How we picked our favorites
We started with brands that have a commitment to excellence — We ignored any brands that don’t actively employ a vet (or pet nutritionist) or conduct efficacy studies on their own products.
We focused on products with a good track record — We asked our team of vets which calming supplements they prescribe for patients and why. Interestingly enough, recommendations were almost identical across the board.
- OTC calming supplements for dogs are generally safe as long as used according to label instructions. The effectiveness varies with each dog and the severity of their anxiety.
- There are two types of anxiety: persistent and situational anxiety. How you treat your dog depends on what type of anxiety they have.
- Dog anxiety is a common misdiagnosis. Dogs who aren’t exercised properly have pent-up energy. The result is a restless canine who exhibits symptoms similar to anxiety. Vets see this all the time, unfortunately.
There are so many supplements out there for dogs these days — for everything from liver and kidney disease to arthritis and even anxiety. With so many products available claiming they can help solve health problems for your pet, it is hard to know which ones to invest in. And it can sometimes be a struggle to know if they even work.
Most supplements are “over the counter”, which means you don’t need a prescription from a veterinarian to purchase them. That being said, there is not a lot of oversight and regulation in the supplement industry. It is not always easy to know if you are actually getting what the product claims to have in it.
In this particular article, we will be focusing on supplements geared towards dogs with anxiety. You know, calming meds for those pups that need a little help calming their minds and their bodies. We will start by discussing canine anxiety, the causes, and various treatments. Then, we will focus on specific supplements that have shown to be beneficial for anxious dogs.
At a glance: The best calming treats and supplements for dogs
How to use dog calming supplements and what to expect
For dogs with persistent anxiety, it’s best to give them supplements on a daily basis. For dogs with situational anxieties, supplements work best if you give them 1-2 hours before the anxiety-causing event. The supplements will have a better effect if you give them before your dog is already wound up. Then, you can re-dose your dog according to label instructions.
Calming supplements are most effective in dogs with mild general and situational anxiety. If your dog has chronic or severe anxiety, talk with your veterinarian. They’ll know whether your pup needs prescription medications or specific training. For example, if your dog’s anxiety causes outward aggression, you might need to see a behaviorist.
Research says calming supplements are effective
Studies show that calming supplements in any form are effective at easing anxiety. Researchers determine this by measuring the levels of stress hormones (cortisol) and happy hormones (serotonin) in a dog’s bloodstream before and after they receive the supplements.
Much of what we know about calming supplement ingredients comes from human studies. But the evidence does support the claim that they have a similar effect on dogs.
The active ingredients you need to know about
There are various natural substances that can ease anxiety in dogs. Some of the supplements available have a combination of these ingredients, while others may just have a single ingredient. Calming supplements usually work best if they have a variety of ingredients that can work in conjunction to reduce anxiety. We will discuss some of these individual ingredients below.
Valerian root comes from the flowering plant, Valeriana officinalis, and we don’t know why it works. Most researchers believe it increases the amount of GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid) in the brain. GABA provides a calming effect in the brain, allowing your pup to relax.
Valerian root is best for situational anxieties, like trips to the vet or thunderstorms. The supplement has a sedative effect, so expect your dog to become a little drowsy.
Melatonin can also increase the functioning of GABA in the brain and reduce the feeling of fear. It is most often used for its sedative properties, which can in turn help relax the brain. For dogs, melatonin is best if given for situational anxieties, such as during thunderstorms, fireworks, or trips to the vet. It can also be given to help with car rides or decrease the effects of separation anxiety.
Melatonin is generally considered safe by vets, but there aren’t many canine-specific studies. As always, consult your vet before giving your dog melatonin-based supplements.
L-theanine is a component in green tea. It works by increasing serotonin and dopamine levels in the brain, which produces a calming effect. In people, it proven to decrease stress and heart rate in cases of chronic anxiety.
L-theanine is the main ingredient in most calming supplements for dogs and can be used for a variety of anxious conditions. Give your dog a supplement about one hour before an anticipated anxious event.
Low levels of L-tryptophan in the body have been associated with anxiety, mood disorders, and depressive symptoms. So it makes sense that if you provide extra tryptophan in the body, feelings of anxiety can be reduced. Tryptophan also increases the amount of serotonin, the happy hormone, in your pup’s brain.
Additionally, it can also be converted into melatonin, which can decrease fear. Tryptophan has even been shown in studies involving dogs that it can relieve symptoms of anxiety caused by noise phobias. When given Tryptophan, dogs were able to calm down within 30 minutes and the effects lasted for up to 4 hours.
Chamomile is an herbal extract with anti-inflammatory, antispasmodic, and muscle relaxing properties. It can help with relaxation though it has mildly sedative properties, thus helping to relieve anxiety. It can also decrease anxiety-related gastrointestinal disturbances, such as gas, pain, and bloating. This is important as many dogs with anxiety are prone to intestinal disturbances.
Hemp Oil/CBD Oil
Hemp oil and CBD oil is incredibly popular among dog owners these days. While there’s anecdotal evidence that CBD is effective, there’s still a lot of research to do. Scientific findings have yet to prove its consistent efficacy and safety profile.
According to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), “Cannabis-derived products that have been suggested as therapeutic agents for use in animals to-date have not followed the traditional path to FDA approval.” The AVMA also states that “[there have been] recent reports of lab analyses indicating that a substantial portion of products currently available on the market are labeled inaccurately with respect to both the identity and amount of active ingredient found within the product.”
What this means is that most of the products being sold to you are not approved by the FDA. Additionally, you may or may not be getting your money’s worth of quality ingredients. That’s why the veterinary community continues to fund more studies to help evaluate the effectiveness and safety of CBD oil in pets.
If you do try CBD oil with your dog, make sure it’s manufactured specifically for dogs and follow the label instructions precisely to decrease the risk of your dog developing adverse reactions. Never give your dog human-labeled CBD oil or any product with marijuana in it as these could be toxic to dogs. Also, make sure the source of the CBD oil is from a hemp grower and not a marijuana grower.
You should also be aware of the legality of using CBD oil. Federally, CBD oil from hemp with less than 0.3% 19-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the psychotropic part of marijuana, is legal. Because of the risk to their veterinary license and the current fuzziness of this topic, your veterinarian may or may not be comfortable discussing CBD oil as an approach to treating canine anxiety with you.
👉 Read our breakdown of CBD oil for dogs.
Passionflower is a natural herbal supplement that is considered to be a mood enhancer. It can produce a calming effect in your pup but is best if given before a trigger sets them off. It is very safe when used according to the product label instructions. It is often formulated into a liquid herbal extract that you can easily administer via a dropper bottle.
Colostrum is an ingredient that is clinically proven to be effective in producing a calming effect on dogs. Colostrum is a milk protein that is derived from the first milk produced by a lactating female. The colostrum used in supplements is typically obtained from cows.
The two main milk proteins used for this purpose are alpha-casozepine (casein), and colostrum calming complex (C3). Colostrum is the most effective situational anxiety.
Signs of anxiety in dogs
Just like with people, there are some dogs that are more anxious than others. Some dogs may have very mild forms of anxiety, while others may have more severe forms. It is important to note that dogs can develop anxiety at any stage of their life. It will sometimes be present as early as puppyhood. Other times, it will manifest later on in life for seemingly no apparent reason.
Signs of anxiety in dogs:
- Inappropriate urination or defecation
- Excessive neediness
- Shaking, trembling
- Excessive panting
- Restlessness, pacing
- Overgrooming, excessive licking
- Destructive behavior
- Excessive vocalization (whining or barking)
- Unexplained aggression
If you’ve noticed behavioral changes like these, schedule an appointment with your veterinarian. This is to make sure there is not an underlying medical reason why your dog is acting out of sorts. Your veterinarian can run blood work and do a thorough exam on your pup before jumping to the conclusion that anxiety is the underlying issue.
For instance, medical conditions like kidney disease can cause an increase in urination. And that probably means accidents in the house. Some dogs that have painful conditions, such as arthritis or back pain, can develop excessive panting, shaking, restlessness — even increased aggression.
For these reasons, it’s always best to schedule an appointment with your veterinarian before trying any at-home remedy. There might be an underlying problem that needs more in-depth treatment.
The causes of anxiety
There are many causes of anxiety in dogs. Every dog is different and the underlying cause of anxiety can be as varied as there are individual dogs. Oftentimes it may not just be one particular thing, but a combination of things that can cause anxiety in your pup. On top of that, some dogs are genetically predisposed to developing anxiety, and no matter how well you socialize them or expose them to different things in their life, they will still develop behavioral issues.
The most common types of anxiety in dogs stem from fear and separation issues. There is also an age-related change in some senior dogs’ brains that can cause them to act anxious.
Anxiety caused by fear
Fear-related anxiety can be caused by anything your dog is scared of. This includes any sort of stimuli or situation that is scary to your particular dog. This may include any of the following:
- Loud noises, such as thunder or fireworks
- New situations or new places
- New or different people
- New or different dogs or other animals
- Visual stimuli, such as new objects they haven’t seen before or ones that look similar to an object that they associated a negative situation with
- Specific situations such as going to the veterinary clinic
- Car rides
Sometimes these anxieties can develop because of experiences your pup may have had that were traumatic for them. For example, if your pup had a traumatic experience at the vet or all they remembered about their vet visit was that they got poked and prodded, they will likely be fearful every time they are taken back there- they will remember the sights, as well as the smells.
Other times these anxieties may develop because your dog was not properly socialized as a puppy. There is a critical time of development in puppies during which they need to be exposed to all sorts of people, situations, objects, and other dogs so they are not fearful later in life.
Dogs with separation anxiety get very stressed and nervous when left alone. This can happen when they are separated from their owner or main caretaker. However, separation anxiety can also occur for some dogs if they are separated from an animal friend or companion.
Dogs with separation anxiety may urinate or defecate in the home. They may also constantly bark or whine, causing an annoyance to the next-door neighbors. They can also be destructive to the furnishings within the home, or even worse, to themselves.
Anxiety caused by age
As many dogs get older, they develop a condition in their brain similar to people with Alzheimer’s Disease. This condition is referred to as Canine Cognitive Dysfunction and can cause disorientation, restlessness, and a disruption of normal sleep-wake patterns. It can also cause a disruption in their learned skills, such as pottying outside or other training they used to be so good at.
As you can imagine, an older dog that all of a sudden forgets he is supposed to go potty outside and sleep at night can cause quite a headache for their owner. These dogs are usually very restless and anxious throughout the night, causing their owner to lose healthy amounts of sleep.
Anxiety or pent-up energy?
Even though anxiety-related disorders are fairly common in dogs, it is important to know your dog. It may appear to some pet owners that their dog has anxiety, when in fact their dog is just high-energy and needs more interaction and enrichment in their lives.
With our schedules getting busier and busier it can be hard to find ample time to allow your dog to get all of their physical and mental energy out. You will be pleasantly surprised, though, that if you find ways to keep your dog stimulated, their anxiety-like behaviors may start to fade away.
Try taking your dog on regular, high-paced walks or jogs. Consider putting them in an agility class, or letting them go to doggy daycare on certain days of the week. This is especially important for certain breeds of dogs, including the working and sporting groups of dogs.
7 ways to help relieve your dog’s anxiety
If it is determined by your vet that your dog does in fact suffer from anxiety, there are various treatments available. It is also important to note that anxiety is a complicated condition that is best treated with a combination of tools.
Training is probably the most important component of treating canine anxiety. Your veterinarian can provide you with information on positive reinforcement trainers and/or veterinary behaviorists in your area.
The trainer or behaviorist can work with both you and your pup to get to the root cause of your dog’s anxiety. Many of them will also offer in-home consults, which would be the best way of better understanding your dog’s triggers, and what can be done to counter-condition your dog’s behavior.
If you are unable to afford a trainer, there are still plenty of desensitization techniques and counter-conditioning techniques you can do at home with your dog. Talk with your veterinarian about what you can specifically do to help with your individual dog’s anxiety. Always remember, positive reinforcement is key here. Any training that involves punishment or negative reinforcement may only make your dog’s anxiety worse.
Providing adequate exercise for your pup is paramount to their mental health. Letting them run around, play with other dogs, and have plenty of time to play with you will help them feel confident and content. Not to mention, wearing them out will give them less free time to focus on their anxieties or destructive behaviors. They may even rest better at night.
Just like with exercise, environmental stimulation can help keep your dog’s mind active during the day to dampen the effects of anxiety. If your dog is motivated by treats and food, there are a variety of enrichment toys you can provide to them while you are gone during the day.
For example, fill a large Kong toy full of peanut butter, freeze it overnight, and give it to your pup during the day. You can also put pieces of their kibble or treats in a puzzle ball that they have to push around or throw up in the air to figure out how to get the yummy food out. Both are great ways to keep their mind active.
If your dog has a favorite toy, try to only give them the toy during times of anxiety, so they can focus on the toy instead of their anxiousness. Surprisingly enough, there is even music available specifically for dogs, to help them feel relaxed.
Another tool available for environmental stimulation is dog interactive cameras. These can be useful for some pups. Some dogs would probably love to be able to interact with their owner virtually by hearing their voice or even seeing their face. However, this may not be the best tool for every dog and it could possibly make some dogs’ separation anxiety worse- especially if they are only able to hear your voice but cannot visualize you.
Thundershirts are snug-fitting shirts that provide constant, gentle pressure to your dog. They help to ease your dog’s feelings of anxiety and restlessness and can be an effective tool in your toolbox to dampen your dog’s anxiety. Thundershirts do work nicely for many dogs, but not all dogs. However, until you try it you won’t know if it will help or not. The company typically offers a money-back guarantee, so it is worth it to buy one to test it out.
Canine pheromones are the chemical hormones that dogs give off usually via scent in various situations. Mother dogs give off calming pheromones to their puppies. Dogs in stressful situations, such as at the vet clinic, give off fearful pheromones to other dogs.
Adaptil is a product that gives off the natural happy and comforting pheromones of dogs. When your dog breathes in and smells the scent of the pheromones, they help to make your dog relax and feel at ease. They come in various forms- diffusers you can plug into an outlet, sprays, and even collars your dog can wear around their neck.
If a dog’s mind is so anxious they’re to be trained, prescription medications are probably necessary. Some dogs just need temporary medication while they learn coping mechanisms. Others may need life-long treatment.
The most common prescription meds used today are Trazadone, Fluoxetine, and Clomipramine. Your vet will need to examine your dog before prescribing one of these medications. Usually all it takes is some blood work to make sure your dog’s organs are functioning properly.
Calming supplements can be used to help reduce your dog’s anxiety. How well they work varies from dog to dog.
Usually, these products are made from natural products and are safe for your dog to consume. That being said, any dog could be allergic to anything that goes inside their body. Whenever you give something new to your dog, watch them closely for 24-48 hours. Call your vet if you notice any hives, vomiting, or diarrhea.