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Calming your hyperactive dog naturally

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Question

Our 2-year-old boxer, Tyson, is hyperactive even though he is no longer a puppy. He will not settle and cannot be trained. We think he has severe ADHD and would really like some help calming him down without the Prozac our vet wants to give him as we now have a baby in the house.

Answer

Hyperactivity refers to an extremely high level of activity that does not seem to be controlled by correction, restraint or any form of redirection. True hyperactivity, or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) has not been well documented in dogs. However, there are published case studies of dogs that have excess motor activity and an altered ability to learn new tasks, which owners often describe as untrainable.

Signs and diagnosis

True hyperactivity disorders (imbalance in brain chemicals) are rare and should be differentiated from overactivity. Overactive dogs tend to be very athletic, active and high-energy dogs that do eventually calm down and will respond to training and human control. Hyperactive dogs are restless and tend to be clingy and follow their owners around. They also tend to exhibit stereotypical behaviors like tail-chasing and tail-biting, pacing, racing mindlessly and running in circles. Their eyes lack focus and it is hard to get them to pay attention, making it impossible to train them. This is different from the “zoomies” that puppies exhibit. Owners describe these dogs as not having an off switch and find them exhausting. Excessive barking, irritability and insomnia may also be problems in some dogs.

A veterinarian will usually rule out hyperthyroidism, hyperkinesis (paradoxical response to amphetamines), and neurological or brain pathology if the problem is severe enough to warrant it before confirming ADHD. MRI or CT scans may be necessary if the dog is also aggressive or self-mutilating.

Causes

Some breeds are genetically predisposed to hyperactivity, while other dogs exhibit it as they get rewarded for being super playful. When some breeds that are supposed to be high-energy dogs and need to be exercised and stimulated are subjected to suboptimal activity and poor social interaction, they may become hyperactive and unruly.

Conventional treatment

Mainstream veterinarians usually prescribe fluoxetine (Prozac) or clomicalm (clomipramine hydrochloride) for these dogs. However, these drugs have side effects. Prolonged clomicalm usage may cause lethargy, depression, vomiting or diarrhea, elevated liver enzymes, bradycardia or tachycardia, or polydipsia and may even trigger seizures.

Clomicalm should not be given to male breeding dogs as it can cause testicular hypoplasia. It is also contraindicated in aggressive dogs. Fluoxetine likewise causes some mild side effects, like excessive sleepiness, loss of appetite, incoordination, excess whining and vomiting/diarrhea. Serious side effects can be sudden aggression or even seizures.

Holistic therapies

Aromatherapy: Calm-a-mile RTU from Animal EO (animaleo.info) is a combination of essential oils and is very popular among holistic veterinarians. Apply 2–3 drops on your hand and pet it down your dog’s back to calm him. You can also use oil of bergamot when your pet is really hyper and lavender when he is just restless. Dilute the oils half-and-half with vegetable oil and apply them to the back of his neck or to a bandana around his neck.

CBD: CBD Dog Health (cbddoghealth.com) sells a product called CBD Calm that can help calm hyperactive dogs. Several companies, like Pet Releaf (petreleaf.com) make edible treats with hemp.

Colostrum and milk: Tryptophan in milk is a natural sedative, and feeding 1/4 cup warm milk to your dog can calm him down. VetriScience Composure Chews (vetriscience.com), Happy Traveler Chews (arknaturals.com) and bovine colostrum complex are calming products you can try.

Flower remedy: Impatiens is a relaxing flower remedy, and applying 2–3 drops in your hyperactive dog’s mouth or into his water can be effective in calming him down.

Light therapy: Using a calming blue light in your dog’s room (where he is most likely to rest or sleep) can help stimulate the pituitary glands to produce calming hormones. Avoid red and very bright lighting as it can stimulate him more.

Sound therapy: Dogs respond to their owner’s moods and emotions. If you play music that calms you, like soft jazz, classical or new age music, this will also calm your dog. Meditating with your dog to calming sounds like Tibetan singing bowls or a guided CD like Animal Whispers (Elizabeth Whiter and Tim Wheater) can help both of you.

Herbs: Tranquility Blend from Animal Essentials (animalessentials.com) contains a combination of herbs, Valerian root, skullcap and passionflower. It is quite effective in calming pets. Chamomile is a safe and gentle herb for both internal and external use.

German chamomile and its relative, Roman chamomile (Chamaemelum nobile), are among the most respected and widely used medicinal herbs in the world because of their calming and relaxing qualities. They are practically identical in action and are readily available in supermarkets in the form of chamomile tea. You can try making tea-infused treats and giving them to your hyperactive pet.

Chamomile tea and honey biscuits

4 Tbsp cold chamomile tea (steep two tea bags in boiling water, then cool)

115 g (4 oz) milled linseed meal

115 g (4 oz) self-raising flour

1 free-range egg

2 Tbsp chamomile-infused honey (see recipe below)

  1. Preheat oven to 190 °C (375 °F / Gas Mark 5). Grease a 20 × 29 cm (8 × 11 in.) baking sheet.
  2. Mix together all the ingredients in a large bowl to form a soft dough. Spread mixture 1 cm (1/2 in.) deep on the baking tray. Bake for 25–30 minutes until just firm.
  3. Remove from the oven and let cool. Cut into bite-sized squares.
  4. Keep in an airtight, labeled container in the fridge for up to 5 days or freeze for up to a month.

Herb-infused honey

It is best to stick to one type of herb per jar of honey. Rosemary, sage, thyme and chamomile (leaves and flowers) work well.

1 pot clear (runny) honey

A sprig of a single herb

  1. Using a cotton thread, wind round the stems and secure tightly to make a bundle.
  2. Immerse the bundle in the honey. When the herbs are tied, it is easier to remove them from the honey pot after infusing. Remove herbs after 1 week.
  3. Label, date and keep in the fridge. Use within 6 months.
  4. Offer 1/2 tsp herb-infused honey to your pet on a clean plate.

TCVM (Traditional Chinese veterinary medicine)

Dr Xie of the Chi Institute writes that according to TCVM, hyperactivity is heat affecting the heart. This can be due to direct heat, excessive joy in a young puppy or indirect heat—phlegm fire or a heat deficiency. All of these heats affect the heart and produce three different patterns, each of which has its own symptoms and treatment protocols, including diet therapy and acupuncture. It is necessary for a veterinarian trained in TCVM to differentiate the patterns and treat based on the diagnosis.

In general, all three patterns benefit from plenty of exercise, cooling foods, acupuncture, Tui-na massage, TCVM herb formulas and caretaker training protocols.

Diet: Foods to avoid: lamb, venison, trout, shrimp and dairy products.

Tui-na Massage: Mo-fa, or touching the skin and muscle with long, slow, firm strokes from the temple to the hock nine times twice daily for a week is recommended to calm your dog. Ba-shen-fa, or stretching the shoulder gently through its entire range of motion 10 times once daily for two weeks is helpful, too.

Acupressure: Apply gentle finger point pressure for 20 seconds on the following points one or two times daily.

BL44: Regulates the heart, calms the spirit and clears the brain. It is located on the dorsal side of the spine, about four fingers lateral to the caudal border of the dorsal spinous process of T3 ( third thoracic vertebra).

HT7: Child point for excess. It calms Shen and nourishes heart Yin as a key heart point. Heart 7 or Spirit Is Door is located on the outer aspect of the front leg, at the wrist, in a triangular depression formed by the tendon and the wrist bone. After flexing the wrist gently while lifting the paw, you may massage this point in a circular fashion for a couple of minutes. This helps reduce heart palpitations and stabilizes the emotions.

CV15: Calms Shen. It is located on the ventral midline on the chest an inch above the sternum.

BL15: Calms Shen, nourishes the heart and tonifies heart blood. Urinary Bladder (BL) 5 is located on either side of the spine, starting from the shoulder blades and at the fifth intercostal or rib space. It helps balance energy in the lungs and heart and can also help relax the diaphragm. Massaging the point in a back-and-forth motion for a couple of minutes is beneficial for restoring proper balance.

Caretaker recommendations 

Exercise: Hyperactive dogs need to be over-exercised to wear them out and calm their excess energy. Just two 15-minute walks a day will not suffice. A good long run, frisbee game, agility exercises or swimming can help these dogs burn off energy and calm down.

Increase exercise with treadmills, dog sledding/rollerblades, and fast walking or running while you cycle.

Obedience training and agility work is also beneficial.

Encourage chewing raw bones or antlers, which can decrease stress.

Schedule play dates with other active dogs.

Avoid nighttime play and exercise or just go on quiet walks that do not excite your dog.

Animal healing/Energy healing or pet Reiki: healing & herbs

Animal healing is a fantastic complement to veterinary care and can be safely given by you to your pet. See chapter 5, “How to Give Healing to Your Pet,” in our book You Can Heal Your Pet.

Rohini Sathish, DVM, MSC, MRCVS, MHAO, MCIVT

Dr Sathish is an award-winning holistic vet with 22 years of experience. After training in acupuncture, acupressure, energy healing, Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT), animal communication and herbal medicine, she now actively integrates conventional veterinary treatments with complementary therapies and is co-author of You Can Heal Your Pet (Hay House UK, 2015). You can contact Dr Sathish at her website: www.rohinisholisticvetcare.com

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