by Dr. Nicole Rous, Veterinarian
It’s common these days for pets to display anxious behaviour just like humans do. But, what do you do when this behaviour escalates to anxiety? Many dogs with anxiety will need pharmaceutical drugs to help manage the condition but, did you know that there are a lot of things that are natural that pet parents can do to help improve the quality of life for their pet with anxiety and sometimes even reduce the need for medication.
These are my top 4 tips for dog anxiety. I recommend these for all my patients experiencing anxious behaviour or anxiety.
#1 - Routine.
Dogs cope better with their mental health when they have a predictable routine. Feeding, sleeping, and exercise are all important to be predictable. What doesn’t work with routine and anxiety is triggering behaviours such as picking up your keys or putting a coat on. If your dog has anxiety make sure your pattern behaviours associated with anxiety triggering behaviour such as leaving the house are always predictable.
#2 - Nose work and chewing.
Anxiety with dogs is often managed better when the brain is busy or tired. Complementing this with behaviours that promote independence is a win-win. Ensure, when you are at home, you provide your dog with a nose work or chewing activity that lasts 20 minutes each day. This is a good stint of time to help release the happy hormones oxytocin, serotonin and dopamine as well as good dental prevention if it’s a chew. When your dog does this and you are home, your dog learns that it can rely on itself to be happy and is less likely to develop separation anxiety. Nose work activities can be googled but they’re basically an activity that works the brain using the nose. In its simplest form it’s hiding treats and getting your dog to find them, and the complexity rises from there. One of my favourite tricks is putting peanut butter in a chew treat that has a hollow area.
#3 - Assessing your lifestyle.
Assess if your lifestyle is suitable for an anxious dog? If you’re out at work a lot you may need to consider getting a dog walker in to walk your dog. If you travel a lot for work you may need to get a reliable dog sitter or family member that can bond with your dog and provide consistency when you’re not there. There are also doggy daycare services available to drop off your dog on the way to work to help keep them entertained and safe during the day. It can be worth considering utilising a dog trainer to help you assess your house and habits to set you up to reduce anxiety triggering behaviours in your home.
#4 - Natural therapies and diet.
There is an abundance of natural therapies available now to support anxious pets. Be careful of marketing and claims to treat anxiety as they should be regulated by the APVMA. It is worth exploring supplements as well as essential oils (yes, lavender has some great research behind it!) and physical therapies such as acupuncture. All these things have the potential to improve daily management of anxiety. Even putting on some background music or TV can help some pets cope with their anxiety, especially those prone to separation anxiety. It is also important to assess diet in anxious pets, food can be some of the best medicine of all. The gut produces the precursor of one of our happy hormones, serotonin, so feeding a diet high in foods containing tryptophan (which stimulates the production) will help – eggs and turkey are two good examples, and reducing foods which suppress the production which are highly processed foods and foods high in trans-fats or sugar.
About the Author - Dr. Nicole Rous
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