Which product should I use to calm my dog?
Sadly, many dogs and puppies suffer from various forms and levels of anxiety or fear. But fortunately, there are may products around that can help. There is a brief overview below for your consideration. It's difficult to choose the right one first time, because whilst many of these products are great for some dogs they seem to have no effect on others.
It can therefore help to chat with your vet to get a better idea.They may well follow a similar choice route as outlined below.
Depending on the severity of the problem, sometimes these calming products can work well by themselves. However, generally, they have the best effect if used in conjunction with a behaviour therapy programme. e.g. trials have been done with the Adaptil pheromone product and fireworks fear. The best outcome for the fireworks desensitisation programme was when a desensitisation CD was used at the same time as Adaptil.
So, here follows a list of the calming products available, and then below that, further explanations and links out to the company web sites for further reading.
- Adaptil Pheromone (Dog Appeasing Pheromone)
- Nutritional Supplements (Nutraceuticals)
- Canine Lullaby CD
- Herbal Products
- Clinical Medication
- and a new option - the Breakthrough Diet.
Then of course there is the choice of clinical medication. Generally, but not always, the pills are aiming to increase serotonin (the calming brain chemical). Of course, their action has been tested and proven. The first choice is usually Clomicalm. And then there are other pills that have an effect not only on Serotonin, but also on the other brain neurotransmitters and functions. Obviously, you need to speak with your vet about the full affect of calming medication and any concerns about potential side effects. There is more information on Clomicalm here. Clomicalm is frequently used for dogs that can't cope with being left home alone. However, it is important to determine the cause of your dog's 'misbehaviour'. We used to talk about Separation Anxiety. Clomicalm may help with anxiety. However, there are other reasons why dogs may not settle at home, including boredom.
You can use these products to help you with desensitisation - teaching your dog to ignore something - read more on dog desensitisation here.
Previously called DAP (Dog Appeasing Pheromone), this is a product that emits the same pheromone as a mother just after giving birth. It therefore gives the dog or puppy the same comforting and safe feeling that they had as a puppy. It has been known to help immediately, but generally the effect takes a couple of weeks to build up. The DAP Spray is for use in the car or e.g. on a bandana. There is plug-in device for the home. And then there is a collar which is effective inside and outside the house. The Plug-in and Collar last for 4 weeks, and are meant to be switched on / worn constantly.
Find out more about Adaptil here
And these calming products can also help if your dog is scared of fireworks or other similar noises - Help for dogs scared of fireworks
A snuggly fitting jacket that helps to ground your dog & makes them more aware of their body. This is thought to have a calming effect. It works well on many and has no effect on some. Read more about thundershirts here
There are loads of herbal products and companies that provide various mixes of herbs with a view to calm your dog or puppy for various situations. Generally these contain Skullcap and Valerian and perhaps hops or camomile. The main company that provide these products is Dorwest. Read more here - company web site link
Canine Lullaby CD:
This CD plays calming lullabies over a regular heart beat rhythm and is based on the concept of heart-beat therapy for babies. It can have a calming effect and can also be used to actually teach a dog to feel calm in a particular situation such as fireworks. The latter effect works by frequently playing the CD when your dog or puppy is calm and happy. Then when you need them to feel calm, the noise of the CD has already conditioned them to feel calm. Read more about Canine Lullaby CD's here (download version available there too)
These are pills containing food based ingredients that help to calm your dog or puppy. They are essentially a mix of vitamin, minerals and amino acids (proteins). Knowledge of food and behaviour has increased over recent years and a number of different companies offer products. My logic is as follows:
1 - Zylkene: this product is based on the calming bits of milk and helps to calm the brains agitation. Read more here - company web site link.
2 - Adaptil Pills: Whilst made by the same company, Adaptil pills have nothing to do with pheromone therapy. They are as mentioned above a combination of vitamins and protein. A simple way to think about them is that they have a similar action to Zylkene but additionally aim to increase the brains serotonin level (the neurotransmitter that helps to pull the brain back to a calmer state). Read more - Company web site link.
3- Nutracalm: I think of this as Adaptil with more. The ingredients are similar, but there is more of each nutrient in the pills, plus an additional herb. So we have again an effect of reducing the neuronal firing in the brain plus increasing serotonin. Read more here - company web site link
Now, firstly, it's important to consider that more is not necessarily better than fewer ingredients. The problem is that it's very difficult to determine what is actually going on in the brain and therefore whether we simply need to calm the brain's firing or whether we want to increase serotonin. It may in fact be that we need to increase other brain chemicals.
These products are popular and are reported to have no side effects as they are food based. Every dog, however, is an individual and it's always possible that a dog may react in a way that we're not expecting. Your choice therefore is to consider whether you want to start with just 1 brain action(choice 1), or whether to add in some serotonin benefit (choice 2) or whether to go for the 'full strength' product first (choice 3).
Zylkene and Adaptil are available to purchase freely, but Nutracalm can only be bought from your vet.
And it's worth mentioning again, that it is really best to use these products whilst working through a behaviour modification programme.
However, before we think of adding vitamin / mineral / protein supplements, it seems to make sense to me to consider whether the diet itself could be changed to potentially have a similar effect to the nutraceuticals - or at the very least, to assure ourselves that we're not fighting against the benefit of the pills. Food colourings, additives and the levels and sources of proteins, carbohydrates and fats may all be having some effect on your dog's behaviour. Of course, many, many dogs are perfectly happy with any type of food. It just makes sense to me to review that before paying more money for supplements. There's more information on helping you to be happy with what you're feeding your dog here: How do I decide what to feed my dog.
And now, there's a brand new diet, specifically formulated to help with behaviour problems. Please read more about this here - Breakthroughdog.co.uk.