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Just like people, our pets can develop anxiety—and as you may have experienced, there is almost nothing worse than feeling unable to help during an anxiety spiral. If you’re wondering what solutions there may be, you’re not alone.
More and more pet parents are looking for solutions, and their search has led to the rise of a wide range of new calming products for pups, from beds and heartbeat toys to medications. Among these new products are “calming treats” for dogs. But what are they, and do they really work?
We consulted Dr. Rebecca Greenstein, Veterinary Medical Advisor for Rover and Chief Veterinarian at Kleinburg Veterinary Hospital, and Dr. Erin Perotti-Orcutt, DVM at Four Paws Veterinary Center, to find out if these treats are worth it for your dog.
How Do Calming Treats Work for Dog Anxiety?
Dog anxiety is a natural response to fear and discomfort. The fight, flight, or freeze reaction is a healthy and necessary survival tool that’s activated in response to a real threat—but when this reaction takes place in anticipation of something that can’t do actual harm, it can feel extremely distressing to both dog and pet parent.
Things that may trigger anxiety in dogs include:
- sudden loud noises
- a new environment
- visual stimuli like hats and umbrellas
- separation from owner or bonded pet
If you know an anxious trigger or event is coming, you may have looked into feeding your pet calming treats, also called calming chews or calming bites. Also known as nutraceuticals, calming treats provide a medical or health benefit by reducing the impact of your dog’s fight, flight, or freeze response.
Some treats make use of the documented calming effects of ingredients like casein (a milk protein), tryptophan, or melatonin, while others rely on amino acids like L-Theanine, which are thought increase a dog’s serotonin and dopamine levels. Treats with CBD are also gaining popularity, based in large part on the hemp product’s ability to target the body’s endocannabinoid receptors, which play a regulatory role in both dogs and humans.
Then there are probiotics, which target digestive health. They frequently appear in calming treats to help stressed dogs who develop diarrhea or stomach trouble as a result of anxiety—though some have suggested that a healthier, better-regulated gut can also positively impact a dog’s mental state. These treats are typically fed regularly, sometimes as part of a dog’s meals, to slowly improve gut health over time. Rover test pups have seen the benefits of calming probiotic supplements firsthand, though our testers all agree they’re best pursued together with a mix of behavioral and nutrition strategies.
How To Tell If Your Dog Could Benefit from Calming Treats
One of the largest studies on dog anxiety, published in 2020, found 72.5% of 14,000 dogs tested showed at least one anxiety-related behavior. These can spring from socialization issues, traumatic experiences, cognitive issues associated with aging, genetic disorders, and even just changing routines.
So what should you be looking for to know if your dog is experiencing anxiety?
Canine body language is a strong signal of anxiety: flattened ears, a tucked tail, and shivering can all indicate a pup is uneasy. Yawning in the context of a new or unusual situation is another behavior that can indicate stress, as are drooling, panting, whining, and pacing. More obvious signs of distress are aggression, destructive behavior, and urination or defecation in the house.
The hard part isn’t usually spotting the symptoms; it’s more likely to be identifying the causes. If you’re not sure what’s triggering your dog’s anxiety, that’s the place to start your journey. Your vet, behaviorist, or trainer is a great resource to help you identify trouble spots and figure out where to start—which might be both behavioral strategies and nutritional ones.
What Should I Look for in Calming Treats for Dogs?
As with nutritional supplements for humans, loose regulation of nutraceuticals can make it hard to sift more promising calming treats from ineffective ones. Dr. Perotti-Orcutt says reading the fine print on a calming product is especially important. “There are certainly some good ones, but there isn’t much regulation around nutraceutical products, so [manufacturers] can make a lot of unfounded claims,” she says.
For example, a chamomile calming treat sounds nice, but a dog wouldn’t eat chamomile in the wild. As Dr. Perotti-Orcutt points out, even though there’s no indication the herb would be harmful to your pet, there’s also not much evidence yet to suggest chamomile would have the same soothing effect on a dog’s system as it would on a human’s.
There are, however, some ingredients you can look for to maximize your chances—ones with more promising data to support their positive effect. According to Dr. Greenstein, “Some [calming treats] will contain an ingredient derived from a milk protein called casein. And casein-derived ingredients are not only found in certain treats, but in prescription veterinary calm diets.”
The calming treats with the best chance of working will usually contain one or more of the below ingredients:
- L-Theanine (also known as Suntheanine)
Dog Calming Treats: Reviews
If you’re ready to give calming treats a try, here are some of the most popular options currently on the market—and how they stack up in reviews.
- Vet’s Best Comfort Calm Soft Chews: Jeanette, a dog owner in Seattle, observed great results after giving her two rescue dogs these treats to help “ease morning walks, for general anxiety, aggression, and to help focus.” With L-Tryptophan as the leading active ingredient, satisfied Chewy reviewers generally indicate this product helps promote calmness and soothe over-reactivity. But not all customers found these chews to be effective—many one star reviews mention needing prescription-level anxiety medication instead.
- Maxxicalm Natural Calming Aid for Dogs: Praised by Chewy reviewers for soothing dogs with storm sensitivity and for helping calm rescue dogs transitioning to their forever home, maxxicalm is a B vitamin and L-Theanine supplement, bolstered with chamomile. However, these calming treats just weren’t strong enough for some reviewers’ dogs.
- VetriScience Composure Soft Chews Calming Treats: This sedative-free, L-Theanine supplement has an appealing chicken flavor and claims to help keep dogs calm for up to four hours. Chewy reviews are a mixed bag: some reviewers had great success with these for their dog’s separation anxiety, some reviewers felt these worked best for more mild situations, such as car rides, and for others these calming treats weren’t as effective as other methods—such as a thundershirt.
- NaturVet Quiet Moments Calming Soft Chews: Specially formulated with Thiamin, L-Tryptophan, Melatonin, and ginger, these soft chews taste like a treat and are said to help promote normal nervous system function and facilitate a calm, restful state. Chewy reviewers have had success with pups that won’t settle before bed time and anxious rescue dogs. However, some reviewers found the anxiety relief was quite short term, or recommended pairing these calming treats with a thundershirt; others found this was not the right product for their dogs.
- Purina ProPlan Calming Care: This treat takes a different approach to calming; it comes in powder form and goes on top of your dog’s daily meals. It’s designed to improve gut health (and by extension a pup’s mental health) over time, which is why it comes in a pack with six to eight weeks worth of supplement. We’ve tried it ourselves and seen significant improvements in pups—though as with any calming product, there are a lot of factors at play.
How To Get the Most Out of Dog Calming Treats
Calming treats are at their most effective when they’re part of a larger strategy. As Dr. Greenstein points out, “There is a growing amount of research that shows that calming treats can help in decreasing anxiety. But not every patient, every dog, will be as easily managed with something as simple as a treat and nothing else.”
Anxiety in both dogs and humans is a complex issue that usually requires a multi-faceted approach. “More serious cases might need pharmaceuticals as well as behavioral therapy,” says Dr. Greenstein. “The bottom line is these treats are helpful, but you don’t want owners to over-rely on them. In patients who have severe anxiety, it’s not enough.”
Dr. Perotti-Orcutt is in agreement, noting that while calming treats should “definitely [be] in the toolbox,” a multimodal approach that includes pheromones, pressure wraps, and puzzle toys is the optimal way to go for home remedies.
Dr. Greenstein adds crate training to help with separation anxiety, plenty of exercise for physical and mental stress relief, and encouraging your dog’s independence, such as having them play with a toy on their own in a separate room.
But the best and most effective approach will always be one that takes into account the source of the anxiety—which is ultimately just a symptom, not a cause. “The question is ‘What seems to be triggering the anxiety?'” says Dr. Greenstein. “Successful management depends on us tailoring the treatment, specifically, to an individual patient. So, what’s causing anxiety for one dog, and how to treat it, might be very different than for another dog.”
It’s likely to take some trial and error to find the right combination of solutions. Here are some approaches worth considering:
Mimicking the chemicals released by nursing pet mothers, pheromones are a home remedy used for occasional pet anxiety and stress. Available as plug-in room diffusers, sprays (for bedding, near food bowls, etc.), or collars, pheromones emit a strong, soothing scent easily detected by pets (and barely detectable to humans).
- ThunderEase Dog Calming Pheromone Diffuser Kit: Popular pet brands Adaptil and Thunderworks teamed up on this plug-in, 30-day pheromone diffuser. Said to cover rooms up to 700 square feet, it’s meant for situations when your dog might be more anxious, such as when unfamiliar guests come to visit or you are introducing new pets into your home.
- Sentry Calming Collar for Dogs: Those calming pheromones are now with your dog wherever they go, helping to alleviate stress and anxiety in different situations.
The ThunderShirt is a pressure wrap for anxious dogs that was designed to have a calming effect by approximating the feeling of a hug. They’re a popular, drug-free option for addressing a dog’s anxiety, especially when calming treats don’t seem to work.
- ThunderShirt Classic Dog Anxiety Jacket: The original ThunderShirt comes in a charcoal gray color and fits dogs of all sizes and shapes. See here for a sizing chart.
When your dog’s anxiety is directly related to a loud event (such as a thunderstorm or fireworks), you can try to create a space in your home that offers a distraction. Using a white noise machine in a quiet room with the blinds drawn—perhaps even a crate with a blanket laid over it—might help. Adding a puzzle toy to mentally engage your dog and divert attention from the distressing noise can be a big plus.
- Outward Hound Brick Puzzle Toy: Reduce boredom and stress with this colorful, interactive toy designed to capture your dog’s attention and stimulate their problem-solving skills.
Trazodone isn’t so much a supplement to a calming treat regime but rather a more serious pharmaceutical upgrade. It’s a prescription anti-anxiety medication, and it works to regulate serotonin in the brain, keeping it in synaptic spaces for longer periods of time than your pet might otherwise experience.
- Trazodone typically comes in tablets, but if your pup is having none of that, you can try a beef-flavored liquid. Both require prescriptions from your vet.
Bottom Line: The Pros and Cons of Calming Treats for Dogs
Let’s start with the cons: Calming treats for dogs are not a one-size-fits-all solution. Addressing anxiety in dogs often takes a multi-pronged approach, because anxiety isn’t a cause; it’s an effect. It also requires careful label reading to make sure the active ingredients are truly effective in dogs and not just herbs that promote calm in humans. It’s also worth noting that calming treats just don’t work in some dogs, and the only way to really know is through trial and error.
Now for the pros: Calming dog treats can be a helpful part of your larger anxiety management toolkit, especially where the cause is a specific and predictable kind of event (like thunderstorms, fireworks, or your regular departure from the house). Their efficacy is improved when they’re used in tandem with behavioral methods and solutions like ThunderShirts and puzzle toys.
If you’re ready to try calming treats or supplements, it’s a good idea to loop your vet in to your plan, since they’ll be able to not only make strategic recommendations but also flag any ingredients that might not be a good choice for your particular pup. Armed with good advice and the right tools, many dogs see a dramatic decrease in their anxiety levels—and their humans’.