When you notice the sky darkening and your first thought is that your dog will soon freak out because of thunder and lightning, you have the type of situation that a dose of valerian root might help. Valerian root is a primary ingredient in many over-the-counter canine calming supplements, but do not give it to your dog without veterinary approval.
What Is Valerian Root?
The perennial herb Valeriana officinalis is native to Europe and Asia. Since ancient times, it's been used by humans around the globe seeking a mild calming and sedative effect. Valerian produces similar results in animals. Sold as a dietary supplement, in powder, capsule or tincture form, valerian doesn't fall under the regulations required for pharmaceutical products. When used as directed, it's generally safe, with few side effects. However, don't give valerian to pregnant or nursing dogs or young puppies.
Are You Ever Coming Back?
If your dog experiences separation anxiety, you'll need to practice some behavioral modification in conjunction with giving him calming supplements. Valerian can help take the edge off your pet's anxiety, so he might be more amenable to the forms of modification you use, as well as less destructive when you're gone.
The Vet's a Scary Person
No matter how kind and gentle a vet might be, some dogs melt down as soon as they're near the animal clinic or hospital. This behavior can make some dog owners think twice about taking Fido in for regular checkups, which isn't a good idea. Giving your dog valerian root about 45 minutes before his appointment can make the visit less frightening, but get your vet's OK before administering the supplement.
If your pet panics when hearing certain loud noises -- thunder or fireworks -- giving him some valerian at the first rumble or before dark on July 4 might prevent him from going into deathly afraid dog mode. If your dog reacts so fearfully to thunder that he's at risk for going through a closed window to escape it, he needs something stronger than valerian root.
If your dog suffers from severe anxiety disorders, he probably needs more help than valerian root can offer. Your vet can prescribe medication to modify some of his behaviors and reactions. Diazepam, marketed under the trade name Valium, or other drugs in the benzodiazepine class might be dispensed for dogs with separation anxiety or noise phobia who don't respond to valerian. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, found in antidepressants, help very timid dogs or those exhibiting compulsive behaviors, but only under a veterinarian's orders.