Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Calming Herbs For Your Dog And Calming Animals The Natural Way

For centuries, herbs have been proven as our great allies for healing and addressing many different ailments of people and animals alike. 

So it is no surprise that there are herbs and herbal remedies that are very effective for calming dogs that are stressed, scared, panicked, nervous, traumatized, suffer from anxiety and other similar emotions.

In this article I would like to show you a few safe herbs and how they can help calm your dog, without harmful side effects, as well as what types of herbal remedies are safe and effective, and some principles when turning to herbs for help with calming your animals, what to be careful about and what to avoid.

First, let´s talk about a few principles.
It is important to know your dog´s personality, and secondly, what is the reason we feel our dog needs help with calming.
What I mean by that is the importance for you, as your dog´s care-taker, to be able to realize what it is that makes your dog scared, or stressed or anxious, or simply why do you think he or she needs calming.

Many folks ask me to recommend them something to calm their dog. But is the dog generally of a shy personality? Has she or he been a bit standoffish since puppyhood when you had friends coming for visit? Did your dog develop fear against certain objects, animals, people? Did this happen after a certain experience?
Does your dog have a tendency to over-react to noise such as shooting or loud music?
Does he or she get into high arousal when in presence of many other dogs, such as on a dog show, competition or at a training class?
Or your dog is completely fine, but does not handle travelling well or suffers from separation anxiety when you leave him alone.

Those are all very different reasons for an emotional reaction and because of that they need to be addressed differently, and ideally individually. And that is why it is important for you as your dog´s caretaker to learn about their personality, behavior and how and why they react to some things and situations the way they do. After all, you do know your dog the best of all people. Not your vet, not breeder, not your dog trainer.

Sometimes it may be difficult to find the answers and that is when a good, experienced dog behaviorist comes in handy. Talk to them, work with them to help you find out the cause of your dog´s emotional discomfort. 

In my experience, a positive reinforcement based training sessions, specially targeted games, etc. goes hand in hand with proper nutrition and herbal treatments, and together these "tools" make a huge positive difference on managing or even solving some of your dog´s emotional stress.

I mentioned the word "nutrition" and you probably waonder how does that have to do anything with calming dogs.
It has been a proven fact that nutrition can significantly and directly impact your dog´s behavior.
Deficit or excess of certain essential nutrients, especially on a long term basis, can cause, as a secondary symptom, a behavioral change. Often, dogs can start behaving differently than usual, and even nervously or stress-fully. 

Lack of B-vitamins, certain minerals, unbalanced diet, toxin built-up and compromised organ function from the lack of antioxidants, disfunctional immune system, eczema and other itchy conditions, chronic pain - and the list goes on - all of that often causes your dog to react emotionally. Some may become generally nervous, some will turn to a self-defense mode, some may become over-reactive to different situations, and even turn aggressive.

But that is a whole topic by itself and I will write some other time in more focus on how nutrition actually influences our animals´s behavior. Today we are going to talk about herbs and how they can help with calming your dog.

So once you have determined at least somewhat why your dog needs aid with calming, the next step is to choose the right remedy.

When it comes to mental health and wellness of animals, there aren´t in fact many conventional/allopathic solutions, and that is why this area of dog health care is covered successfully with the natural/holistic approach.

While allopathy will offer sedatives to suppress the animal´s reaction, it will not make them feel better. In fact, sedated animals suffer still the same from fear and panic but are powerless to do anything about it. They are literally being trapped without a choice, unable to follow instinct or run for safety. 

Sedation is not a solution for calming scared, nervous and stressed animals!!!

Another allopathic method would be the use of synthetic hormones, diffused into the air to make your animal feel better. 
While it is a much better option for your animal than sedatives, it does not help to solve your dog´s problem, works only in the space, where you diffuse it and certainly does not remove fear from known situations or objects, etc. It is, however, a harmless option, although somewhat less effective than some of the natural methods.

When it comes to natural help, there are multiple possibilities and they can be combined together for even better result, or during an extra stressful situation.

Natural ways of calming animals include various herbs and herbal remedies, flower essences, massage, acupressure, REIKI healing and last but not least application of so called thunder-shirt.

While I am not qualified in animal massage and acupressure, I will leave that topic for some other time, when I do some research on it. You can, however, find and contact therapists trained and qualified in this field. Always look for highly qualified, recommended, well attended, folks with lots of empathy, experience and willingness to work as a team with you and your dog, and provide an overall holistic approach.

Flower Essences
, either from the original repertoir of Dr.Edward Bach (that include 38 individual flower essences in total), or from wild flowers all over the world, can be of a great help and relief, and if correctly chosen, can even provide a permanent solution of your animal´s fear, fobias, etc. 
Generally, flower essences are known as Bach Flower Therapy.

I highly recommend individually formulated, so called tailor-made flower essence blends, that provide the possibility to address your animal´s unique personality and individuality. Such blends are always the most effective.

In terms of individual flower essences, very effective are for example Mimulus, which addresses fear of known things (including sounds, darkness, other dogs, people, certain specific situations, etc.), Cherry Plum which helps relieve panic and soothes shock, Aspen - for fears of unknown origin, often shown as shaking or trembling, Star of Bethlehem - which soothes after experiencing a trauma, even past one. 

There are many very helpful flower essences out there. And as a bonus, they do not have any side effects, do not contraindicate with herbal or conventional medicine, and are very easy to apply, as they come in drops, that you can easily add to your animal´s drinking water, food, on a treat, or directly orally, straight from the dropper.

From flower essences we can move to herbs in different forms, such as teas. Some herbs can be even tinctured and used for stress and fear, but let´s focus on those, you can easily prepare at home in no time, if you need a natural support of your animal "right now".

One of my all time favorites, a herb that I, in fact recommend as a must at any home apothecary and first aid, is Chamomile.

Chamomile (Matricaria chamomilla)
Chamomile is known for its calming abilities to the nerves. It helps to reduce anxiety in animals that are stressed out.
It may also help your pets to relax and sleep better,

What I love about this fragile looking, yet so powerful herb is that its powers do not end here.

While using Chamomile for my own dogs for years, I have learned first hand that among
 its other excellent properties is relieving stomach cramps and gasses so it is great also for stressed-caused diarrhea and digestive upset.
I also recommend it for pets that do not take well long car rides and travelling in general.

Another wonderful quality of Chamomile is its ability to "calm" pain, so I often use and suggest it for animals that underwent surgery, injury, tooth pain, any painful procedure, etc.

Chamomile tea is a great general safe remedy that will help your animals relax and it is really good to have some of the dried herb or at least some Chamomile tea bags on hand.

Oats (Avena sativa)
Oat is well known for its excellent nerve calming abilities. The great advantage of oats is that you can also add it to your dog´s food as part of his or her diet, without having to make time-consuming preparations.

Just be careful, please do not give your dog oats, if he or she is suffering from yeast infections.

With oats, you have basically two options - you can either buy oat-straw from an ethical herbal shop and make an infusion, which you would then add to your animal´s food, or add steamed or over-low heat-cooked oat flakes into their food.

Begin giving your dog oats weeks or at least days prior to stressful situations you know about, such as weeks leading to Independence Day or New Years, if you know your dog is afraid of fireworks.

Valerian (Valeriana officinalis)
This is a well-know, and probably most common herb used for calming dogs, especially when it comes to anxiety.

Valerian relieves tension and may help in situations of over-excitement, depending on the cause of that behavior.

Vallerian will help to calm your animal´s anxiety caused by for example thunderstorms or fireworks or car-rides.

Every time I mention Valerian, one specific situation where it was misused comes to mind. I met a couple who had a young, anxious and very over-excited Siberian husky. They have tried to stuff him up with Valerian root tablets and Bach flower Rescue Remedy every single day, with a zero result. I have pointed out to them, that the problem their dog has is associated with them - they were anxious and stressed every time he should meet new dogs. They were constantly afraid something will happen to him and they had absolutely no confidence. 

In cases like this, Vallerian won´t help. You cannot use herbs for just suppressing a symptom without knowing why your animal behaves the way he or she does and without addressing it.
Herbs are very powerful, natural medicine is very helpful, but please do not use it the same way as medications are used in allopathic medicine - to just suppress a symptom.

Skullcap (Scutellaria baicalensis)

This herb can be very often found in preparations mixed together with Valerian root.

Skullcap is excellent for relieving tension, including that of muscles. Because of that, it is highly recommended for animals (and people too) who suffer from epilepsy.

It probably won´t come as a surprise to you that epileptic animals tend to react poorly to stressors such as noise (storms, fireworks, laud music) and that their spasms and seizures are triggered by stress and excitement. 

Therefore I recommend using Skullcap for calming your dog, especially if he or she is epileptic.

Combining Skullcap application together with regular doses of CBD oil and oats in the meal, is a helpful way to prevent higher occurrence of epileptic seizures and their severity and length in your animal in many cases.

Lavender (Lavandula angustifoila)
The calming qualities of Lavender and outstanding and well known especially among people. You have most likely heard of its use especially in aromatherapy.

Lavender is, however not as common herb to use in stress or anxiety related cases, for animals.
But because I have some very good experience using Lavender for my dogs and for some of my friends´s and customers´ dogs, I would like to mention it on this list.

Lavender is a soothing, over-all calming herb, both in form of a tea or often used in massage. Properly infused herbal oil enhances the calming effect of a massage. It will help your animals´s muscles relax and even relieve some pain.

I also use Lavender hydrosol or highly diluted essential oil in combination with other calming herbs to apply in space (car, room), on a dog bed, collar, etc. to relieve anxiety and stress. 
While it won´t help against fear, I find it as a good complimentary herb to relieve the stress that accompanies the fear.

While I am not a big fan of using essential oils for animals (and in general), Lavender used very cautiously and in high dilution rate, is an exception I find harmless and reach out for its help in some cases.

When using Lavender for calming your animal, make a tea and mix it into their food, buy a high quality lavender hydrosol or massage your stressed dog or cat with Lavender infused oil (that is a good quality oil in which a whole herb or its parts, such as flowers, have been infused for 4-6 weeks).

I hope these few suggestions and experiences I have shared today will be of help and wish you and your animals to receive and share the gift of mutual understanding and empathy, and finding the reasons behind their stress, fear or anxiety, and addressing them naturally. 

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