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- Not a substitute for professional veterinary help.
Caring for your anxious dog is like trying to solve a complex puzzle: every dog is different. With so many forms of treatment available, a pet parent can easily feel overwhelmed. Dog calming pheromones are one tool that has been gaining popularity for treating dog anxiety.
But do they work?
Let’s start by demystifying dog calming pheromones and find out what they are and what they do.
What Are Dog Calming Pheromones?
PetMD explains that dog pheromones are chemical signals that dogs give off that are picked up by other dogs. Humans can’t see or smell dog pheromones, but dogs sure notice them. (Cats give off pheromones, too. So do humans, most animals, and even some plants. As a rule, pheromones are mostly detectable within a species. However, dogs have such powerful receptors for pheromones that it’s likely dogs can detect human pheromones.)
Each species has different kinds of pheromones, released under different circumstances to achieve various effects. Nursing dogs, for example, release a special kind of comforting pheromone to let their offspring know they are safe—and that’s exactly the pheromone that’s effective in calming an anxious dog. This pheromone, termed dog appeasing pheromone (DAP), has been produced synthetically. The synthetic version is available in several formats, including room diffusers, spray, edible treats, and wearable collars.
In scientific studies, DAP has proven effective in treating separation anxiety. It can also be used to help dogs stay calm through anxiety-inducing situations such as thunderstorms and fireworks displays.
What Does Anxiety in Dogs Look Like?
Dogs express anxiety in many ways. Some whine, or act more aggressively than usual. According to The American Kennel Club (AKC), some of the following behaviors could indicate that your dog is struggling with anxiety:
- Urinating or defecating in the house
- Destructive behavior
- Excessive barking
- Repetitive or compulsive behaviors
If you know the cause of your dog’s anxiety, you may be able to address it with approaches such as situation avoidance, regular exercise, and stimulation, or behavioral or obedience training. In other cases, your dog’s anxiety may be totally beyond your control (such as a sudden thunderstorm or fireworks). For that, you may want to turn to an alternative remedy, such as dog calming pheromones.
Do Dog Calming Pheromones Really Work?
Many dogs get relief from dog calming pheromones, while others don’t see much effect from DAP. As PetMD points out, “While calming pheromones may help with many issues in both dogs and cats, they don’t work for every potential issue or behavioral problem your pet might be experiencing.”
Dr. Erin Perotti-Orcutt, DVM at Four Paws Veterinary Center in Seattle, Washington, recommends a multi-modal approach, especially where natural remedies are concerned. “Different things work for different dogs, so why not try a few remedies and see what works for your dog?” She finds that ThunderShirts and calming treats can be effective, with or without pheromones.
If you don’t have time to exercise the dog as much as they need, consider hiring a walker or trying out a doggy daycare. Another option to consider is training your dog more extensively, using crate training or separation anxiety training.
If your dog displays aggression or extreme destructive behaviors as part of their anxiety symptoms, you may want to ask your vet about prescription medication for anxiety.
Popular Products with Dog Calming Pheromones
If you’d like to try out pheromones, we’ve picked out a few well-recognized products to get you started.
A home diffuser is ideal for dogs with separation anxiety. Plug the diffuser into an outlet and it warms the odorless DAP solution, allowing it to spread throughout the room and provide your pup with a sense of calm and well-being while you’re away. The Adaptil Calm diffuser covers an area of up to 700 square feet, for as long as four weeks. Adaptil also makes a collar and a travel spray.Shop on Chewy
ThunderEase calming spray can be spritzed on a bed or crate blanket, in the car, or on a ThunderShirt. This is a great option for travel and trips to the vet, as well as around the house.
A friend used this spray for her small, anxious beagle, Marzipan. “I definitely noticed Marzipan was more comfortable in her crate after I started using the spray,” she told me. “In fact, she would whine to go in!”Shop on Chewy
This adjustable collar releases synthetic pheromones to soothe dogs and reduce fear responses. Humans can smell the lavender and chamomile scent.Shop on Chewy
If you would like to reduce your dog’s anxiety but haven’t had much luck with pheromones, here are some other options you could try.
The ThunderShirt is designed to calm anxious dogs by applying reassuring pressure (a technique based on the tradition of swaddling babies). It comes in charcoal gray and sizes from extra-extra-small to extra-extra-large.Shop on Chewy
These tasty calming chews use chamomile, hemp, melatonin, and the amino acid L-theanine to tackle your pup’s anxiety from a few angles. Reviewers have mentioned that these bites are rather pungent to the human nose, but that dogs seem to love them.Shop on Chewy
This challenging puzzle toy is designed to keep your dog’s mind occupied to redirect them during times they might be anxious. Choose calming treats as prizes to enhance the effect.Shop on Chewy
Dog Calming Pheromones: Worth a Try
As with anxiety in humans, there is no magic bullet for anxiety in dogs. However, by using a combination of approaches that includes training, environmental modification, exercise, calming treat supplements, and pheromones, many pet owners see improvement in their pet’s behavior.