Modern living is stressful for all of us, including our pets. So here are some points to help you better understand the stress response in your dog, and give you some tips to help ease those issues.
The Stress Response In Your Dog
When an animal perceives a threat, the normal physiological and behavioral response is called the “stress-response” (or the fight -or-flight response). In natural environments the stress-response has an important purpose. When threatened this response provides animals with the means to be focused and alert and take emergency action. Involving the whole animal, mind and body, this built-in safety feature ensures that an animal responds quickly and effectively to the threat, and so helping it to survive.
If stress continues to be present over an extended period it can be detrimental to an animal’s health. Long-term stress, even at low levels, means an animal is never able to fully relax. The resulting anxiety and nervous tension can lead to a variety of disorders affecting an animal’s mood, health and behavior.
As with us, what experiences are perceived as stressful and how that stress manifests is influenced by many factors. For example, dogs are often stressed by being left alone, thunder storms or kennel stays. They can be upset by changes in the home – like a new baby, or a new pet. Or by vet visits!
Examples of how pets show their stress include behavior changes like becoming moody or aggressive, or toileting in the home, compulsive over-grooming, developing bladder problems, diarrhoea or skin allergies.
Herbs For Stress Relief For Your Dog
Herbs that have an effect on the nervous system are traditionally called Nervines. Nervines are categorised into Relaxants that relax the nervous system, Stimulants that stimulate the nervous system, and Tonics that strengthen, nourish and restore the nervous system.
Modern science can now explain many of the effects of Nervines. Research into the functioning of nerves at a molecular level has led to the discovery that a number of important chemical messengers (neurotransmitters) can be influenced by herbs. These neurotransmitters play different roles in the healthy functioning of the central nervous system. The neurotransmitter that is primarily responsible for relaxing the nervous system is called GABA. A number of Nervine relaxant herbs have now been shown to promote the activity of this important chemical messenger.
Herbs like Lemon balm, Chamomile, Passion flower and Valerian all support GABA’s function and help to relax the nervous system. Herbs with relaxant properties have an important role to play in stress-related behaviours and illnesses in animals. When used appropriately, these herbs can help ease stress symptoms and provide stress-relief for your dog by helping to relax the nervous system. Relaxation in mind and body, is essential for an animal to be restored to health and normal, balanced functioning.
Herbs often contain hundreds of active chemicals that have a variety of effects. Chamomile, for instance, not only helps relax the nervous system, but also helps promote a healthy digestive function. Chamomile would therefor be a good choice for dogs that experience minor digestive upsets when stressed, for example loss of appetite, car-sickness or bouts of vomiting.
First-aid From Your Herb Garden
Creating a herb garden for your pets provides you with some herbal options for mild, stress-related problems. Herbs can easily be added to food as first-aid in mild upsets, or to help prevent disease and promote general health. Here is a list of relaxing herbs for your happy, healthy pet garden:
- Chamomile flowers (Matricaria recutita)
- Lemon balm leaves (Melissa officinalis)
- Valerian root (Valeriana officinalis)
- Passion flower leaves (Passiflora incarnata)
For dogs, use 1 teaspoon of fresh herbs per 10kg of body weight. Any of the above herbs – or a combination – mixed in with some wholesome, tasty food will help your dog to relax both its mind and body.
Combining Stress-relief Strategies For Your Dog
For dogs suffering with more severe stress-related disorders, herbs are best combined with other stress-busting strategies. Depending on the animal, relaxation can be further supported by enriching their environment, providing companionship, encouraging play, regular exercise and a healthy diet.
An integrated, holistic approach and the support of your family vet and an animal behaviorist will help you understand your dog’s individual needs and how best to meet them.
It is always important to remember to consult your family vet if your dog is on any medication, pregnant, lactating or about to undergo surgery before using herbal remedies.