Are our pets more stressed out lately or are we may around to notice it more, since we’re closer to them than ever thanks to recent work-life changes? (Fun fact: You might be your pet’s source of worry—a 2019 study revealed that long-term stress levels are synchronized in dogs and their owners.) Whatever the case, pet owners are increasingly seeking help in soothing their little buddies. That’s according to Dr. Dan Su, a veterinarian who shared insight on dog relaxation (and threw in a cat chill-out method, too). Here’s a few helpful takeaways from our conversation with him, as well as toys, diet supplements and sprays to try:
Dog Relaxation 101: A Veterinarian’s Tips and Tricks
Earmuffs, gummies and more ways to get Fluffy to chill out
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Top 5 Dog Relaxation Items at a Glance
- Top Organic Supplement PetPlate Chill Out Soft Chews ($68)
- Top Beef Flavor Licks Licks Pill-Free ZEN Calming Braised Beef Flavor ($40)
- Top Hemp Chew Mokai Hemp Calming Chews for Dogs ($21)
- Top Wearable Relaxation Aid ThunderShirt Classic Anxiety & Calming Vest for Dogs (from $40)
- Best Diffuser Kit bSerene Dog Calming Pheromone Diffuser Kit ($30)
Meet the Expert
Dan Su is a board-certified veterinary nutritionist based in Southern California. After obtaining his doctor of veterinary degree at Western University of Health Sciences, his passion for nutrition led him to complete a specialty internship at the University of Missouri’s College of Veterinary Medicine then a clinical nutrition residency at the University of Tennessee College of Veterinary Medicine.
Is Pet Anxiety Really a Problem?
According to a University of Helsinki study from 2020 that included 13,000 dogs, 72.5 percent of them displayed anxious traits defined as noise sensitivity, general fear, fear of surfaces, impulsivity or lack of attention, compulsive behaviors, aggression and behaviors relating to separation anxiety. Add to that, Dr. Su says, “hiding, and acting very passive, as when they just lay there. Or they may pace or pant, and some act like they are on the lookout—jumpy, with darting eyes.” Finally, Dr. Su describes what sounds like doggy OCD: “the most extreme ones will lick parts of their body, excessively chewing parts of their body. It’s like they’re saying ‘I have all this nervous energy and I don’t know how to expel it.’”
Are there Different Types of Pet Stress?
Pet stresses are as myriad as pet personalities. “Separation anxiety is one thing, and noise phobia on the Fourth of July is different,” says Dr. Su. The veterinarian explains that, just as when we are addressing human behavior, promoting dog relaxation can be complicated. “It’s like psychology, and it’s multi-faceted, taking into account the dog’s history and environment,” he says. He recommends a multi-modal approach in which pet parents try a wide range of treatments simultaneously and seeing what works, then taking away unnecessary elements. For example, a relaxation supplement or noise-reducing ear muffs might help a pet during a thunder storm; however, aggressive barking at other dogs during your daily walk will need some long-term training, including gradual exposure to the stressor and positive reinforcement when relaxed behavior is displayed.
What About Supplements?
When considering supplements, Dr. Su that most dog relaxation supplements seek to work on the central nervous system, to promote relaxation and inhibit anxiety signals—and since both dogs and humans are mammals, he points out that some of the same compounds that humans use to chill out (L-theanine, ashwagandha) are also successful with dogs. “Supplement-wise, we are looking fundamentally to promote neural signals that are calming, and block the stress-inducing neural signaling,” Dr. Su says. “Amino acids are neural transmitters—L-Theanine promotes relaxation, for example. You get amino acids from protein sources and when taken at sufficient doses.
“Another one is ashwagandha. If you say it, it sounds like a hippie remedy, but it has scientific literature backing it. The root extract is what we are looking for, and it comes in tablets, chewable, all kinds of different forms, with behavioral supplements. For some dogs, like those afraid of fireworks, you would give it a week or two ahead of time so it has time to build up in their system and so they are ready for the big day. Then keep administering it for the scattered fireworks afterward.”
How about Prescription Meds?
Ask your vet about any anti-anxiety medication you’ve being prescribed for Bowser. For example, while antidepressant pharmaceutical Trazadone was trending on Twitter this Fourth of July, Dr. Su says that prescription analgesic Gabapentin may be a humane alternative or complementary medicine. That’s because gabapentin reduces the dog’s perception of fear, while Trazadone relaxes the dog’s body while his mind is still alert to the stressor. In extreme cases, in which the dog’s actions are threatening the safety of him or his surroundings, Dr. Su suggests seeking out a veterinarian who specializes in behavior—these professionals are board-certified, and have completed specialized residencies and a board exam to become behaviorists specializing in diagnosing and prescribing medications to help anxiety-plagued dogs.
Any Wearable or Tools to Consider to Relax Pets?
For loud events, “they have those noise-canceling headphones with designs like earmuffs, like kids wear to loud events,” Dr Su says. “It wraps around their heads and decreases the stimulus.” He reports good success with the ThunderShirt: “It’s anxiety-relieving, a jacket that’s like they are being hugged.” He’s even heard reports of dogs enjoying having the television on to watch to allay separation anxiety, although his own dog ignores it. His cat, however, is hooked on Youtube: “The one that I put on is a backyard scene with squirrels and birds flying in and out, she will go look behind the TV when the bird goes off the screen.”
Nervous dogs versus screen-addicted cats aside, we’ve prepped a handful of dog relaxation tools for you to shop below.
Top Organic Supplement
- How It Works: 30 minutes before needed effect, give dogs half a chew per 10 pounds of weight
- Size: 9.8 oz., 28 count
Ashwagandha and L-theanine help balance stress hormones and promote relaxation, while the peanut butter / carob flavor make ti taste good to dogs.
Top Beef Flavor
- How It Works: up to 60 minutes before anxiety relief is needed, spoon into dog's mouth
- Size: 15 liquid-filled packs
"These packets have been a game changer for my anxious chihuahua (who has Addisons and can't deal with stress). I give them to all three of my dogs during stressful situations like car rides, fireworks, etc. and they work great every time. My pups get super-sleepy, to the point where nothing bothers them. I have used them for several years," says one reviewer.
Top Hemp Chew
- How It Works: depending on their weight, give pet one to three of these chews made with hemp, ashwagandha, chamomile flower and other natural ingredients for fast relaxation
- Size: 9.52 oz., 90 soft chews
"I love that these treats are made with all-natural ingredients and are made in the USA," says one reviewer. "We used these treats for our two pups, one of whom sufferers extreme separation anxiety. We're also facing some new life experiences that are a bit overwhelming for them at times, and the treats seem to help. They absolutely love the flavor in addition."
Top Wearable Relaxation Aid
- How It Works: this snug vest uses gentle pressure to calm fear and over-excitement in dogs. It feels like a gentle hugging and slows pet heart rate without drugs.
- Size: XXS to XXL
"I've hesitated for 3 years to purchase a thunder shirt for my pup, but with the summer weather being so bad this season, I decided to try it out," says one user. "I used to have to give my dog 2-3 gabapentin during storms and fireworks and after trying the Thunder Shirt the first time, he was calm and we have gradually taken him off of the anxiety meds during stressful situations. We've also used it at the vet and it made a HUGE difference in his stress when getting shots."
Top Diffuser Kit
- How It Works: a plug-in diffuser emits nondetectable-to-humans pheromones that relax pets in a 750-foot radius
- Size: 1.6 oz. refill lasts 30 days
"My 5-year-old Goldendoodle always is stressed, be it people walking past the house, the mail lady or loud nosies outside. I've searched and searched for a good calming product and this is it!" enthuses one reviewer. "Once plugged in, he starts feeling calmer within 15 minutes or so. We love it so much we've got one in every room now. This is a must try for dog owners with anxious animals."
Best Tryptophan Supplement
- How It Works: Shake this adaptogen-and-fish oil blend then pump amount indicated by pet size—1 pump per 10 pounds of weight—atop food. Refrigerate and use within 60 days after opening.
- Size: 16 oz.
"This is the best product—It does not smell fishy and the cap makes putting it in his food so much easier than many others I’ve tried, which always leaked," says one pet owner. "Plus he loves the flavor! Putting this on auto-ship for a simple, healthy solution for my anxious doggo."
- How It Works: a combination of horn and soothing lavender-chamomile scent simultaneously redirects and soothes destructively anxious pets
- Size: 1 oz.
"I have two large Rottweiler puppies and I’m at the point that I just need to show them the spray can and their bad behavior stops," writes a reviewer. "When I take the cap off. their behavior immediately stops. No more jumping, bullying, going into the fireplace, chewing what they shouldn’t, just bad behavior period."
Best Sound Reduction
- How It Works: a double-layered ABS plastic shell and foam strap over your dog's ears to muffle loud noise
- Size: small to extra-large
One reviewer explains how these work: "If you understand that these aren’t meant to cancel out all noise, then they’re perfect. We got the perfect mix of thunderstorms and fireworks this Fourth of July weekend, both of which send my dog into a panicked, panting wreck. These helped tremendously in keeping her more calm, to the point that she actually came to me to have them put on when she heard thunder. Easy to adjust."
Best Herbal Treatment
- How It Works: similar to the human formulation of Rescue Remedy but made without alcohol, this formula has rock rose, clematis, impatiens and other plant extracts to naturally soothe dogs when squirted in their mouths
- Size: .35 oz.
"A foster friend of mine told me about Rescue Remedy. We had a pup to transport that was that was a shaking wreck in a car ride and we were talking a good two hrs. to go to this meet-n-greet," writes one reviewer. "Well she gave her Rescue Remedy for that car ride and she barely shook once. The adoption that followed was a success and the following day I purchased my first bottle. Tinker takes it because she knows it helps (which surprises me). It’s not fool proof, and sometimes we need a second dose, but most of the time it allows her to rest and eat as normal and keep her fears under control. For myself, I’m glad I can help her with a natural stress relief and not have to worry about accidentally giving her an overdose.
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Dana Dickey is a PureWow Senior Editor, and during more than a decade in digital media, she has scoped out and tested top products and services across the lifestyle space. Suitcases to sex toys, she's got an opinion on what's best. Dana is based in Los Angeles; her work has also appeared in Condé Nast Traveler, Vogue and The New York Times. Check her out on Instagram and LinkedIn.
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