Melatonin is a natural hormone produced by the pineal gland in the brain. The gland stimulates its production based on night/day cycles to help prepare the body for rest and sleep. Supplementing it can help promote a sense of calm.
Lower dose supplements like Calm Down with Ginger and Melatonin can be a good place to start. Higher doses purchased from the drug store should be first discussed with your veterinarian for proper dosing.
Thiamine (Vitamin B1)
Thiamine is sometimes called the “anti-stress” vitamin. Also called Vitamin B1, thiamine is one of the essential vitamins the body needs. When supplemented, some studies in people have demonstrated thiamine’s ability to help the body fight stress and develop a positive mental attitude. As a water-soluble vitamin, any excesses are peed out, which makes it pretty safe. It can often be found in combination stress-relief products like Quiet Moments or Calm Down.
L-theanine is an amino acid found naturally in green tea that can create a non-drowsy state of relaxation. There are a couple of commercial supplements available for pets specifically that are developed around l-theanine as a main ingredient.
Casein is a protein found naturally in human and cow’s milk. A more specific derivative of casein, called alpha-casozepine, has shown to promote relaxation in human babies and it has also been used for several years as an anxiety supplement for pets. Like l-theanine, it provides a non-drowsy state of relaxation.
When folks think of tryptophan, many think about eating a lot of Thanksgiving turkey and then passing out shortly thereafter. While it doesn’t truly have this degree of effect (passing out after eating is more likely from the hefty blood sugar spike from all of the other food you eat), there is some truth in its ability to promote rest.
L-tryptophan is a precursor for serotonin, a neurotransmitter in the brain that promotes a sense of wellbeing and happiness. Serotonin, as it happens, is also a precursor for melatonin.
There are numerous plants that are purported to promote rest and relaxation. Some of these include magnolia, phellodendron, ginger, chamomile, passion flower, and hemp seed. Like many supplement ingredients, some studies in people are promising, while others are conflicting.
While I can’t attest to the full efficacy of each one, there is likely some truth that they can have some beneficial effects, and even some synergistic effects when used together. While I wouldn’t go out and buy each one from the drug store and start adding them all to your pup’s food, smaller doses are fairly safe when found in combination products approved for pets.
In situations where separation anxiety is severe or if milder cases haven’t responded well to supplement therapy, your veterinarian may wish to discuss prescription medication options with you.
The two most common classes of long-term medications used are tricyclic antidepressants like clomipramine, and selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) like fluoxetine.
When initially started, the effects of these types of medications are typically monitored for a few weeks. The thing to remember with these is that they can take some time to reach effective levels and they cannot simply be stopped and started again.
Because they do take time to be effective, it’s common to incorporate shorter-acting medications to help in the short-term during times of extra stress or anxiety. These can include medications like trazodone, alprazolam, and acepromazine.
We won’t go into much further detail with drug classes and the like, since it’s most important for your vet to decide what is best for your pup and to share in that decision process with you. In the same vein, it’s extremely important to never share any medications with your dog that you may have at home.
But we will talk about what our general goals are in prescribing these medications for pets. It’s most important to utilize the lowest effective dosage that makes a difference while balancing this with the most effective behavioral modification program.
For example, we may find for a particular pup, that separation anxiety is the only type he experiences and that a short-term medication during times of planned separation is all we need to use in conjunction with diligent training.
But in another pup’s case, she may have multiple situations that trigger fear or anxiety, making a short-term medication impractical. A long-term medication may be more beneficial, since behavioral training and reconditioning is going to take quite a while, even months.
Lastly, it’s crucial to understand that medication should never be done in place of training. In fact, medication can actually improve the success rate with behavioral training, so it can be important to use them together.
If a pup’s fear or anxiety level is reduced below a certain threshold with medication, he may be far more open to attempts at reconditioning him to being less fearful and reactive to situational triggers.
And if we can use medication to help training and reconditioning to be more effective, the long-term goal may be to eventually rely solely on the positive training experiences alone and get a pup off meds altogether.
In some cases with pups that have multiple fear triggers or just very severe separation anxiety, this process can take months or even years. The best outcomes will develop from a good working relationship with a professional. This professional may be your own vet, or could be a professional trainer or veterinary behaviorist that your vet has referred you to.