As creatures of habit, animals become stressed by any disruption, large or small, in their routine. This anxiety manifests in behaviors such as destructiveness, excessive licking, scratching, or biting at themselves, frantic barking in the wee hours, and/or inappropriate urination.
Did You Know?
If your pet starts displaying uncharacteristically destructive behavior, anxiety might be the cause.
The first step to take when coping with an anxious pet is scheduling a visit to your veterinarian to make sure there isn’t an underlying physical problem. After that, it’s time to explore natural stress-busters. With a caretaker sensitive to their needs—and armed with an arsenal of natural remedies—anxious animals can maintain their calm and thrive, even in the most stressful circumstances.
Reiki for Dogs and Cats
Reiki, a Japanese energy-healing technique based on the concept of universal energy, can help reduce discomfort by balancing the body’s chakras (energy centers). It has a calming effect on the recipient by lowering stress levels and boosting the immune system. This time-honored healing modality is not just for people anymore: Animal Reiki practitioners around the country report success calming anxious four-footed patients—and they don’t even have to be in the same room, or even the same state! “Reiki also works remotely,” says practitioner Ingrid King, guardian of two cats, author of five books, and publisher of the blog The Conscious Cat. “Most of my Reiki sessions are remote.”
For those who question the possibility of remote reiki actually working, King explains, “Remote healing is an energetic process that can be best explained through the principles of quantum physics. To illustrate it with a tangible example, I compare it to WiFi: Not that long ago, if somebody had told us we could connect remotely to something called the Internet, we’d have said, ‘OK, right …’” King recalls a memorable experience working with a cat who had a severe upper-respiratory infection. “The cat was lethargic and hadn’t eaten in over a week. I did a remote treatment (I’m in Virginia and she was in Florida), and immediately afterward, the cat’s owner reported that she went over to her food bowl during the session and started eating! Miracles are not the norm,” King adds, “but they can happen.” To locate a practitioner, consult the Animal Reiki Source at animalreikisource.com.
Essential Oils for Pets
It goes without saying that spending time at an animal shelter is stressful to animals. Konstantine Barsky, DVM, is reminded of this regularly in his job as staff veterinarian for the Ulster County SPCA in upstate New York. Essential oils can be beneficial in stressful situations like this. “Lavender and chamomile are both useful for reducing situational anxiety,” he says. Lavender has traditionally been used to relieve nervous tension in people, and pets can also reap lavender’s aromatherapy benefits.
Some warnings: Don’t apply lavender essential oil directly out of the bottle, Barsky cautions. “Dilute it with a carrier oil such as grapeseed, olive, or coconut oil.” Add a few drops of lavender oil to one or two ounces of your preferred carrier oil; apply the mixture to your own hand first, then on your pet: on top of the head, behind the ears, at the base of the tail (never on the muzzle or between the eyes). “Observe how your dog or cat reacts,” continues Barsky. “If they turn their head away, or sneeze, then obviously it’s not working for them.” In that case, try “botanical bonding” by putting the lavender oil on yourself. “Animals tune in to our stress levels, so when the lavender goes to work calming you, they will pick up on that, and feel calmer too,” says Barsky.
Barsky’s other go-to botanical stress buster is chamomile. “It’s safe for dogs and cats to ingest, and it can also be used topically, as a bath. It’s especially soothing for seasonal itch, so rinse pets with chamomile tea while grooming, and let the tea sit on their skin for a few minutes before rinsing with clear water.” For mild anxiety, make a tea out of dried chamomile flowers, and add the cooled tea to pets’ drinking water: one quarter chamomile to three quarters water for a dog, and one- eighth strength for a cat. Or, obtain a tincture of chamomile extract and give dogs five drops 3–4 times daily, and one drop 3–4 times daily for cats.
“Something I’ve found to be pretty useful is Rescue Remedy by Bach Flower Essences,” says Barsky. “Add four or five drops to a dog’s drinking water, or administer the drops directly by mouth.” If you expect you and your pet will face high anxiety levels, such as a planned road trip, start administering your herbal remedy of choice a couple of days before the anticipated stress, recommends Barsky.
For extreme anxiety, valerian root works effectively as a stress-busting sedative. My 60-pound Chow Chow mix, Aldo, refuses to tolerate confinement, something I discovered to my dismay when I was obliged to board him during a stressful time of transition for me and my dogs; Aldo literally shredded his kennel overnight. Happily, after gladly downing a spoonful of wet dog food cloaking two 450-mg capsules of valerian— the same herbal supplement I take myself to promote restful sleep during anxious times—Aldo slept like a baby through the night. (Consult your vet for the appropriate dosage by weight, and be sure to conceal the valerian in something palatable, as this herb tastes and smells pungent.)
Of course, none of the above remedies will work well if a dog or cat isn’t getting sufficient exercise or attention. “For pets, the best therapy is interacting with you rather than being allowed to roam and do useless activities. Dogs need lots of exercise—especially herding breeds that develop anxiety disorders if they’re not using their brains the way they’re supposed to—so opening the back door and just letting them out doesn’t really count. As with people, the mind-body balance is really important for animal companions.”
Music Therapy to Help with Cat or Dog Stress
Susan Raimond is a renowned harpist based in California whose love for animals has led her to travel the world practicing what she calls “nutra-acoustics” using the beautiful sounds of her favorite musical instrument for therapeutic purposes, to “soothe the savage beast.” Expertly deploying her harp strings, she’s successfully calmed anxious creatures in a variety of stressful circumstances, including zoos and medical testing facilities. Her grateful audience has included gorillas, rhinos, and elephants, as well as dogs and cats.
Raimond’s work includes utilizing healing tones, including the G note. “This is the frequency at which the Earth vibrates,” she explains. “I always begin my work starting on the F note to settle the animals, then I build toward the G note. This is Harp Enrichment Therapy (HET): using harmonics, and all associated frequencies, for healing. HET has shown proven, measurable effects including lowered blood pressure, decreased stress and anxiety, and more complete relaxation within minutes.” Raimond has recorded numerous albums in her “Noah’s Harp” series, including my animals’ favorite, “Wait For the Sunset.” This music is a must if your furry companion suffers from anxiety—and it’s wonderfully calming for people too. CDs and MP3s available at petpause2000.com.