Nutraceuticals may offer an alternative to pharmaceuticals for some dogs with anxiety

How do you measure your stress? Do you grind your teeth more? Have trouble sleeping? Eat excessively or not at all?

These manifestations of stress in our body and behavior tip us off to the fact that internal processes are at work. Cortisol, a powerful steroid-based hormone, is our primary stress indicator; the higher your cortisol levels, the more stress you are experiencing. As the hormone increases in the bloodstream, it provokes increases in blood pressure, glucose, fatty acids and amino acids.

Measuring these elements in the blood (and comparing them to baseline levels) indicate how relatively stressed out you are.

The same principles apply to our dogs. Outward signs that our dogs are undergoing moderate or extreme stress include panting, drooling, lip licking, yawning, shaking and vocalization. Since they can’t describe to us how stressed out they feel in one situation compared to another, measuring levels of cortisol, blood pressure and other internal changes can help to pin down just how much stress a dog experiences.

Both external and internal indicators of stress have helped researchers to assess the impact anxiety medications made for humans have on our canine companions. There are now a whole slew of prescription interventions - typically SSRIs and benzodiazepenes - that have been shown to help to lower anxiety in dogs and can be discussed with your vet.

But there is a second category of anxiety intervention that is neither defined strictly as “medication” nor requires a prescription. These supplements or “nutraceuticals” are derived from plant and animal materials and can be purchased over-the-counter for both humans and animals.

A number of clinical and peer-reviewed studies suggest that two of these nutraceuticals, Alpha-casozepine (also called Zylkene, Vetoquinol, Lactium and casein hydrolysate) and L-Theanine (Anxiatane, Virbac, Suntheanine), may significantly reduce stress in dogs.**


Alpha-casozepine (Zylkene, Vetoquinol, Lactium, Casein Hydrolysate)

Alpha-casozepine is a derivative of bovine (cow) milk and has been studied as a human and animal supplement, undergoing two clinical studies to earn FDA approval. Because its structure is similar to GABA - the “downer” neurotransmitter that helps regulate brain activation, Alpha-casozepine can create an effect similar to many benzodiazepines without the drowsiness or zombie-like effects often reported from their use.

In two separate studies conducted by the FDA, human subjects taking a daily dose of Alpha-casozepine (as Lactium) between 150 and 400mg/day had less cortisol and lower blood pressure when exposed to moderate stress than their placebo-taking counterparts. This was particularly true after 30 days of consecutive use.

Use of Alpha-casozepine over time is a crucial factor in its effectiveness for dogs, as well. In a 2010 peer-reviewed study published in the Journal of Veterinary Behavior, dogs consuming Alpha-casozepine (in the form of casein hydrolysate) had lower cortisol levels, spent more time in “passive” behaviors and anxiety behaviors including vocalization and scratching decreased in frequency and duration after 65 days.

A 2007 study published in the same journal, determined that Alpha-casozepine was equally as effective at treating anxiety in dogs as the SSRI selegiline hydrochloride (Emsam, Eldepryl, Zelapar) without resulting in any adverse toxicological side effects.


L-Theanine (Anxiatane, Virbac, Suntheanine)

L-Theanine is a derivative of black, green and white tea that is structurally similar to the amino acid glutamate, an important neurotransmitter. Studies suggest that L-Theanine, though it makes no statistically significant difference in cortisol levels in dogs, can impact behavioral symptoms of stress.

A 2010 study from the Journal of Veterinary Behavior showed that dogs experiencing noise phobia had clear decreases in panting, lip licking, yawning, attention seeking, vocalization and compulsive behaviors when given L-Theanine (administered as Anxiatane). A second study published in the same year found that fearful dogs were less agitated by the approach of unfamiliar human beings when given Anxiatane than fearful dogs given a placebo. Researchers concluded that Anxiatane’s performance in the study, combined with a lack of sedative effects or other safety concerns from the administration of the supplement, makes it a potentially beneficial supplement to treating anxiety-related behaviors.

In clinical trials a majority of dogs responded to Anxiatane supplementation within three to six weeks of beginning a daily regimen. After two months, 64% of dogs showed a reduction in stress behaviors. Anxiatane was considered particularly effective in fearful dogs or those subject to environmental changes. Approximately 55% of dog owners participating in the clinical trials thought L-theanine treatment had been effective and no side effects were reported.

In a 2006 study of L-Theanine use in rats, researchers determined that to obtain a similar result as Alpha-casozepine (Lactium), it must be administered in a dose 6.5 times higher.**

Alpha-casozepine and L-Theanine may provide some relief for dogs with various kinds of anxiety, including Separation Anxiety. Combining the two supplements, in particular, has been shown to be effective for some dogs without causing undesirable side-effects.

Nutraceuticals are not a replacement for dog training but, used in concert with science-based positive-reinforcement techniques such as desensitization and counter-conditioning, they may help dogs experiencing fear and anxiety to live more comfortably.

**This article describes the results of clinical and peer-reviewed studies only and is not meant to suggest how effective Alpha-casozepine or L-Theanine will be for any one individual. Before starting your dog on any nutraceutical, please consult your veterinarian.**

2010 Araujoa, Joseph A., Christina de Riveraa, Jennifer L. Ethierb , Gary M. Landsbergb,c , Sagi Denenbergc , Stephanie Arnoldd , Norton W. Milgrama. “ANXITANE tablets reduce fear of human beings in a laboratory model of anxiety-related behavior” in Journal of Veterinary Behavior 5: 268-275

2010 Michelazzi, Manuela, Greta Berteselli, Michela Minero, Elena Cavallone Effectiveness of L-Theanine and Behavioral Therapy in the Treatment of Noise Phobias in Dogs” in Journal of Veterinary Behavior 5(1).

2010 Palestrinia, Clara, Michela Mineroa, Simona Cannasa , Greta Bertesellia, Elisabetta Scagliaa, Sara Barbieria, Elena Cavalloneb, Maria Puricellic, Francesco Servidac, Paola Dall’Arac. “Efficacy of a diet containing caseinate hydrolysate on signs of stress in dogs” in Journal of Veterinary Behavior 5: 309-317.

2007 Beata, Claude, DVMa , Edith Beaumont-Graff, DVMb , Christian Diaz, DVMc , Muriel Marion, DVMd , Nicolas Massal, DVMe , Nathalie Marlois, DVMf , Ge´rard Muller, DVMg , Catherine Lefranc, DVMh. “Effects of alpha-casozepine (Zylkene) versus selegiline hydrochloride (Selgian, Anipryl) on anxiety disorders in dogs” in Journal of Veterinary Behavior 2: 175–183

Clinical trials for Lactium:

GB: Bresson, JL; Elghozi, JL; Desor, D ; Messaoudi, M. [Sponsor] INGREDIA; France ‘ (July 2000). Protocol Code: INGREDIA-0410799 - (Experimental Period: September 1999 -February 2000).

GB : Bourdon, L. (Main Investigator); Canini, F.; Lanoir, D.; Martin, S.; Fidier, N.; d’ Aleo, P.; Roux, A.; Denis, J.; Chapotot, F.; Becq, G.; Lanoir, D. (Author). 2003. Analysis of the Chronic Psychophysiological Effects of ING 911. [Sponsor INGREDIA; France] (Mar., 2003). Study: Tj 289/03-2070.