appropriate in severe cases. However, medicating your dog for anxiety should never be a stand-alone, or quick-fix treatment. Before any medication is prescribed, the reason for the dog’s behaviour should be thoroughly investigated by professionals including veterinary practitioners and canine behaviourists.