NFM Staff

April 24, 2008

8 Min Read
Rx for Rex: Soothe separation anxiety

Kizzy the miniature pinscher stood on the window seat, bright eyes fixed on the driveway outside, weaving back and forth, all 4 pounds of her trembling like an over-caffeinated espresso hound at Free Latte Day at Starbucks. "She was there when I left for work in the morning, and she would still be there whenever we'd come back during the day," says her owner Lorraine Rodgers.

Rodgers believes Kizzy suffered from separation anxiety, a combination of behaviors that can occur when dogs are isolated from their owners, or "packs." Symptoms range from mild to severe, and include hours of barking, destruction around doors and windows and the resulting damage to teeth and nails, excessive drooling, urinating and defecating indoors. "I even worked with a dog who jumped through a plate-glass window," says Laurie Buffington, certified dog behavioral consultant, certified pet dog trainer and owner of Dog Days Training Center in Berthoud, Colo.

The condition is largely misdiagnosed, says Bonnie Beaver, DVM, a professor specializing in animal behavior at Texas A&M University and past president of the American Veterinary Medical Association. Two percent to 4 percent of dogs have separation anxiety, she says. Eli Lilly, the drug company that recently introduced Reconcile, the first selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor antidepressant approved by the Food and Drug Administration for dogs, claims that 17 percent of dogs have the condition.

"A lot of owners say their dogs have separation anxiety," Beaver says. "But it may be barrier frustration, boredom or issues with confinement and loneliness. It's critical to get an accurate diagnosis. If it is true separation anxiety, behavior modification is the best treatment."

A growing number of natural products is available for owners to use along with behavior modification. About 74.8 million dogs live in America, according to the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association, and in general, the people who love them are spending more and more every year on their care. Current sales of total pet food and care products in naturals stores reach $77.75 million, a 22.4 percent increase over last year, according to SPINS, a Schaumburg, Ill.-based market research and consulting firm for the natural products industry.

No puppy Prozac
"The idea of giving a puppy Prozac is enough to make me throw up. Anyone who does it is an absolute idiot," says Arthur Young, DVM, CVH, who went to school for homeopathic veterinary medicine at age 64, after 38 years practicing allopathically.

Puppy Prozac is appealing to some because it seems to be a silver bullet. "But there's no such thing," says Young, whose practice is based in Stuart, Fla. "The dog has to be balanced in all respects. You have to address the whole body. It doesn't just respond in compartments."

Young advocates Bach flower essences, particularly Rescue Remedy, which he gives to patients in his clinic. A British physician developed the remedies in the 1930s for people. Flower-petal extracts "help bring the mind and body back into emotional balance," says Bach Foundation registered practitioner Bettina Rasmussen Dolz. A few drops of the essences, which are preserved in alcohol, can be added to the dog's water or administered directly.

Using their sniffers
Aromatherapy is another plant-based treatment for the symptoms of separation anxiety. "Essential oils are known for their calming ability," says Kyla Sims, owner of Pittsburgh, Pa.-based Spot Organics. Her company makes Chill: Dog Separation Anxiety Calming Spray, a mix of lavender, clary sage, ylang ylang and green mandarin that creates "a sense of serenity and focus."

Supplements for the separated
More supplements than ever are formulated especially to ease separation anxiety. The Association of American Feed Control Officials is the nonprofit organization that works with the FDA to help regulate ingredients in animal feed products. The National Animal Supplement Council acts as a conduit between the AAFCO and the FDA to establish labeling guidelines, manufacturing quality controls, reporting of adverse events and monitoring the safety of animal supplements.

Be careful when choosing which supplements to carry in your store, warns NASC President Bill Bookout. As a general rule, "products that make claims that are too good to be true probably are," he says. "And products that are cheap are typically cheap for a reason.

"Don't be afraid to pick up the phone and call manufacturers." Ask about the qualifications of whoever formulated the products and about their quality-testing lab. Look for complete disclosure of ingredients on labels. "And look for lot numbers," he says. "Their presence is usually an indicator that the company has an eye toward quality."

Kizzy's owner, Lorraine Rodgers, is the assistant manager for sales at Pet Naturals of Vermont, makers of Calming Formula for Dogs and Cats. Pet Naturals has been making animal supplements for 34 years, and introduced Calming Formula two years ago. "It doesn't contain any herbs, because not all animals react well to them," Rodgers says. "Be careful of herbal extracts," Beaver adds. "They can have bad side effects, especially if the dog is on other types of drugs."

Calming Formula's main ingredients are L-theanine, an amino acid found in green tea, thiamine, soy lecithin and a decapeptide from milk protein, "from colostrom," Rodgers says. The product is a liquid. Stress-melting supplements also come in granules, such as PetCalm by Boca Raton, Fla.-based Pet Alive, a division of Native Remedies…Naturally. "Just sprinkle on the back of the tongue," says Lynn Smelt, the company's marketing-services coordinator.

Missing You, a supplement formulated by 4everPets of Everson, Wash., to ease separation anxiety in dogs, also contains amino acids. "It also had St. John's wort and passion flower," says the company's President Kevin Cobb. The product has been popular in Canada for five years and was introduced to U.S. consumers last year.

And the Grammy goes to…
In 1999, Forbes named Petmusic's compilation CD for dogs, "Music for Pet Stress and Separation Anxiety" its "Second Dumbest Business Idea of the Year." Then Petmusic sold more than a million copies. Company President Dan Rappoport traveled to London and recorded original compositions with piano, string and wind instruments, mixing nature sounds underneath. In 2007, the company introduced new music and packaging with eye-catching art.

Botanica Boutique, a line from Fairfield, Iowa-based Pet Botanica, also embeds nature sounds beneath instrumental compositions on its anxiety-soothing "Companion Music," the second version of which will be released this month. "The combination of birds chirping and water running and music is very easy on their listening," says the company's President Diana Makeig.

In 1985, Terry Woodward, former pop-music producer and president of Colo?rado Springs, Colo.-based Audio Therapy Innovations, released a CD of traditional lullabies recorded at low frequencies with a track of a human heartbeat, designed to help human babies go to sleep. Over the years, customers repeatedly told him that their dogs started snoring, too. In 2002, he released the same music as "Canine Lullabies." The next year, he made the top of the American Boarding Kennels Association charts, receiving its endorsement. "Believe me, I was probably the biggest skeptic of all," Woodward says. Then the manager of the Colorado Humane Society called and invited him to see the music at work at the organization's Colorado Springs' facility. He watched—and listened—as scores of dogs quieted within 15 seconds into the first track. You can watch a video of a similar situation on the company's Web site,, which also has links to studies showing the soothing effects of music on different species.

Why does it work? Canine hearing is far more acute and selective than ours. "A dog can hear a human heartbeat from 75 feet," Woodward says. He says dogs seek out the calm among the chaos during a day spent alone, focusing on the low frequency sounds, simple repetitive rhythms and the comforting human heartbeat.

Each year "4.2 million dogs are euthanized … and one of the main reasons they're brought and returned to shelters is barking," says Woodward, who dreams of sending every adopted dog home with "Canine Lullabies." He offers it free to shelters and vet clinics.

Give the dog a (rubber) bone
"Interactive toys can be very helpful in slight-to-moderate cases of separation anxiety," says Catherine Frost, director of marketing and product development at Planet Dog in Portland, Maine. Most of the company's nontoxic, recyclable Orbee-Tuff toys have a hollow center that can be stuffed with food. Frost suggests retailers display them with healthy treats. "But be sure what customers pack the toys with is not high in calories," she says. "An overweight dog has added stress about where their next bit of kibble is coming from."

That next bit of kibble—and any toy, soundtrack or supplement aimed to soothe separation anxiety or simply meet basic needs, is, of course, coming from owners who are spending more each year. "Seven out of 10 people who walk through the door of a natural foods store own a dog or a cat," says Petmusic's Rappoport. "That's more than the percentage of people with intestinal difficulties or joint pain."

And Kizzy the stressed-out miniature pinscher?

After a few weeks on Calming Formula, she was off the window seat. "We were startled at first," Rodgers says, "and went back in the house to see if she was OK." The 4-pounder was back to her normal routine: terrorizing the family's other dogs.

Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXIX/number 3/p. 96,100

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