I’ve written in the past about sedatives and anxiety reducing medications for thunderstorms, fireworks and other loud events that induce noise phobia in our pets. This year I figured I’d mention some holistic options for pets with mild symptoms. Don’t get me wrong… I still think a lot of pets benefit from some Xanax or Trazodone when the fireworks start to boom. The fear can be intense for our pets! Nonetheless, for pets with mild noise phobia there are some alternatives. Since I often hear from clients that they want something “natural” I figured today I’d list some holistic options.

L-theanine is an amino acid found in green tea. It has calming effects in humans and in pets without causing drowsiness. It’s quite safe and increases dopamine and serotonin levels. It is available under 3 brand names for veterinary use: Composure by Vetri-Science (available in liquid, capsules and chews), Anxitane (which comes in chews) and Solliquin by Nutramax (available in chews). With thunder storm season approaching South Florida, I now have all three of these products in my vet clinic for pets with noise phobia or anxiety. I figure a pet may prefer one flavor over another. All of these products are for dogs and cats and can be used on a regular basis or just for stressful events. One of my dearest friends has recently been through a lot of financial stress, and her doctor suggested L-theanine to help calm her anxiety which in turn helps her sleep. She swears by it. Of course hers comes in a powder form rather than as a tasty pet chew.

I have had some success for anxious dogs with the Royal Canin Calm diet in my practice. Of course this is a diet that you feed as a regular food on a day to day basis rather than prior to a thunderstorm. It contains L-tryptophan and hydrolyzed milk proteins. For pets with mild anxiety it’s definitely worth a try. Word on the street is that both the dog and cat Calm diets are delicious. You can buy the milk protein (alpha-casozepine) that is in the Calm diet by itself in a product called Zylkene. It’s not inexpensive and for some pets, it does the trick!

Pheromones! Pheromone collars are available for dogs. Dog-appeasing pheromone is a synthetic version of the pheromone that nursing female dogs release from their mammary glands. It’s calming to dogs. DAP comes in collars (that must fit snugly to work), diffusers (kind of like a Glade Plug in) and in a spray. For cats, Feliway is a synthetic version of feline facial pheromone. (When your kitty is rubbing his jaw or chin or cheeks against you he is leaving his scent on you and saying to other cats, “Yeah, this human is MINE!”) Another compatible brand of feline facial pheromone is called Comfort Zone. This pheromone decreases anxiety in cats. I’ve used Feliway for years with mixed success. Sometimes it is amazing and sometimes owners don’t notice a difference at all. Feliway is most often used as a diffuser but also comes in spray and wipes. Pheromones are usually used for chronic mild anxiety rather than an acutely stressful event, but do have some benefit for travel, vet visits, and short term situational stress.

Thundershirts are one of my favorites for noise phobia or anxiety in general! I stock every size at my vet clinic. I live in South Florida where our summertime thunderstorms can be doozies! No matter how good the meteorologists are, sometimes you just can’t prepare for a surprise storm before you head out the door for work. And yet you probably don’t wish to medicate your pet with Xanax or Trazadone unless you need to. Thundershirts are a great option, and they can be used in conjunction with other treatments. Thundershirts are essentially tight fitting clothes. It’s like swaddling a baby. The pet feels like it is getting a big ole hug. A Thundershirt is a vest that covers the chest. You snug it to the pet’s body with the velcro attachments. We want it pretty snug but so that Fluffy can still comfortably breathe. Thundershirts are for both dogs and cats, although in my experience dogs tolerate them better than our feline friends.

Some options don’t decrease anxiety but instead make a pet drowsy. It’s harder to be anxious when you are sleepy. Melatonin and Benadryl and Valerian Root are readily available over the counter and are known known to cause drowsiness. Again, these products don’t decrease anxiety! Veterinarians used to use a lot of a sedative called Acepromazine (aka Ace) for sedation for storms and fireworks, but it didn’t affect anxiety either. Ace has mostly gone out of favor in lieu of Xanax and Trazodone which do decrease anxiety.

Ok, I can’t help myself! For severe thunderstorms Trazadone and Xanax work great! Each can be given every 8 to 12 hours and can even be used together. They reduce anxiety and help a ton with noise phobia. For those of you who think it’s not safe to drug a pet, think of how safe it is for dogs to claw through a door jam or jump into a pool or run away from home from the fear of a storm or fireworks. Many years ago my old Labrador did all of those things during a 4th of July fireworks show. That was some night. After that, she got Xanax. Of course, if the anxiety is not episodic (such as with thunderstorms or fireworks) your vet or behaviorist might reach for a daily longer acting medication. That’s a different topic.

We at ADW Diabetes with you a happy and safe 4th of July.

As always, I enjoy getting emails from readers. Feel free to email me at joi.suttondvm@adwdiabetes.com


NOTE: Consult your veterinarian first to make sure my recommendations fit your pets special health needs.

Dr . Joi Sutton

Dr . Joi Sutton

Dr. Joi Sutton is a 1993 graduate from Oregon State University. She has practiced both in emergency medicine and general practice. Dr. Sutton has done extensive international volunteer work and is the President and Founder of Veterinary Ventures, a nonprofit organization that takes teams of veterinarians to undeveloped countries for humane medical care. She also runs a small animal practice in South Florida.
Dr . Joi Sutton