Worried Dogs

Dietary Supplements Can Help Ease Anxiety

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I have three dogs. One of them, Aksel, is an outgoing goober — a ridgeless Rhodesian Ridgeback with the soul of a Labrador. Aksel hasn’t a worry in the world, and he's never met a stranger he didn’t love. When meeting people for the first time, he's 90 pounds of lap dog trying to wrap his giraffe-like tongue around their faces.

My other two dogs also love people, but unlike the carefree, imperturbable Aksel, both of them have anxiety issues.

Rhoda, my Pit/Boxer/Who-knows-what mix, is a hot mess of worries. She’s a rescue dog, but I got her as a puppy and know that worried is just her nature. She loves the car, but thunderstorms, fireworks, and loud noises freak her out. And now at her advanced age of 13, even changes in routine make her quake.

Then there’s Biggie, my rescue Pit Bull, who had been kept tied up in a yard until being dumped at a high-kill shelter. Despite this mistreatment, Biggie just adores people — family and strangers alike. But if I leave him alone in my car, he gets worried. Really worried. Barking, seatback-mauling, windshield-smashing worried. Even mellow Aksel, lounging in peaceful oblivion on the adjacent seat, has no calming effect on Biggie.

A friend overheard me mourning the shredding of my car’s seatbacks after one of Biggie’s anxiety attacks and suggested I try Composure, a calming dietary supplement produced by VetriScience Laboratories. It worked for his cat, he said.

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According to the VetriScience website, Composure’s “colostrum calming complex” — a mix of bioactive proteins — “supports stress reduction and cognitive function.” Colostrum, the protein-packed “high octane” milk moms produce soon after childbirth, sounded comforting to me. (Composure uses cow’s milk for its formulation.) The second active ingredient, L-theanine, “helps the body produce other amino acids to bring specific neurotransmitters back into balance." The last active ingredient, thiamine (vitamin B-1), “affect[s] the central nervous system to help calm anxious animals.” Composure Pro, a stronger, vet-prescribed version, additionally contains L-tryptophan, a calming amino acid many people associate with the “calming effects” of turkey.

VetriScience’s studies show that Composure, which comes as a chewable treat or liquid, works at an effectiveness rate of 79 percent, even without the L-tryptophan. Other clinical studies show that colostrum helps doggie diarrhea (something Biggie has thankfully not inflicted upon my car . . . yet). It’s also good for coat quality and periodontal disease. Between the colostrum and the studies, I was sold and decided to give it a shot.

You can give Composure to your pet daily — one or two treats a day, say — or just as needed. A 60-treat bag of Composure runs about $12 on Amazon; the Pro version costs about twice that. I tend to give Biggie his Composure as needed, and he absolutely loves it. Personal experience is by no means a clinical trial, but when I remember to give Biggie this special snack, he barks less and my car gets fewer marks on it. I’ve started giving Composure to Rhoda too, and she seems all the better for it.

If Composure for some reason doesn’t work well for your anxious pet, you might try another popular supplement on the market: CBD oil (cannabidiol). One day I was chatting about Rhoda with Dr. Doreen Hock of Pacifica Veterinary Services and The Healthy Pet, and Dr. Hock suggested I look into this remedy, sold at The Healthy Pet. Hock told me she’s seen CBD change the demeanor of older pets. She said her own dog, who had become anxious due to age-related changes like hearing loss, became less stressed after starting CBD.

 Sorry I freaked out and broke your windshield.  Love, Biggie

Sorry I freaked out and broke your windshield.  Love, Biggie

Dr. Hock explained that cannabis for pets is made from hemp and only has CBD in it, not the THC that will make your dog sick if he gets into the pot cookies left on the table. It’s not legal in Oregon to put marijuana in cat or dog food, according to the Oregon Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Animal Health program. But CBD derived from hemp is legal in vegetarian food or treats in this state.

Thanks to federal restrictions, studies of the effectiveness of CBD on pets are lacking, but according to Dr. Hock, CBD oils, biscuits, capsules, powders, and tinctures fly off the shelves at her Eugene store.

Speak with your veterinarian about behavior issues. There are many treatments for anxious pets, from supplements, pheromones, and simple behavior modification to anxiety medications. Anxiety is a health issue that can be treated.

We started giving Rhoda a daily dose of CBD, sometimes using Canna-Pets Canna-Biscuits and sometimes Austin and Kat Hemp Biscuits. Sure enough, she soon started acting noticeably calmer and more comfortable.

Not every dog can have Aksel’s love of everything and be unfazed by new situations. Luckily for Biggie and Rhoda, we’ve been able to find alternative remedies to ease their fears (and the damage to my car).  


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Camilla Mortensen is editor-in-chief at Eugene Weekly. She is also a folklorist and a community college instructor. She has two horses, Flash and Cairo; a cat named Woodward; and an assortment of dogs — Rhoda, Aksel and Biggie Smalls — and lives in a 1975 Airstream trailer outside Eugene.