For those who are worrying, thank you. We do believe we have found a solution that works for Bella (that I'm sure will be quite thoroughly tested next season). In the meantime, I wanted to write this series explaining the various options available and our experience with them in hopes that some folks going through the same thing might find it helpful. Perhaps a little bit, maybe?
This installment is going to focus on the non-prescription medications and natural remedies we tried. Next week I will finally get to the topic you've all been waiting for: the Thundershirt and the Storm Defender Cape as well as a few miscellaneous notes on desensitization, exercise, diet and music.
So our search for a gentler, kinder means of helping Bella cope returned the following results:
Melatonin is a hormone intimately connected to the regulation of sleeping/waking cycles in both humans and animals. I have to admit, this worked very well actually, the first time we used it and is something we will use going forward during less intense storms.
Pros: Works very fast, made Bella drowsy and calm without turning her into the walking dead.
Cons: Can't be used long-term, can have mild side effects like diarrhea, nausea and vomiting. Because Melatonin signals the brain that it's time to sleep, it's not really effective during the day. And the wrong dosage can actually increase anxiety and restlessness. Can cause dependency.
Primarily an anti-histamine, Benadryl can also act as a potent sedative. Another tool in our war chest, we continue to keep it on hand for use during somewhat more severe storms when the Melatonin wouldn't be quite enough. (Also handy for run-ins with bees!) It is important to note that only the pure form containing Diphenhydramine as the single active ingredient (sans any additional decongestant or cold/sinus ingredients) should be used.
Pros: Fast acting, helped her sleep without the horrible "morning after" side effects.
Cons: We didn't experience too many cons but this is a drug and as such, there are always potential risks. It can interact badly with other medications so talk to your vet before giving it to your dog if they are on ANY medication.
- Herbal/natural remedies including: Dr Foster and Smith's Ultra-calm (tabs and treats), Vita-Treat Pet Calm, Wagatha's Organic Dog Biscuits "Bedtime Biscuit", Bach flower essences (Rescue Remedy)
The Ultra-Calm was rather effective and can be given daily - a definite plus but is "not for continuous use. Give for 7 -14 days at a time." Comes in a supposedly "yummy" dog treat formula but Bella wouldn't touch them. We got the pills down by sheer force of will (and peanut butter).
None of the other products had much of an effect one way or the other so I have to give some cred to Dr F&S's claim that their unique inclusion of "milk protein hydrolysate" might have made a difference in the tablet's efficacy.
- Dog Appeasing Pheromones (D.A.P.): Collar, spray and diffuser
D.A.P. is said to mimic the pheromones produced by a mother dog to calm and reassure her puppies. Perhaps Bella was separated from her mom too young for this to produce the intended affect but we found it, in all its forms, less than effective. At least it didn't provoke any negative effects so that's a plus.
So, did we miss anything (other than the Thundershirt ;)? Have you tried these or other products like them? Did any of it help or are you still hiding with your scared-y pup, too? Let me know in the comments and in the meantime, we'll meet you in the basement.
And just in case it's necessary, here's the disclaimer: I am not a vet. PLEASE talk to your vet before giving any medications or other drugs to your dog. Also, please note, I have a dog and have not spoken to a vet or researched the use of any of these products for other animals.