Pets can suffer from anxiety and other emotional problems from separation anxiety and fear of thunderstorms, to aggression and generalized anxiety. Sometimes anxiety can be a breed tendency, and sometimes it is from earlier trauma, such as abandonment and abuse, or being in a shelter for long periods of time. A lot of times with rescue animals there can be multiple causes. In many cases time and training can help heal a lot of anxiety but there are also other modalities that can help, as well as support and accelerate the healing process. Animals can also have specific fears such as fear of loud noises, or fear of thunderstorms. Separation anxiety is a common problem in dogs and rescue animals in particular, it is not so common in cats, but can manifest in subtle ways. Cats and dogs can develop various symptoms as a result of anxiety in addition to behavioral changes and more obvious signs of anxiety such as pacing, panting, and restlessness. Many physical conditions can be linked or exacerbated by anxiety, stress and fearfulness and these all can cause cortical levels to rise and affect the whole body on every level. Even when there are no obvious emotional or physical signs animals can exhibit signs of stress in other ways, like not using the litter box or by destructive behavior. Both cats and dogs can also pick up on stress in the environment, and some animals do better in a quieter household, and do not like a lot of noise and activity, or children and other pets. Sometimes the environment can change unexpectedly, such as when a new animal enters the household, or a baby is born and this can also cause stress and anxiety. Animals can also be aggressive to each other and even people, and while training and behavior modification is essential, calming modalities can help with this problem too. So there are many ways domestic animals can benefit from calming, with music, flower essences, massage and other modalities. Farm animals and horses can also suffer from stress and anxiety, and many equine establishments play music to calm horses, and help alleviate boredom and stress.
There are several holistic modalities that can help calm your anxious, fearful or aggressive pet, including music therapy. Flower essences are another invaluable resource, and herbs and relaxation techniques can also help. Combining different modalities together can often work synergistically and it depends on the particular situation, and individual animal which will prove to be the most effective. In general holistic modalities, used correctly, are safe, gentle and effective ways to deal with these behavioral and emotional situations, and it is possible to avoid the use of drugs which can have side effects such as drowsiness and behavioral changes, as well as possible damage to the physical body. While appropriate medications may have their place, the use of holistic therapies can be a better and safer alternative, reducing or eliminating the need for drugs, and bringing about healing in a safer and more natural way.
1. Music Therapy
Music Therapy has been well researched for humans, and it is now thought that animals can benefit from music as well. The right type of music can help to lower heart rate, breathing rate and to reduce anxiety, and bring about peace and calm. Dogs respond to music, and some dogs will howl at certain types of music, while others will relax and go to sleep. Animal behaviorists Leeds and Susan Wagner have written a book called “Through a Dog’s Ear” and they found that classical can help reduce heart rates and respiration rates. The most effective music is of a slower speed and consists of lower tones, and also progressively slowing the tempo can help augment the effects. Pop, rock and loud fast discordant music has the same effect as in people and not surprisingly, is not calming at all. Playing the right calming music in shelters, and horse barns, as well as in the home can help promote less stress and bring about a soothing environment, which also results in less disease, and a happier population of animals. A study in Northern Ireland discovered that music from Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons,” and other classical pieces, would calm dogs down, so they would relax and actually lie down calmly. Playing calming music when animals are left alone, can help alleviate destructive behavior and extreme anxiety and stress, especially when combined with other modalities. Also by associating particular music with a calming experience, such as massage or reiki, can lead to an enhanced effect when the music is played later, as the animal associates the music with a calming and soothing experience, and will be more likely to be relaxed and calm. In 2002, Dr. Deborah Wells studied the effects of five types of auditory stimulation on shelter dogs. These were human conversation, classical music, heavy metal music, pop music, and silence. Heavy metal music caused the dogs to stand up and bark more and that classical music caused them to relax and lie down. The BioAcoustic Research & Development project studied the effects of different types of classical music on over 150 dogs some of which had anxieties such as fear of thunderstorms, separation anxiety, loud noises and children, and other animals. They found that simple musical arrangements with a solo instrument played at slower tempos had the most calming effect and many of the anxious behaviors being improved. So Music Therapy can help with many different situations and is a very useful modality for calming your pet, either alone or with some other modalities discussed below.
2. Flower Essences
Flower essences are dilute extracts of flowers and plants that are used to treat animals and people. They are quite similar to homeopathic remedies and like homeopathic remedies are diluted and potentized to make them into an energetic essence, as opposed to using the original flower as a herbal extract. Herbs work more on the physical body while flower essences work more on the emotional level. The person who first developed the original flower remedies was Dr. Edward Bach, a famous English physician. He developed the Bach Flower Remedies when he was working as a homeopathic practitioner and wanted to find a simpler form of treatment that would not require anything to be destroyed or altered. Dr. Bach believed that diseases of the body come about as a result of imbalances at a very deep level, and by correcting the problem here healing would result and the body would heal on all levels. The flower remedies act to balance in harmonies in the emotional and spiritual body, and bring about a gentle healing by bringing the body back in balance with itself. One well chosen flower remedy will be more powerful in its action. In practice three or four related remedies work well together for example, a combination might be made up for treating fear composed of Mimulus which is used for fear of known causes, Aspen for non-specific fears and Rock Rose for acute fear or panic. Together these three remedies will cover most aspects of fear, and will act as a good general fear remedy. Another remedy which is useful for past traumas, such as abuse, is called Star of Bethlehem and this remedy helps to release any shock and trauma from the body, even if it happened a long time before. The most useful Bach Flower Remedy of all is Rescue Remedy, which is actually a combination of five other remedies, that act synergistically to calm stress and fear. This is helpful any time there is shock, stress or trauma and works well combined with music and other modalities such as massage or Reiki. The five remedies are Star of Bethlehem for trauma and numbness, Clematis for being grounded and to prevent passing out, Rock Rose for panic, Impatiens for tension and irritability and Cherry Plum to prevent losing control. Other flower essences can help with anger and aggression, such as Holly and Cherry Plum, and with anxiety and restlessness like White Chestnut. There are several excellent companies making flower essences alone or in combination, for both pets and people and they are definitely an invaluable tool for calming your anxious or fearful pet.
There are also herbs that may help calm your anxious cat or dog. They tend to be more potent in action, and work more on the physical body, by bringing about a mild sedating effect. Western Herbs that can help include Valerian, Chamomile, St, John’s Wort and Kava Kava. Skullcap can also be useful. Herbal formulas are available as proprietary combinations for calming, and these can be effective and have usually been well researched and studied, care must be taken to use the correct dose of the herbs whether in combination or used singly. Cats can be sensitive to the use of herbs and some herbs are not recommended for use in cats so it is best to check with a holistic veterinarian to determine the right formula for a particular animal. Chinese Herbal Medicine can also be extremely helpful with treating anxiety and stress in animals. It has to be individualized to that particular animal and their symptoms but it is a powerful modality that can be part of calming the anxious animal. There are some safe and effective formulas like Shen Calmer than can work well to reduce stress and calm aggression and anxious behavior. Another useful supplement that can be used is Melatonin, which works on the brain to bring about peace and calm, it is particularly useful for fear of noise, and thunderstorms. L-tryptophan is an amino acid, which is available for animals to help treat anxiety and aggression. It is best, especially if your animal is receiving medication check with your veterinarian to make sure there will not be any interaction and also that there are no underlying conditions that would preclude the use of this supplement. While not strictly herbal remedies aromatherapy is another related modality that is very calming and relaxing. It is important to use good quality human grade essential oils, but used in the animal’s environment in a diffuser, or on a tissue under the pet’s bed, or even on a bandanna it can work well alone or with other methods, such as music and massage. Oils like Lavender, Chamomile and Orange Oils are particularly effective. They can also be used in at atomizer, mixed with a little distilled water. Only use oils that are 100 percent pure, and be careful when using them on cats, it is best not to use them directly on cats as they can be sensitive, and some oils like Tea Tree Oil can be toxic to cats, but the calming oils used in the environment are safe and effective. Herbs and essential oils are some powerful ways to calm your pet, and can be very useful in the shorter term, for example when there is a thunderstorm, or fireworks. Combined with soothing music and bodywork they can help alleviate stress and bring about peace and tranquility.
4. Homeopathic Remedies
Homeopathy is a system of medicine that was developed in Germany by Dr. Samuel Hahnemann in the late eighteenth century. Dr. Hahnemann was a brilliant pharmacist and medical translator who founded homeopathy. Homeopathy is based on the Greek words meaning similar suffering and the concept that a substance that causes a symptom in a healthy patient will treat that same symptom in a sick patient. A single homeopathic remedy is chosen to treat the whole animal, including their mental, emotional and physical symptoms. Homeopathy can be very useful in the treatment of anxiety and behavioral problems in animals, and bring the body back into balance so they are no longer so fearful or scared. Homeopathic remedies are extremely dilute substances, which may be from the plant, mineral or animal kingdoms, that are used to treat many types of disease process. Homeopathic remedies have been detailed by a process known as proving. People have taken the remedies over an extended period of time and made notes of their experiences. The master homeopaths of that time then correlated all the information and determined that what causes these symptoms in a healthy person will treat those same symptoms in a sick person, or animal. There are various remedies that can help, and they are usually specific to that particular individual and their symptoms. So a remedy that treats a fear of thunderstorm in one animal may be different from the right remedy a different individual needs. A veterinary homeopath will look at the overall personality, symptoms, likes and dislikes and preferences of the animal to determine the best constitutional remedy. However there are some well proven remedies that can be useful in acute situations. Arnica is probably the best known homeopathic remedy and is good for treating emotional shocks and traumas as well as physical injuries. Aconite is another useful remedy for calming terrified animals, such as animals that have just been rescued, and is very useful in the treatment of wildlife, when the rescued animal is in a state of shock and terror. Another remedy called Arsenicum album is useful for the restless, fearful animal that paces around at night and tends to be chilly in nature. There are some useful books on veterinary homeopathy that can help determine the best specific or constitutional remedy and allow the right remedy to be found more easily, and homeopathy can be very useful for calming an anxious pet in both short and long-term situations.
5. Body Work
Body work such as massage, Reiki, or even acupuncture is one of the most useful holistic modalities for calming the anxious or fearful animal. Massage is effective because it soothes and relaxes the muscles and it works very well with music therapy. A quiet and peaceful environment is essential and start by gently rubbing and relaxing the animal, until they lie down and relax. It is good to massage in small circular movements, and work from head to tail, and it is also good to brush gently from head to tail in long slow gentle strokes. Massaging either side of the spine from the base of the skull to the end of the tail helps to treat and balance the whole body along an important acupuncture meridian. There is also a modality called TellingtonTouch or T-Touch which was developed by Linda Tellington-Jones which is a method where small circular movements of the fingers and hands are used all over the body. TTouch is to stimulates the cells and is said to awaken cellular intelligence and is beneficial for calming and treating aggressive and fearful animals. It is useful to combined it with massage and there are several books and DVDs as well as classes to learn the technique. It can be helpful with rescued and traumatized animals as well as for minor behavioral issues and general calming. Acupuncture and Acupressure can also help to calm a scared and agitated pet, and there are several acupressure points that can be used at home, especially one that is on the midline of the skull between the ears, and massaging and gently pressing in this area can help calm an animal down that is for example scared during a thunderstorm. Never try to do massage or acupressure on an animal that is aggressive or likely to bite, and always be cautious when working with animals that are scared and be gentle and slow with any approach. Reiki is also useful and there are many Reiki practitioners that will work on animals, as well as courses to learn Reiki that can be taken over the course of a weekend, or several weekends. Reiki is gentle and effective and utilizes natural healing energy to calm and soothe, as well as treat and improve physical and emotional well-being.
6. Creating a soothing environment
To help an anxious pet it is good to use Music Therapy and combine it with the other healing modalities. First take the time to create a quiet and calm place to work with your anxious pet. Make sure there are no extraneous noises, and try to avoid the possibility of loud and sudden noises, by closing doors and windows and working in a quiet place, away from distractions. Decide ahead of time which modalities to use, but a good general one to start off with is Rescue Remedy which can be used as a spray or as a liquid applied to the ears or the body, or put directly into the mouth, it is available in a non-alcoholic form for use in animals. Use a soothing music CD for animals and then gently massage your pet, talking to them in a soothing voice if it seems appropriate. Use small circular motions to calm and release tension from the muscles, as well as the entire body, and use slow gentle movement to massage the animal gently from head to toe. Some animals do not like massage or body work and in this case play the music and sit with them and talk gently to them until they begin to relax and the music starts to calm them down. Every animal is different and different methods and combinations of methods will work so try some different ones, and remember there are herbs and homeopathic remedies that can help in the long term treatment of anxiousness and aggression, and the regular use of music, and body work can help support the treatment over time as well as associate that feeling of tranquility and calm with the music when it plays, so that when it is played in a stressful situation it will work well. For example if an animal is scared to travel in the car, start of by using music therapy at home, and then when they are used to it play the music in the car, along with rescue remedy, or the other healing methods discussed like essential oils and a calming effect will be seen. For deeper seated fears and anxieties acupuncture, and constitutional homeopathy can work well to bring about balance and alleviate the underlying issues. Music and flower remedies can work well together and alone and all in all should help bring about calmness and peace for the whole family, both animal and human.
Books and Articles
Through a Dog’s Ear: Using Sound to Improve the Health and Behavior of Your Canine Companion by Joshua Leeds and Susan Wagner
Tuning Your Horse: Using Music for Training and Therapy by Sara Wyche
“Effects of Music Upon Animals of the Zoo” New York Times, 1909
Flower Essences for Animals: Remedies for Helping The Pets You Love
by Lila Devi
Bach Flower Remedies for Cats by Martin J. Scott, Gael Mariani and Richard Allport
PO Box 1769
Nevada City, CA 95959
PO Box 1369
Homer, AK 99603
PO Box 125A
Meriden , NH 03770
100 Research Drive
Wilmington, MA 01887
14618 Tyler Foote Road
P.O. Box 3603
Homeopathic Care for Cats and Dogs, Revised Edition: Small Doses for Small Animals by Don Hamilton D.V.M. and Richard Pitcairn
The Homoeopathic Treatment of Small Animals: Principles and Practice by Christopher Day
Cats: Homoeopathic Remedies by George Macleod
Dogs: Homoeopathic Remedies by George Macleod
The Tellington TTouch : A Revolutionary Natural Method to Train and Care for Your Favorite Animal by Linda Tellington-Jones
Animal Reiki: Using Energy to Heal the Animals in Your Life by Elizabeth Fulton and Kathleen Prasad
The Healing Touch: The Proven Massage Program for Cats and Dogs by Michael W. Fox
Animal Reiki Source website
Dr. Anna Maria Gardner is a holistic veterinarian, based in Washington State, and is certified in acupuncture and homeopathy. She lives in Washington with her daughter, two dogs, seven cats, sixteen chickens, two goats, a donkey, a horse, two ducks, a pair of geese and one bossy parrot.