Thursday, September 3, 2015

Dogs Abroad: Catnip for Anxiety

Sometimes, despite all the love you have to give, you are no match for trauma.  That's the issue we faced with our little Diego Burrito.  Years of abuse and turned a delightful, energy filled bottle of joy into an unstable, terrified bottle of miscellaneous rage

Even his desire for love turned violent when too many emotions rushed him at once.  
After years of work, we were 90% there but that last 10% was proving impossible because he couldn't sleep to stabilize.  As someone with a background in dealing with people in crisis, I had a theory that if we could get Diego some sleep and reduce his anxiety we could cross the final gap in his training.  

But how?

In Korea they don't prescribe pills/anti-depressants to dogs.  We even went to an English speaking vet, but he was like, "We don't do that here".  I googled to see if I could get it shipped from the states, but they needed a vets prescription.  Heck, I even checked to see if I could visit a vet on the military base, but they only see military family pets. Even though I knew what I needed, there was just no way to access it in our current situation.  

Then, while on a day out with a friend she randomly asked, "I wonder what catnip would do to dogs?" So I googled it because that's what I do.  To my great shock, it said that catnip works as an anxiety reducer and antidepressant on dogs.  I was like, "WHAT?!!! We are going to the next pet store we see!!" Which we did.

The rest of the day I researched and researched but I couldn't find any dosage information.  What I did find was that it would be incredibly difficult and/or impossible for Diego to overdose on it so it was worth starting small and seeing what happened.  If you are going to try it, talk to vet. Be sure to start small, and don't over medicate. 

The first type that I found was traditional dried catnip.  At that point Diego had been especially stressed out, hiding in his room and growling at anyone who dared look in his general direction.  He wasn't violent toward anyone as long as we left him alone, but he was in physical distress from stress and we couldn't get close to comfort him or for a walk.  It was a desperate situation.

We started by adding two teaspoons of dried catnip to his food (I am not a vet. I am NOT saying this right for your dog.  I am just telling you what we did) with some water and let him eat, he gobbled it up without question. We also made a catnip "tea" that we put into his water bowl.  There was no exact amount for this.  We just boiled about 2 tablespoons catnip in a liter of water and then would do 1/2 tea and 1/2 water in his bowl. There is not exact recipe, be careful! Do less rather than more.

Within a few minutes of his first catnip dinner he was passed out asleep on his couch and slept for ages.  

This is how it was for the next few weeks.  We added catnip to his food in the morning and at night, as well as his water.  For the first two weeks he did A LOT of sleeping. However, he also started to do a lot more playing, going for walks, and hanging out with family.  He didn't act drugged when he was awake, he was just happier.  It was shocking to see how quickly he started to improve.  

After a few weeks he started sleeping less, a few weeks later we switched him from dried catnip to a catnip spray.  Each meal we sprayed 3-5 pumps.  What we found was that the catnip spray didn't make him as drowsy after he ate.  Instead, each day he just became more happy and content with life.  He doesn't seem like he is "drugged" he is just no longer tense from tail to nose.  He doesn't vibrate with anxiety and fear at the smallest sound.

Please understand, in addition to the catnip we have done EXTENSIVE training. Drugs aren't a solution, they are a tool. It's not a fix all, but it gives you the emotional stability needed to build new healthy habits.  If you have a dog that can't get their shit together because of anxiety/past abuse, this might be a tool you can use to get where you need to be when you live in a country without access to prescriptions.

Almost three months later he is one of the best behaved dogs we have ever had. Each day his possessiveness fades farther from the picture.  We aren't stressed about what's going to set him off, because he just doesn't get set off anymore.  Sure, he still makes terrible sounds when he hates things, but he isn't becoming aggressive.  He communicates and lets it go.  He listens, he plays, he sleeps, he cuddles.  He is the best.

We are so thankful we tried this.  It's given Diego his brain and happiness back.

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