Many everyday life events can stress even the most laid-back of pets. Events like thunderstorms, boarding, trips in the car, a visit to the vet, and, of course, fireworks. Even a house full of guests or a change in routine can be upsetting to your pet.
What sends your dog or cat crawling under the couch, pacing or trembling at your feet with fear?
For some pets, it doesn't take much to ignite their fear response. Storm-phobic dogs and cats can actually learn to read the signs of an approaching storm. All it takes is a drop in atmospheric pressure or the sound of wind, and they start to panic.
Even the discomfort of a hot summer day is enough to stress out many dogs and cats. High temperatures – indoors or outside – can make them feel agitated and distressed.
Pet parents often ask me what they can do to help calm anxious pets during stressful times. I know it is heartbreaking to watch your beloved pet suffer. It's only natural to want to do everything you can to help.
First, let’s examine what may be stressing out your dog or cat. You may be surprised at how multiple sources of stress can add up and take their toll on his well-being.
The Real and Not-so-Obvious Stressors That Can Threaten Your Pet’s Health and Lifespan
Besides the obvious stressors of thunderstorms and holiday fireworks, what types of events and conditions can create stress in your pet?
- Loud noises
- Changes in household routine
- New pet or family member, or loss of pet or human
- Separation from family members (separation anxiety)
- Invasion of personal space (such as hugging or restraining)
- Changes in housing or boarding
- Punishment-based training (shock collars, yelling and hitting)
- Stressful relationships with household members or pets
Obviously, not all causes of stress are avoidable. But, no matter the cause, you need to know that stressful events like these are very real for your pet.
For many dogs and cats, these types of events unleash feelings of terror and fear. Pets have been known to break a window in an attempt to escape, tear drapes and chew furniture in the midst of panic.
With dogs, genetics may play a role in storm phobia. Certain breeds tend to be more predisposed. A survey found herding dogs like collies, German shepherds, beagles and basset hounds were more likely to react to storms than other dogs. Rescued dogs often experience storm phobia.
Because cats relate to their surroundings through their senses of sound and smell, loud noises can be frightening to them. Cats can even be fearful of rain and instinctively seek a sheltered location, such as under a bed, for safety.
Do You Make This Common Mistake That Can Make Your Pet More Fearful?
The first instinct for many caring pet owners is to try to calm and soothe their pets during stressful times. However, you may be unknowingly reinforcing fearful behaviors and instilling more fear in your pet with your actions.
Take a close look at your own behavior and that of family members. Do you or others react fearfully to storms? Feelings of stress, fear and anxiety in your household, even unrelated to the storm, can make your pet respond negatively.
I advise pet parents to go about their normal routine and avoid paying special attention to their pet while they exhibit signs of fear during stressful events. Do your best to remain relaxed and upbeat.
It’s important to resist the temptation to excessively pamper your pet during storms or fireworks as this can reward – and reinforce – the unwanted behavior. Above all, do not scold or punish your pet for a natural response to what's perceived as a real threat to them.
That said, I don’t advise ignoring your pet while in a distressed situation. Research shows stress can seriously affect the well-being and even lifespan of dogs especially.
When under stress, your dog’s body releases an excessive amount of the “fight or flight” hormone norepinephrine, which can alter his gut microbiome and interfere with gastrointestinal function.
How can you tell if your pet is feeling stressed? He may experience any of the following behaviors:
- Yawning, panting and lip licking
- Trembling and shaking
- Reduced appetite
- Loose stools
- Tail lowered or tucked
- Ears pulled or pinned back
- Crouching, cowering or hiding
- Increased whining, howling or barking
When you notice one or more of these signs and suspect your pet may be feeling stressed, what can you do to comfort your cat or dog?
4 Ways to Comfort Your Pet Without Rewarding Unwanted Behaviors
There are things you can do that won’t reward unwanted behaviors. I must caution you, however, to start as early as possible as phobias tend to worsen with each repeated incident.
- Give your pet a “safe” place to retreat.
Have a dark room, closet or bathroom for your pet to escape to when a storm is approaching or during fireworks, especially when you’re not home. Basements are ideal. To provide comfort for your dog, place a solid-sided crate in the room with the door open along with some food, water, treats and favorite toys.
Help acclimate your pet to the room in advance by making it a place for fun activities, treats and gentle, soothing massage. Keep the lights on during a storm to minimize the flash of lightning. Play calming music.
- Try distracting your pet.
Ask your dog to perform a familiar command and provide rewards for his cooperation. This technique distracts both of you – your dog from his fear of the storm and you from the temptation to reinforce your pet’s behavior.
Attempt to engage your pet in play or offer your dog a bone or healthy chew, such as our Dental Chew Bones. Distract your pet with loving touch, massage and treats.
- Consider getting your dog or cat a "storm" comfort jacket or cape.
"Storm" jackets or shirts are special garments designed to hug your pet’s body as if they’re being swaddled. These can provide comfort for many dogs and even cats, and help during stressful events.
A storm wrap or cape helps shield your pet from static electricity that can build up during storms. Electrical shocks from storms only add more discomfort for an already stressed animal.
- Use supplements and natural remedies.
Lavender essential oil helps reduce the stress response in dogs (avoid use around cats), so placing a few drops on your dog’s collar or diffusing it in your home may be helpful. Calming adaptogenic herbs and nutraceuticals can also benefit stressed dogs and cats.
How Stress Support Can Help Your Dog or Cat Feel More Comfortable During Stressful Times
Over the years in my private veterinarian practice, I’ve used certain “go-to” herbs and nutrients to help dogs and cats cope during stressful times while supporting their normal endocrine balance.
Because there wasn’t a product that contained all of my favorite calming agents, I decided to create a custom blend called Stress Support for Cats & Dogs.
I recommend using Stress Support for major stressors like thunderstorms, fireworks, and veterinarian and grooming appointments. It can also be useful for occasional stressful situations like hot weather, trips, boarding or welcoming a new pet or family member into your household.
Please keep in mind that Stress Support is not intended to be a "personality changer in a jar."
It won't change unwanted behaviors, such as stopping your dog from chasing your cat or correcting other behavioral problems. It’s also not designed to calm your hyperactive puppy. Only consistent training and behavior modification can accomplish these things.
Stress Support is a special blend of eight nutraceuticals and adaptogenic herbs with phytochemicals, neurotransmitters and other active compounds that work together to support a healthy calm response to stress:
- Organic Tulsi Holy Basil (Ocimum sanctum) Leaf Powder
- Organic Rhodiola (Rhodiola rosea) Root Extract
- Ashwagandha Root Powder
- GABA (Gamma-Amino Butyric Acid)
- Chamomile Flower Powder
- 5-HTP (5-Hydroxytryptophan) (from Griffonia simplicifolia Seed Extract)
- Vitamin B6 (from Pyridoxine HCl)
Antioxidant-Rich Tulsi Holy Basil Helps Calm Stressed Pets
Tulsi Holy Basil has been widely known in India for more than 5,000 years. Early Ayurvedic texts mention its use as a safe and effective herb in veterinary medicine.
The leaves of the antioxidant-rich Tulsi plant contain hundreds of compounds known as phytochemicals that support:
- A balanced immune response
- Normal emotional balance
- Gastrointestinal comfort
Because I recommend using only organically grown Tulsi or Holy Basil, that’s what I've included in my Stress Support formula – Organic Tulsi direct from India.
Our Certified Organic Tulsi producer has received the rights to harvest Tulsi in central and northern India. They are among the few herbal companies in India to receive organic and kosher certifications, as well as certifications in Safe Food Quality and Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP).
Working hard to educate growers and farmers in sustainable organic farming methods, our producer firmly believes in creating win-win scenarios for all parties involved.
A Simple Amino Acid Originally Isolated From Green Tea Without the Caffeine
First discovered in tea leaves in 1950, L-Theanine has been extensively studied for its calming effects in dogs and cats.
L-Theanine is absorbed through the membrane of the large intestine and is transported directly to the brain where it stimulates mentally alert, yet calming alpha waves.
Although tea leaves are a natural source of the amino acid, L-Theanine only represents 1 to 2% of the dry weight of tea leaves. Not only is it costly and time-consuming to extract L-Theanine from tea leaves, you typically don't get a pure product from tea.
Structurally and functionally identical to the L-Theanine found in tea leaves, a pure, clean L-Theanine is available through a proprietary process. This is the form of L-Theanine included in Stress Support.
Derived from another naturally occurring amino acid, it's standardized to 98% pure L-Theanine. Most importantly, it's completely caffeine-free, unlike regular green tea.
Rhodiola and Ashwagandha: A Duo of Outstanding Adaptogen Herbs to Help Your Pet’s Body Adapt to Stress
Adaptogens are agents that can help your pet's body adapt to physical, chemical and environmental stress.
Rhodiola rosea or "golden root" is a perennial plant and has long been known to be a true, potent adaptogen.
The finest-quality Rhodiola rosea, in my opinion, comes from Siberia. For Stress Support, our supplier provides us with Certified Organic Rhodiola that's harvested from the Atlai region of Siberia in Russia.
Rhodiola contains substances – like rosavin, rosaridin, rosin, salidroside and tyrosol – that directly support the central nervous system and support resistance against harmful physical and emotional stress. It specifically supports the heart in resisting the adverse effects of stress.
Ashwagandha or "Indian Ginseng" is a small evergreen perennial shrub found in India. The Ashwagandha Root Powder in my Stress Support formula is grown in healthy, fertile soil and no harmful chemicals are used during the growing, drying or production phases.
Another powerful adaptogen, Ashwagandha supports healthy, balanced endocrine function, which includes the adrenal and thyroid glands. It can help your pet feel relaxed and calm.
Chamomile – Just as Calming for Your Pet as It Is for You
One of the most popular relaxing herbs in the Western world, Chamomile originally dates back thousands of years to the ancient Egyptians, Romans and Greeks.
Native to Europe, North Africa and parts of Asia, Chamomile is a plant with small daisy-like flowers and often found growing wild.
The dried flowers contain many terpenoids and flavonoids, including beneficial volatile oils, and are used to make tea, herbal powders and extracts.
Although it's been used historically for humans, most of the studies on Chamomile have been done on animals, especially surrounding its calming qualities.
Chamomile also has a calming effect on the nerves and the digestive tract, and may be especially helpful for pets who get an upset stomach when stressed.
For this reason, I added Chamomile Flower Powder to my Stress Support formula.
5-HTP, and No Tryptophan in Stress Support
In 1989, an unfortunate incident occurred that would forever change the face of tryptophan.
A Japanese shipment of tryptophan was found to contain contaminants, but only after it sickened numerous people.
Much like the massive melamine pet food recall of 2007, the cause wasn't necessarily inferior food – or tryptophan. It was the presence of contaminants in the food and tryptophan that caused pets and humans to suffer. The issue with contamination of tryptophan has long been corrected, but, sadly, the ingredient still carries around its "tainted" reputation.
Practitioners value tryptophan for its serotonin-promoting benefits.
5-Hydroxytryptohan, or 5-HTP, is created by tryptophan, and 5-HTP, in turn, converts into serotonin, which supports concentration and feelings of well-being. When levels of serotonin are too low, fear, aggression and anxiety can emerge.
5-HTP is actually superior to tryptophan because it's better absorbed in the gut. Plus, it’s able to pass through the blood-brain barrier to directly access your pet’s brain and nervous system. I prefer it to tryptophan, which is why it’s included in Stress Support.
GABA: Could a Single Neurotransmitter Help Promote Calm in Your Pet?
GABA, or Gamma-Aminobutyric acid, is made in your pet’s brain and is one of the most important neurotransmitters – or chemicals that carry signals between nerve cells – in your pet's central nervous system. It sends messages through the brain and nervous system and controls the activity of neurons or nerve cells.
Stress and anxiety are linked to lower levels of brain neurotransmitters, including GABA. Researchers have found that too little GABA in the nervous system can contribute to feelings of panic and anxiety.
Likewise, too much activity within the central nervous system – such as that caused by stressful events – can lead to anxious behaviors. GABA tells the brain to slow down and supports a healthy, relaxed nervous system.
Researchers have also found that GABA may act to inhibit certain brain areas, such as the amygdala, involved in fear learning.
GABA works in synergy with L-Theonine and 5-HTP, which is why we included GABA in Stress Support.
The Many Essential Roles of Vitamin B6
Vitamin B6 (Pyridoxine HCL) is a water-soluble vitamin and a member of the B-vitamin family. It plays a number of important roles in your pet's body, especially in support of physical and mental health:
- Helps maintain a healthy nervous system
- Needed for the production of neurotransmitters
- Supports healthy mood and normal brain function
- Promotes the functions of enzymes, dopamine and adrenaline
- Supports adrenal function
- Supports a healthy immune system
- Supports nerve and muscle cell health during periods of stress
- Aids in the conversion of tryptophan into vitamin B3 and serotonin
Cats have an even higher need for vitamin B6 than dogs because of their high-protein intake.
Vitamin B6 from Pyridoxine HCl is part of the Stress Support formula to help support these multiple functions in both cats and dogs.
Get the Most Out of Stress Support for Cats & Dogs
Stress Support was designed to help ease the internal feelings of stress and anxiety that all cats and dogs experience from time to time.
I chose eight ingredients that, from my extensive research and clinical experience, I consider safe and effective.
Here are general guidelines that I provide to pet parents about using Stress Support:
- Stress Support is intended for occasional use before or during stressful events. Long-term or continual use should be paired with appropriate behavioral modifications.
- Give to your pet a day in advance of expected stressful event, if possible. If not possible, you can still use Stress Support at the beginning of stressful event.
- Stress Support is not a substitute for appropriate training.
Because we have formulated it with a base of organic dried white cheddar cheese powder, Stress Support is easy to use with both cats and dogs.
Please note: L-Theanine increases the potency of chemotherapeutic drugs. If your pet is receiving chemotherapy treatment, consult with your veterinarian before using. In addition, check with your vet if your pet is taking prescription antidepressants. This formula contains dairy, so in the rare circumstance your pet may be allergic to dairy, please avoid use
Help Your Pet Manage the Stressors of Life With Stress Support
I know how trying it can be to support the pets we so adore during stressful times. There are moments when we may feel a little uncertain ourselves and can't fully hide our own stress response.
Consider my Stress Support for Cats & Dogs as an extra tool to help make your pet's life more comfortable – and you more confident of your ability to appropriately soothe your pet.
Whether its thunderstorms, that dreaded trip to the vet or less stressful everyday events, Stress Support may provide the added reassurance you need to make it less traumatic for your pet.
Give your pet the gift of calm with Stress Support for Cats & Dogs, and order today.