More and more vets are prescribing mind-altering psychiatric drugs for dogs they’ve diagnosed with depression or anxiety. These drugs come with a whole busload of side effects and warnings, including, according to the ASPCA ironically, increased anxiety.(1) Dogs who react to stress with aggression can even become more aggressive when they’re on Xanax because the drug lowers their inhibitions. Just like people, dogs sometimes pick fights when they’re stoned.
So, just why do people think their pets need these drugs? Let’s take a look at the lives of modern dogs.
The new normal
In today’s goal-driven society, even dogs are stressed. Modern dogs face stressors that simply weren’t around 20 years ago. They are often left alone for hours on end in empty houses, or worse, confined to small indoor kennels so they won’t tear up the furniture. Many of them live entirely indoors, with little or no access to the outside world.
Some dogs are dropped off at doggy day care centers, and while this can be a great alternative to the isolation of staying home alone, not all day care centers are high quality. Some keep dogs kenneled for much of the day, or only offer indoor or concrete-covered play areas. Some don’t protect smaller dogs from bigger dogs, and some have low-paid workers who may handle dogs aggressively.
Add to this stress-filled mix the toxic medications used for flea control and to treat arthritis, and you have a perfect storm for creating neurotic dogs.(2) Modern dogs often express their stress as separation anxiety, pica — the eating of nonfood items — incessant barking, chewing rugs and furniture, and unnatural aggression. The physical signs of stress in dogs include, according to WebVet.com, whining, hiding, drooling, repetitive behaviors, change in appetite, and loss of bowel or bladder control.(3)
These are all serious concerns. But, what does big veterinary pharma do? Does it look at these stressors and advise ways to alleviate or counteract them? No. It recommends adding more chemicals to the stew.
Dogs stay at home
Please don’t take this wrong. We all have to work and pay our bills. Many, many well-cared-for pets live in apartments and condos, or must stay home alone when their owners have other obligations. After all, if a dog’s owner doesn’t work, who will pay for the kibble? Fido may want us to be there 24-7 but, of course, that’s not realistic. Unless you’re retired, independently wealthy, or homeless, you simply cannot spend every waking minute with your dog.
If you’re under a lot of stress yourself, you may think that simply giving your pet a pill sounds like an easy solution. If, however, you really love your dog and most pet owners do, you want what’s best for him, not simply what’s easiest for you. There are natural ways to eliminate the stresses that modern dogs face, and also ways to alleviate the symptoms caused by that stress when it simply cannot be avoided. If you have an anxious dog, consider trying some of the following before you reach for that bottle of pills.
• Invest in some high-quality entertainment – If you must leave your dog alone for part of the day, find ways to alleviate his boredom. Hide treats for him around the house, for instance, of buy a toy that dispenses goodies when he rolls it around. Install a doggy door so your dog has access to his bed and kibble inside, but can also explore and defend his turf if he wants to. Hire a dog walker to come three or four days a week so your dog gets some attention and company when you are gone all day.
• Make the most of home time – If you’ve been at work all day, you may simply want to put your feet up when you get home. But, your dog is a living being. When you decided to get a pet, you committed yourself to meeting his needs. As soon as possible after you get home, take him for a long walk. Stop at the dog park or throw him a Frisbee. Make sure that he’s fed and watered as well, and maybe gets a few special treats. Also make sure he stays close to the family all evening, and feels included. Simply snuggling with him while you unwind and watch TV is a great way to de-stress your dog.
• Consider natural remedies – Herbs that successfully treat anxiety in some dogs include chamomile, lemon balm, valerian, and skullcap. Dogs who face chronic stress issues can also benefit from Echinacea, as well, which can help boost and repair their immune systems. A “thunder shirt” wraps a dog in gentle, calming pressure which can mitigate stress. But, do not leave the dog in the shirt when unsupervised, especially in warm weather; he can quickly overheat.
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