There are, of course, all sorts of tips and advice on how to travel with a nervous dog. The pet supply industry offers pet owners all sorts of devices and supplements assuring concerned owners that this will solve their problem. With current consumer trends indicating many pet owners are preferring natural and organic approaches to solve pet issues, what of the many calming tablet products available? Do they really work? Is there solid scientific research to back up their claims?
What They Claim To Deliver
Most of the information readily available is provided by retailers or manufacturers who are trying to sell their products. They offer assurances that the many different brands of calming tablets will:
- Support calm behavior
- Modify stress or fear related behavior
- Promote feelings of reassurance
- Create a sense of soothing
- Ease nervousness
- Curb stress-related behaviors such as chewing, trembling, whining and soiling.
Learning The Language
It is important to point out that language matters. When reading the descriptions, these products are not really promising anything. If you think that you are going to give your dog a "happy pill" then get into the car and the effects will magically transform your Nervous Nellie into a Calm Callie, you will be very disappointed in your expectations. Consider carefully the choice of words that are actually nothing more than a disclaimer cleverly integrated into the advertisement:
- Support: This indicates that the ingredients will assist any characteristic of calmness that is part of your dog's existing nature.
- Modify: The product does not promise to actually eradicate nervous behavior but to change it.
- Promote: The choice of this word implies that ingredients will boost calm responses, not downgrade anxious responses.
- Ease: The intensity of a dog's nervous response will be minimized to some degree.
- Curb: The ingredients are designed to create body reactions that will check some of the extremes of anxiety.
It is then pretty clear that calming tablets are not going to produce new calm behavior. They only have the potential to possibly minimize some of the existing responses of nervousness.
The Ingredients Make All The Difference
There are no definitive studies on the products themselves. Consumer then have to look at some of the most popular ingredients. Many of the ingredients have been widely studied and there is definitive research on their properties and effects.
Tryptophan: This amino acid is linked to what is commonly called the "turkey coma". The result of digesting food with high levels of tryptophan, like a Thanksgiving turkey, is purported to stimulate production of the "feel good" neurotransmitter serotonin and the "sleep" hormone melatonin. The overall effect is a pleasant, drowsy feeling. Although this is the theory, in real life things don't work that way.
A study of tryptophan's success at affecting the behavior of dogs was conducted at Wageningen University in the Netherlands. Their final conclusion is going to disappoint nervous dog owners everywhere. Their research asserts that tryptophan does not demonstrate any anxiety-reducing effects in the dogs they studied, 138 of them to be exact.
So what of the other common ingredients like chamomile, valerian root, passion flower, and melatonin?
Many veterinarians recommend the use of chamomile and attest to its calming properties due to how it relaxes muscles. Because gastric distress is often associated with anxiety, dogs also benefit from the soothing effect chamomile has on the digestive system.
Valerian root has been widely used for centuries as a natural sleep aid for humans. It is often an ingredient in natural anxiety remedies for dogs The trouble with Valerian root is that for some dogs it has the opposite effect. There are dogs who actually become stimulated and more anxious.
Veterinarians agree that passion flower does deliver results that are calming without the side effect of making a dog sleepy.
Melatonin is not only effective as a calming treatment but it will also help promote sleep. However, it should not be given to pregnant or lactating dogs or puppies under the age of six weeks.
Considering the possibilities of each ingredient, it may be advisable to try only one herbal extract at a time. By using supplements with multiple ingredients, a dog that might have been positively affected by one particular ingredient might have that calming side effect counteracted by a different ingredient which stimulated them.
Finding The Best Solution
Although calming tablets can certainly help to reduce the intensity of a dog's anxiety responses, it will not eliminate them altogether. For dogs who are nervous travelers it may be a permanent condition. Proper training and reconditioning to everything involved with riding in the car is the best long-term solution, but natural calming tablets may make the process a bit easier.