Natural Sedatives for Dogs

If your dog is driving you nuts, it may be because something is driving him nuts. Just like people, dogs get stressed out and can suffer from anxiety. An anxious dog may pace, bark constantly, have accidents in the house, or chew everything in sight, as well as exhibit hyperactive or aggressive behavior. You can probably solve the problem with medication from your vet, but there are a few natural sedatives for dogs you may want to try.

Beagle.
Natural Sedatives for Dogs
credit: Boris Zhitkov/Moment/GettyImages

Your vet is always your first step

It's vital to remember that natural isn't a synonym for safe. Cocaine and heroin both come from plants, and both are potentially lethal. Always check with your vet before treating your dog with any type of herb, oil, or supplement. Your dog could be allergic to a substance or have a health condition that will change the way she responds to certain treatments.

When you're at the vet, remember to ask about your other pets as well. Diffusing essential oils, for example, is sometimes toxic to birds and cats. In this case, soothing your dog could stress out the other animals in your home. It's always worth a visit or phone call to the vet before starting your pooch on a calming regimen.

Try exercising your dog

If your dog seems hyperactive and anxiety-ridden, assess whether he's getting enough exercise before reaching for the dog tranquilizers. A pug or Pekingese will make a great little couch potato, but working breeds and more energetic dogs need exercise and stimulation. Exercise releases the feel-good chemical serotonin in dogs just as it does in humans, and this can go a long way toward calming a dog. Long walks, rigorous games of fetch, or a swim in the local pond all count as exercise and are fun for your dog.

Desensitize and distract your dog

Never underestimate the power of a peanut-butter-filled Kong toy. If your dog panics when you leave, try giving her a toy filled with tasty treats. You might be amazed how quickly she forgets all about you.

Use this technique when your dog displays situational anxiety during thunderstorms or trips to the groomer. Give your dog a special treat or a favorite toy during stressful situations. Doing so consistently teaches your dog to associate the things she once feared with good things rather than scary ones.

Give your dog a massage

Although you don't have to give your dog the whole spa treatment complete with a mud facial and cucumber slices over his eyes, a little pampering can reduce your dog's stress level. Touch and massage can be powerful healers and stress reducers, and your dog may enjoy a good massage as much as you do.

To reduce anxiety, use the palm of your hand to gently rub the length of your dog's body, starting at the base of his neck and moving down to the tip of his tail. Move slowly and deliberately, slowly increasing the amount of pressure you apply if your dog seems to enjoy it. After a few strokes, rest your palms with one at the base of your dog's neck and the other sitting on his pelvis.

Use music to soothe dog anxiety

When a dog has separation anxiety or when she reacts to noises, some owners leave the television on at home. The television can mimic the noises your dog hears when you're home and talking or puttering around, and it may block or reduce outside noises that could trigger your dog's anxiety. Unfortunately, you don't have control over the television, and it could play a noise that actually excites your dog rather than calming her down.

A better alternative is to purchase a CD filled with music designed to calm your dog. These specially arranged musical pieces can soothe your dog while drowning out other noises. Some of these tunes are even composed specifically with the goal of making your dog less sensitive to noises to which she reacts negatively. Studies have shown that music therapy helps humans, so there's no reason to doubt that it could work for your pet.

Join the ThunderShirt debate

The ThunderShirt is a special garment designed to wrap around your dog, creating slight but constant pressure on his body. The shirt essentially wraps your dog in a giant bear hug. The manufacturer even claims that the pressure from the shirt may release a calming hormone.

More research is needed to confirm the veracity of these claims, but some dog owners swear by the ThunderShirt. Others claim that it failed to help their pet. It doesn't hurt to give one a try, however, as there are no chemicals or potential side effects involved.

Treat acute dog anxiety with CBD

Cannabidiol, more commonly known as CBD oil, is one of 104 chemicals found in the marijuana plant. This particular chemical won't get you high, but it will help your body create more serotonin. It does the same for dogs, and more serotonin means less stress and anxiety.

Perhaps the best part of CBD oil is that it works quickly, letting you give it to your dog only when he needs it. Simply place a few drops in your dog's mouth 30 to 60 minutes before a stressful event like fireworks or a trip to the vet. Note that CBD oil comes in different strengths and purity levels, so you'll need to always follow the dosage instructions on the bottle or follow your vet's advice.

Experiment with herbal remedies

Some of the medicinal herbs that humans use to combat stress and anxiety are also safe for dogs. Chamomile is a natural sedative for dogs and soothes upset stomachs, making trips easier for dogs who get carsick. Valerian also works to calm the nerves and promote an overall sensation of physical relaxation. California poppy and St. John's wort have soothing properties, too, that reduce anxiety in dogs.

You can use herbs as you would CBD oil and give them to your dog before stressful events, or you can put your pooch on an ongoing herbal regimen to promote a continual sense of calm. If your dog likes tea, you can brew her some and add it to her water. You can also buy herbs in capsules and in liquid form. Once again, your vet has the final say, but herbal dosages are based on your dog's weight.

Give your dog the herbal supplement one to three times a day using the following guidelines:

  • For a 1- to 20-pound dog, give 1/4 cup of tea, 1/2 a capsule, or one to four drops of liquid at each dose.

  • For a 20- to 50-pound dog, give 1/2 cup of tea, one or two capsules, or five to 10 drops of liquid at each dose.

  • For a 50- to 100-pound dog, give 1 cup of tea, one or two capsules, or 10 to 20 drops of liquid at each dose.

Get an oil diffuser

There is a wide array of essential oils on the market today, and many work to soothe both people and animals. To use a diffuser, you simply fill the reservoir with water, add two or three drops of essential oil, and turn the machine on. Most units now operate without heat and turn themselves off automatically when the reservoir runs dry.

To calm your dog, try diffusing frankincense, lavender, chamomile, vetiver, or rose oils. Give your dog an out, however, as some of these oils get quite intense when diffused. Make sure your dog can get to another room or to fresh air if he needs a break from the odor. Don't add essential oils to your dog's water or place them on his skin, as these oils are potent, and direct contact can harm your dog. Stick to aromatherapy only.