In Part 3 of this article, I presented an evidence-based summary of how and why psychoactive prescription medicines can – and in some dogs – should be used to manage fear and anxiety around fireworks. I described fear as an experience generated in the brain, so any effective therapy, regardless of what it is and how it is delivered, MUST ultimately interact with specific receptors in the brain that modulate the fear circuits in some way.
In this fourth and final part of this series on fear and fireworks in pets, I take a broad look at products that are marketed as ‘alternative remedies’, or ‘therapies’ for managing fear in pets.
IMPORTANT INFORMATION, PLEASE READ FIRST
This information is important and relevant for 2 audiences –
PLEASE SEE BOX 1 AT THE END OF THIS ARTICLE FOR THE INFORMATION YOU MUST BE AWARE OF
NOTE FOR CAT OWNERS
Although the information provided in this article is for dog owners, it is also relevant for cat owners. Additional information for cat owners can also be found at the following ICC resources –
- METHOD 1: Simply add extra L-tryptophan to the diet. This is the simplest and most direct way, and also the most ‘natural’ way because L-tryptophan is a dietary amino acid. L-tryptophan is a large molecule and it does not pass easily from the blood stream into the brain because the brain is partially isolated from the body’s circulation by a filtration system, the blood-brain-barrier (BBB). Furthermore, there is a bottleneck across the BBB – like a restriction in traffic across a narrow bridge on a busy road. This means that, inevitably, greater numbers of other large amino acid molecules such as tyrosine, travelling around in the blood alongside L-tryptophan, get across into the brain because there are more of them. By adding extra L-tryptophan to the diet its chances of getting into the brain are increased. Once in the brain, L-tryptophan needs to be converted into 5-hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP), which is an intermediary metabolite along the way to serotonin synthesis.
- METHOD 2: Simply add 5-HTP to the diet. This is the fastest way to directly increase serotonin levels in the brain because 5-HTP is a small molecule and does not have the restrictions of its parent amino acid, L-tryptophan, crossing over from the blood stream into the brain. Furthermore, once 5-HTP is in the brain, it is instantaneously converted into serotonin. For this reason, some texts consider that 5-HTP is serotonin. This is not correct. 5-HTP needs to be converted into 5-hydroxytryptamine (5-HT), and the abbreviated name for this molecule is serotonin. In principle, it would seem that adding 5-HTP to the diet would be the preferred method for increasing brain serotonin. In practice, however this is not the case because it is dangerous. The limited passage of L-tryptophan into the brain (METHOD 1) is really important because it prevents the run-away synthesis of 5-HTP and then serotonin. Too high levels of brain serotonin can cause serotonin syndrome which throws important physiologically vital processes out of balance, such as body temperature regulation. The consequences of this can be fatal. A good example of serotonin syndrome is too often reported in the media. Coma and death of party-goers induced by the recreational use of the drug ecstasy (3,4-methylene-dioxy-methamphetamine MDMA) can cause the rapid accumulation of serotonin in the brain. In combination with dehydration, this is what precipitates an emergency out of a drug that is perceived as relatively safe and harmless. 5-HTP does not occur naturally in foodstuffs, so this is not a ‘natural’ method of increasing serotonin in the brain. It works more like a drug in fact, yet is still freely available in health food stores in some countries.
Physical contact therapies
Given the information presented above, and setting aside the claimed intervention of the divine in T-Touch, it is likely that pressure vests, T-Touch etc. have their anti-anxiety effects through activation of one or even both of these systems.
Homeopathy and the placebo effect
There is absolutely no evidence that homeopathy is an effective treatment modality and it has no legitimate place in veterinary medicine (Cracknell and Mills, 2008, 2011; Overall and Dunham, 2009). For more information about the placebo effect, please see our blog HERE
For pets that are fearful, the recommendation and encouragement of homeopathic remedies to owners as alternative treatments in place of compounds that show clear evidence of effectiveness cannot be justified on the grounds of seriously detrimental consequences for the welfare of the animal.
The list of adjunctive treatment modalities discussed in this article is not exhaustive.
The remedies we have covered here are those where there is at least some objective data available to back up the claims made by manufacturers or therapists.
Finally, the one thing we can be certain of and that has been repeated several times throughout this series of articles, is this.
Fear is an experience generated in the brain so any effective therapy, regardless of what it is and how it is delivered, MUST ultimately interact with specific receptors that modulate the brain’s fear circuits in some way.
Chronic anxiety, like unresolved physical pain, is an extremely unpleasant emotional state that blights the lives of far too many cats and dogs (Conzemius and Evans, 2012; Malek et al., 2012). As their guardians and spokes-people it is up to us, the owners, and those of us working with pets professionally, to speak out for these pets and do what we can to make their lives better.
Sometimes this will require additional therapies along with a behavioural modification program, and having a fundamental knowledge of what is available and how it works can only be helpful.
It must be remembered that prescription medications can only be prescribed by veterinarians, and in any event pet owners should always be encouraged to seek advice from their vet.
Drugs, prescription or otherwise, including herbal remedies etc., do have side effects and the vet is in the best position to give advice in this regard, especially if the dog is already on medication for a medical condition.
That said, it is really important that a dog owner does not fall into the trap of denying a dog medication for a chronic anxiety disorder on the grounds that the side effects might be harmful (this is happening already with pain killers incidentally leaving dogs to suffer unnecessarily, see Conzemius and Evans, 2012; Malek et al., 2012).
The fact of the matter is that all of the prescription drugs and most of the other medications mentioned in this article have a good safety record and are well tolerated by pets if used correctly.
BOX 1: IMPORTANT INFORMATION, PLEASE READ FIRST
This information is important and relevant for 2 audiences –
The term ‘alternative remedy’ is used here to identify a range of substances including herbal medicines, nutritional supplements, pheromones, physical therapies and homeopathy.
Unlike the prescription medicines discussed in Part 3 of this series, of articles, these products are not tightly regulated. What this means for consumers of these products is that, where a list of ingredients is declared on the label, it may not reflect what is actually in the container and how much of each constituent is actually biologically available.
The manufacture and marketing of herbal products is an exception here as there is a licensing process in place for those manufacturers wanting to produce high-quality herbal products in terms of levels of active ingredients. The Traditional Herbal Registrations (THRs) system is a quality trade mark that manufacturers can use on their product labels to reassure users of the quality of their products.
For a manufacturer to call its herbal products ‘herbal medicines’, its claims must be supported by clinical trials data in the same way that is required for prescription medicines.
A nutritional supplement is defined by the government as ‘any food for the purpose of which is to supplement the normal diet and which is a concentrated source of a vitamin or mineral or other substance with a nutritional or physiological effect, alone or in combination and is sold in dose form’.
The legislation and licensing of nutritional supplements is very different to that of prescription medicines and herbal remedies because it is focused on food safety, not on therapeutic efficacy, side effects etc. The legislation for nutritional supplements is less rigorous, less demanding and less expensive than it is for prescription medicines and herbal remedies. Unfortunately, this leaves a loophole for manufacturers of nutritional supplements who want to make therapeutic claims for their products which could imply to users that they are equivalent to prescription medicines and herbal remedies.
For more information about the legislation and licensing of nutritional supplements, click HERE
The marketing of remedies, supplements etc. for pets is really a case of BUYER BEWARE.
The welfare of your dog or cat is, after all, your primary concern.
So we strongly recommend that, for all concerns about management of fears and anxieties in pets, you should consider the following –
© copyright Robert Falconer-Taylor, 2017
This article is an original work and is subject to copyright. You may create a link to this article on another website or in a document back to this web page. You may not copy this article in whole or in part onto another web page or document without permission of the author. Email enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Images used in this article
- Cow milking machine in action. By Copyright © 2004 David Monniaux (Own work) [CC BY-SA 2.0 fr (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/fr/deed.en)], via Wikimedia Commons.
- L-Tryptophan molecule. By Bin im Garten (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.
- Healing plants. By Julo (Der Neue Brockhaus (1937), vol. 1) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.
- Anxiety Vest fitted to a dog. By Anna Patfield Copyright © Anna Patfield, Pawsability, 2017.
- Oxytocin molecule. By MindZiper (Own work) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons.
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