Pet Corner: Herbal Calming

Herbs can safely help your pet ‘mellow out’

| July/August 1998

For most people, summer is a season of serious fun—warm weather, vacations, long road trips, visitors, and the annual Fourth of July picnic, complete with fireworks. However, this season can be a time of high stress for pets.

Many animals suffer anxiety, stress, and downright terror whenever they are exposed to anything out of their routine, but just how worked up your pet becomes depends on disposition. Breed or size is no indication of a pet’s ability to cope with stress; in fact, a 7-pound toy poodle may cope better with firecrackers than a 150-pound Rottweiler.

In our house, Rufus, a golden retriever, loves to ride in the car, while Quixote the cat responds to car rides with ear-piercing caterwauling. But at the first rumble of a distant thunderstorm or firecracker, Rufus is underfoot, whining and sniveling, demanding we protect him. I’ve never seen Quixote or Little Cat disturbed by such noises—they can sleep right through them, curled up on the couch. And Rufus always welcomes visitors, but we’re be lucky to see the whites of Little Cat’s terrified eyes from under the couch if strangers are around.

Calming the Terrified Beast

Herbs provide a safe and effective way to help your pet “mellow out” without the incapacitating effects of the barbiturates commonly prescribed for nervous animals. And many herbs soothe the intestinal upset that can accompany stress. But it may take some time to determine which herbs work best for your pet. Not all animals react the same way to the same herb, especially calming herbs. Valerian is extremely effective for Quixote, it seems to work moderately well for Little Cat, and Rufus has almost no response. Chamomile knocks Rufus out within minutes; Quixote and Little Cat aren’t noticeably affected.

The key is to try a variety of calming herbs, and you’ll also need to experiment with the amount and frequency of dosages —start small and gradually work up to ­larger, more frequent doses if necessary, being careful to continually monitor your pet. If you notice any unusual behavior (other than the desired relaxation), discontinue the treatment immediately and consult your veterinarian.

Herbs to Try

• Oats (Avena sativa) are always my first choice for high-strung animals because they’re so good at strengthening the nervous system. A daily or weekly helping of cooked oatmeal added to your pet’s food will support the nervous system and provide a good source of fiber. You can also grow oatgrass in your garden or in a pot. Simply let it get a few inches tall, cut it back to its base, then add the clippings to your pet’s dish, or use them to make a tea to add to the animal’s food. Some cats will simply graze on oatgrass—mine do. Another way to use oats is to boil a pound of shredded organic oatstraw in 2 quarts of water and add this to the animal’s bathwater for a wonderfully calming wash.

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