Anxiety is pervasive in our 24-7 society, and dealing with its consequences can be a frequent source of frustration. It’s not just us—our pets also are affected by stress and anxiousness. Both clinicians and pet owners are actively seeking prescription-free solutions to help minimize inappropriate behavior, phobias, fear, and anxiety that impact their pets.
Fear and anxiety can manifest in many ways. Dogs may demonstrate excessive vocalization, destructive behavior, hiding, shaking, or drooling. Cats may hide, act aggressively, and urinate or defecate inappropriately. Cats’ bladders appear to be the target organ for stress, which means relieving stress may have physical as well as behavioral benefits.
The increased demand for prescription-free supplements is apparent in the Fear Free movement. Veterinary medicine is actively working toward making veterinary visits easier by giving pets and their owners a more relaxed and positive experience.
Clients get stressed when their pets behave poorly and may fear being judged as a bad pet parent. Now, we have more opportunities to provide guidance and recommend prescription-free supplements that help reduce anxiety in pets. Supplements also may be key to implementing training and behavior modification therapy by facilitating a calm and receptive attitude.
Increasingly, veterinarians are counseling their clients about using supplements to help with their pets’ training and behavioral issues. Since behavior is usually relegated to a lower priority than physical illness, it’s critical for veterinary professionals to discuss behavioral issues with their clients.
According to a recent study, 90 percent of pet owners are looking to us for help with their pet’s behavioral issues.1 Fear and anxiety disorders affect an estimated 23 million dogs in the U.S. alone.2 Another study noted 37 percent of dogs are surrendered in the first three months of ownership due to behavioral issues. Behavioral issues also are the most common cause of euthanasia for cats. Reports estimate 50 to 70 percent of all euthanasias are the result of behavior problems.3
Addressing behavioral issues has never been more important. While many pet owners are hesitant to use medication, supplements may offer a prescription-free solution to separation anxiety and a host of other behavioral issues.
There are numerous ingredients that have demonstrated a positive impact on behavior and anxiousness, which result in a calmer, more focused pet. Typically, supplements work by triggering the production of neurotransmitters or by occupying calming receptor sites.
L-theanine: Relaxing agent
L-theanine, an amino acid found naturally in green tea and mushroom, has been shown to help cats and dogs deal with separation anxiety and environmental stressors.4 L-theanine is structurally similar to glutamate, thus allowing it to compete for calming receptors and block excitation.
Oral theanine is absorbed within the body and reaches peak plasma concentration about 50 minutes after ingestion. Theanine can cross the blood brain barrier and enters the brain in a dose-dependent manner. Excretion takes place through the kidneys and the substance appears in the urine between three and 24 hours after intake.
Theanine promotes deep muscle relaxation for better sleep quality, reduced blood pressure and heart rate, and improved cognition. Senior cognitive issues have been associated with increased levels of glutamate. Theanine provides neural protection by antagonizing glutamate and N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) receptors.
Theanine’s health benefits include decreased irritability and anxiety, as well as a relaxing effect. It also supports cognitive function by enhancing focus and alertness. Theanine has been shown to increase brain alpha waves5 to enhance relaxation without inducing delta and theta waves that result in drowsiness.
It’s worth nothing L-theanine can be administered to both dogs and cats, allowing clinics to maintain fewer products on shelf.
Colostrum: A clinically proven ingredient
Milk/colostrum derivatives are often constituents of calming supplements, as they can interact with benzodiazepine receptors. The two most common examples of milk derivatives are alpha-casozepine, which is derived from casein, and colostrum calming complex (C3)6 which is derived from bovine colostrum. Alpha-casozepine is a decapeptide that has been shown to decrease anxiety in cats. C3 is a complex ingredient that includes bioactive decapeptide, oligosaccharides, and sialic acid to contribute to a calm, but focused state.
The effects of milk proteins were first noticed when neonatal animals were observed in a calm, but alert state after nursing. This allowed the animals to respond to threats or other stimuli even in their relaxed state. Consequently “milk drunk” neonates triggered an investigation into the active compounds that induced this state.
Caseins, the major proteins in ruminant milk, may undergo hydrolysis secondary to the effects of trypsin in the digestive tract. This results in production of peptides of varying length that are subject to either further digestion or have biological activity.
The mechanism of the anxiolytic reaction is unidentified, but may be mediated through effects on the serotonin, dopamine, or gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) receptor systems. The anxiolytic effect of alpha-casozepine has been compared to that of diazepam. One distinct advantage of the milk derivatives is they do not produce the side effects associated with benzodiazepines.
Colostrum, another source of bioactive peptides, is a rich and complex liquid containing numerous active agents that help reduce anxious behavior. Colostrum calming complex contains a bioactive decapeptide that works along the same pathways as alpha-casozepine, although it contains other bioactive peptides.
Additionally, colostrum calming complex contains at least 49 oligosaccharides that work synergistically to enhance the calming effects. Since it does not contain lactose, pets sensitive to lactose should not be adversely affected.
C3 also has been found to have a synergistic effect with L-theanine, which improves the release of neurotransmitters in the brain. C3 affects the receptors to better potentiate a calming response.
Sialic acid, another active component of C3, has been shown to modulate the immune system and support cellular communication. It has been linked to improved memory and cognition. It’s easily absorbed and abundant in whey protein.
Proline-rich polypeptides, which are best sourced through colostrum, are associated with enhancing mood and cognitive abilities.
Tryptophan: Stimulates neurotransmitters
Tryptophan, a precursor of serotonin and an essential amino acid, also can be used to help reduce anxiety. Sourced through ingestion, increasing levels of tryptophan enhance serotonin synthesis. Serotonin is one of the key neurotransmitters responsible for the regulation of mood and creating a state of well-being.
L-tryptophan also can be converted into melatonin, a neurohormone naturally produced in the brain by the pineal gland. The synthesis and release of melatonin in the body are stimulated by darkness and suppressed by light. This hormone has multiple applications and has been shown to increase the binding of GABA to its receptors. Melatonin has been shown to decrease fear—side effects are uncommon, but may include decreased blood pressure and drowsiness. Caution is recommended for patients that are on anticonvulsants or have the potential to seizure, as melatonin may increase convulsant activity.
Many pharmaceuticals are known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), which manipulate serotonin levels by decreasing their reuptake and enable them to exist in the postsynaptic space for a longer period of time. Tryptophan provides the body with the resources it needs to create this essential neurotransmitter without the side effects of SSRIs.
These ingredients proved to be effective in one study of Composure Pro,7 which utilized a common noise-induced model (See Figure 1). It found beagle dogs receiving the product had a reduction in pacing and anxious activity within 30 minutes. The effect lasted at least four hours. This provides support for the rapid onset and lasting effect of a prescription-free supplement.
Supplements like Composure Pro utilize clinically tested ingredients to provide pet owners with a prescription-free solution to their pets’ behavioral issues. Furthermore, the use of these supplements encourages an increase in behavioral health awareness and support a happy pet and home.
Elizabeth DeLomba, DVM, MBA, senior veterinary services consultant for VetriScience Laboratories, combines extensive clinical experience with 12 years of management in veterinary pharmaceuticals. She has authored more than 50 veterinary articles and continuing education courses. Dr. DeLomba can be reached via email at email@example.com.
1 Promoting the Human-Animal bond in Veterinary Practice, Tom Catanzaro, 2001 Iowa State University Press
2 Landsberg GM, Blizzard P, De Rivera C. Prevalence of fearful and anxious behaviors in dogs in the United States.
3 Human and Animal Factors Related to the Relinquishment of Dogs and Cats in 12 Selected Animal Shelters in the United States, M. D. Salman et al, Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science, J(3), 207-226, copyright ® 1998, Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc.
4 Kimura K, Ozeki M, Juneja LR, Ohira H. (2007) L-Theanine reduces psychological and physiological stress responses. Biol Psychol.Jan;74(1):39-45. 2006 Aug 22
5 Gomez-Ramirez M, Kelly SP, Montesi JL, Foxe JJ. (2008) The Effects of L-theanine on Alpha-Band Oscillatory Brain Activity During a Visuo-Spatial Attention Task. Brain Topogr. and Juneja L, et al. (1999) L-theanine–A unique amino acid of green tea and its relaxation effect in humans. Trends in food science technology. v. 10(6/7) p. 199-204.
6 Field Trial of Composure Products with the New Colostrum Calming Complex (C3)
7 CanCog Technologies Study “Assessment of Anxiolytic Properties of a Novel Compound in Beagle Dogs with a Noise-Induced Model of Fear and Anxiety”
This Education Center article was underwritten by VetriScience Pro Line, a provider of medical insurance for cats and dogs in the United States, Canada, and Puerto Rico.