Using ashwagandha for dogs, along with other calming adaptogens, is a growing trend that many dog owners are embracing. Adaptogens are amazing natural herbs that help bring balance to many systems within the body. Read on to discover how they could help your dog.
How Adaptogens Have Helped my Dog
My journey into adaptogens began when my rescue dog, Tico, started showing signs of fear aggression. Any approaching person or dog would trigger fits of Cujo-like barking and lunging.
Cue guilt: what had I done wrong? I had done 100 things in 100 days, puppy playtimes, everything they say will help socialize your puppy.
(Side note: why, oh why, do we always blame the owner for “causing” a dog’s reactivity? And why do owners go there in their own heads? That’s for another post I guess)
I read everything I could get my hands on to learn about fear reactivity, and found an incredible trainer to help me teach my dog alternative ways to respond to fear. Our training focused mostly on BAT Training.
Training, I soon found out, was not enough. I needed something to calm my dog’s fears enough that the training would be more effective. That’s when I first read about adaptogens.
What Are Adaptogens?
Adaptogens are amazing little herbs that bring balance to the body – in humans and in dogs. What’s amazing is that they do this without stimulating or suppressing any function; they simply balance them.
Balance what, you ask? Depending on the adaptogen, they will balance hormones, balance the immune system, and balance physiological responses to stress factors.
The right combination of adaptogens increases the body’s ability to cope with external and internal stressors. They support a more balanced response to stress, regulate cortisol and other stress hormone production, and prevent adrenal fatigue.
Basically, they help your dog have a healthier, more balanced response to stress.
Added bonus: most adaptogens have anti-inflammatory properties as well.
Important Disclaimer: I am not a vet. Not even close. My degree is in marketing. Sooooo, do not take any of my ramblings below as medical advice. I’m just sharing my own personal experience and information I have read. If you think you want to try ashwagandha for dogs or other adaptogens, talk to your vet first! But read this and many more articles first to empower yourself for a good discussion in which you can ask your vet great questions about what you want to try.
Which Adaptogens are Best for my Dog?
That is the million-dollar question.
The overarching advice that I found in my readings is that combinations of adaptogens have better results overall vs. using only one.
So that is how I started. After doing my homework, and knowing that my dog’s behavior got worse with certain foods, I chose a product called Thera Calm K9.
I chose it for a few reasons:
- It contained Ashwagandha. I’ll describe the benefits of this adaptogen in the next section, but suffice it to say it’s one of the better known adaptogens for reducing anxiety and promoting relaxation.
- It had relatively few ingredients other than the adaptogens, and none were on my dog’s “do not eat” list.
- I only had to look up what one ingredient was (did you know casein powder contains a peptide that helps calm dogs, cats, and people?)
- The company actually lists the country of origin for each ingredient. To me, that’s a company that thinks about where they source their ingredients and doesn’t have anything to hide.
Once it arrived, I started giving it to my dog, and over the next month or so I saw subtle but REAL effects. Like they were noticeable. My dog triggered for fewer things, or triggered more slowly (gave me time to react).
Our training sessions were more effective. Finding a “safe” distance in which he could see a person or dog without reacting did not involve squinting or using binoculars. SCORE!
How Quickly do Adaptogens Work?
For me, and for most owners, adaptogens won’t provide an overnight miracle. Though I’m still looking for the magic pill. Hey, you gotta dream.
But, over time, your dog will become more and more balanced. Their adrenal system (or other body systems, depends on the adaptogens) will regulate better, and their overall cortisol level will decline.
As this happens, you TRAIN. Train and train and train. What I mean is this: if you started your dog on adaptogens because they had an issue, the gradual improvement that the adaptogen can bring will create a window for you to train successfully.
In Tico’s case, this meant I could go to a park and have a successful training session with him (i.e. no barking like a raving lunatic). I could gradually decrease the distance we were away from the people and he would remain comfortable seeing them walk by.
Adaptogens not only made my dog more relaxed and less stressed with life, but they created a “training window” for me to work on his issues and make actual progress.
Adaptogens for Dogs
OK, on to the adaptogens themselves!
It’s very important to note that adaptogens work best synergistically (combined together); each supports and enhances the power of the others. When combined they are potent stress relievers for your pet.
The best chance of success is to look for dog formulas like Theracalm that contain multiple adaptogens.
Read the Ingredients: do you know what all of them are? If a lot of them are words you don’t know or can’t pronounce, keep looking. When I read the ingredients in Theracalm I was familiar with every ingredient except casein powder, and a quick Google search showed me that helps to calm dogs as well.
Next, let’s talk about the main adaptogens you see in dog calming formulas to help you understand what each one focuses on.
Ashwagandha for dogs – and people – helps to regulate and boost the immune system and reduce anxiety. It supports a healthy response to stress and boosts mood and mental outlook. Human studies of ashwagandha have shown it to lower high cortisol levels significantly.
In humans it is also used to treat high blood pressure, chronic fatigue, maintain healthy blood sugar levels, and to boost DHEA levels (which balance out cortisol).
Holy Basil (Tulsi )
Holy basil helps the body deal with stress by supporting and balancing its stress response and helping the user relax. It is known to be an herb with relatively few side effects as well.
Studies of holy basil on humans have shown it to be effective in lowering blood pressure, lowering blood sugar, and reducing anxiety and associated stress and depression. Studies also showed Holy Basil use helped the subjects’ stress hormone levels return to normal.
Holy Basil has had a noticeable effect on my dog. Reactions to things he sees (dogs and/or people) are more tempered and not as extreme or quick to happen. He also recovers more quickly from stressful incidents.
Rhodiola is another adaptogen known for multiple benefits, including reducing stress-related physical and mental fatigue. It accomplishes this by suppressing the production of cortisol and increasing levels of stress-resistant proteins. It indirectly reduces stress by helping to restore normal sleeping and eating patterns after stress.
Other benefits? Rhodiola is believed to improve memory, increase the ability to concentrate, and protect the heart and liver.
OK – this gets interesting. Siberian Ginseng comes up as a stress aid, but when you look into it, things become more confusing and for me, unnerving.
Why? Here is what I read. On the one hand, it was described as reducing cortisol release in chronic stress situations and helping your dog adapt to external stressors. The article also said it can be used to minimize stress in any animal.
That said, the same article also said it heightens alert at rest and increases cortisol release in acute stress. For my border collie mix Tico I read that and thought YIKES.
So, Siberian Ginseng, to me, is one in which it’s extra-important to work with a vet before giving to your pet. My dog Tico considers 85% of life “acute stress:” a person walking by on the sidewalk (or half a mile away out the back window for that matter) produces a heart pounding adrenal rush. So I wouldn’t touch this with a 10 foot pole until a vet experienced in adaptogens was guiding me.
Alpha-Casozepine / Casein Powder (Yes. I know….it’s not an adaptogen!)
There is one other product I want to mention despite it not being an adaptogen, because if you’re reading about adaptogens I think you will find it interesting.
I first become aware of casein powder (pronounced “kay-sun”) when I read it in the ingredient list of the Theracalm I was giving Tico.
It deserves mention as something to consider if you are trying to reduce your dog’s stress and/or reactivity holistically. You may also read about alpha-casozepine, a specific compound derived from casein which has been shown to have calming effects.
In a 2010 casein powder study published in the Journal of Veterinary Behavior, dogs given alpha-casozepine had lower cortisol levels, spent more time in “passive” behaviors, and showed a decrease in frequency of anxiety behaviors including vocalization and scratching after using the product for 65 days.
In the same journal, a 2007 study comparing casein powder to SSRIs determined that alpha-casozepine was equally as effective at treating anxiety in dogs as the SSRI selegiline hydrochloride (Zelapar, Eldepryl, Emsam).
Definitely food for thought.
Thinking of Trying Adaptogens for Your Dog?
Although ashwagandha for dogs is a very popular topic right now, you really should take a thorough look at all adaptogens for dogs before deciding which might best benefit your dog.
Remember that except in odd cases (like me with Tico’s weird sensitivities to random foods and additives) adaptogens are best used in a combination – they are synergistic.
The general statistic I’ve read is that about 30% of dogs show signs of anxiety. Anxiety can cause separation issues, fear, and reactivity – it’s just plain no fun for the dog OR the owner.
If you have a vet open to alternative treatments, ask them about the different adaptogen combination products on the market out there and have them help you come up with a plan.
The fact of the matter is; every dog is different. You have to use trial and error, and since this stuff is more of a natural approach, you need to give each trial 6-8 weeks minimum.
What are Some of the Adaptogen Products for Dogs on the Market?
**note: this post contains affiliate links. No one paid me to recommend these products, I recommend them because I like them. However, using the link to buy the products helps support happynaturaldog.com!**
I had good luck with this product for Tico. Note that it is flavored with beef liver powder (pretty pure flavoring) and coconut oil.
Another thing I like about this company is that if I have a question about a product or ingredient, I call and real people answer the phone. Knowledgeable ones. And they want to help.
Contains not only adaptogens, but also amino acids 5 Htp and L-Theanine and neurotransmitter GABA. Also, contains multiple “natural flavors” (for those with dogs with food intolerances or allergies).
I tried this on Tico but didn’t see any large amount of improvement.
I have not tried this, but if you were thinking about the alpha-casozepine approach (calming peptide derived from casein powder/bovine milk) this seems to be the main one formulated for dogs.
Summing up Adaptogens for Dogs
Most Important Takeaway?
Do your homework when buying adaptogens for your dog.
- Adaptogens are synergistic; they are generally more effective taken in combination vs. by themselves
- Many human versions have other vitamins or additives mixed in so dog formulas are best.
- Even in dog formulas, some have a lot of additives for flavoring, etc, so remember to try and keep it simple and keep ingredients to items which you recognize (if you can’t pronounce them do you really want to feed them to your dog?!)
- Ask your vet first! If you think your vet will scoff at you and poo-poo this approach, hmmmm…maybe it’s time to try a new vet more aligned with your approach to pet care.
- Give it time. Holistic treatments generally take longer than prescription ones, but it’s worth it in the long run.
- Remember – there are no miracles. No magic pills either. (I know, DARN) Products like this are only going to work if you also are incorporating training to help your dog with whatever issue it has.
Looking For More Tools to Help Calm Your Dog?
In addition to adaptogens, learn about decompression walks, enrichment activites for dogs, and mentally stimulating activities for dogs. These all stimulate your dog mentally, providing cognitive enrichment that leaves your dog feeling more balanced and mentally satisfied.
What Worked for You?
So this, in my opinion, is the area that helps us all learn the fastest. Hearing one another’s stories. What your dog was struggling with behaviorally, what you tried, and what responses you saw or didn’t see.
Post your stories below and let’s all share and help each other learn different ways we can help our best friends.