When Bonfire Night rolls around each year many pet owners start to fret about how their dog or cat is going to handle the annual noise and disruption. Sadly many pets get beyond stressed with the constant flashing and loud noises and need constant reassurance that their world isn't about to end. Unfortunately the situation is compounded by the fact that Bonfire Night is no longer confined to a few days in early November. Nowadays, Guy Fawkes celebrations can last anything up to month with the disruption staring in mid-October and carrying on well into mid-November.
*** OUR PROBLEM - PART ONE ***
It has to be said that although we both love our Golden Retriever Tattie dearly, she is extremely highly strung and has more than a few behavioural "issues". For a start, like many dogs, she isn't all that fond of loud noises and fireworks. However making sure she is inside with the radio or music turned up so loud it drowns out the worst of the bangs ensures that is she fairly easily distracted. Unfortunately the same does not apply to low, rumbling noises - which totally freak her out. If there is a thunderstorm whilst she is in the garden, we very quickly have to herd her indoors or she will try and escape from the garden. Indeed, last year during the Festival of Speed at nearby Goodwood, one of the attractions was a low flying jumbo jet, and the noise freaked Tattie out so much she leapt right over the garden fence and ran out onto the VERY busy main road outside our house. Luckily she was unharmed, but that was more by luck than judgement, and we very quickly had to react to ensure it didn't happen again or she was likely to run over. Adding another panel to our garden fence so it was even higher was one of the steps we took so that she wouldn't be able to try and pole vault her way to freedom again.
However, out immediate response was to take Tattie to the vet to see what they could suggest to help minimise her distress over the loud noises during the Festival of Speed. The low flying jumbo jet was the attraction on the Friday, and we knew we would have to contend with the even louder Red Arrows on the Saturday and Sunday of the event. They prescribed her with 5mg of Diazepam which is a bit like Valium for dogs. They also suggested a training and behavioural programme in a CD Rom format whereby we played a series of loud noises to Tattie so she got used to them. All this set us back nearly £65 and to be honest it was a waste of money. The Diazepam had no discernible effect in reducing her very obvious distress over the noise from the jets. We found that ensuring she was inside the house and turning some music up really loud worked more successfully. The CD Rom also didn't help at all, as she totally freaked out everytime we started to play it, and that's now been consigned to the back of the cupboard. What a waste of £65 :o(
*** OUR SECOND PROBLEM ***
Whilst we are able to deal with her distress over loud noises fairly easily, Tattie's main behavioural issue is her hatred of any car journeys. She is fine all the time the vehicle is stationery, but as soon as the engine starts up, she gets herself into a real panic. She hides herself on the floor of the car, foams at the mouth and pants furiously throughout the entire journey. It's extremely upsetting to see your beloved pet in so much distress, so we have now adapted her life to ensure that she spends as little time in the car as possible. Daily walks are now done from our house by walking or cycling, and she is so much happier with this arrangement. Gone are the days of spending an hour trying to capture her after her walk when she knows full well she needs to go back into the car for the return journey home and she ain't having none of it! Instead, her lead is loosely attached to the handle bars of our bikes whilst we navigate the busy road outside our house and then she comes off the lead once we reach the fields nearby.
However, a life without any car journeys at all is not remotely possible, and she does still need to be ferried into the car every now and then. A trip to the vets, a weekend away or down to stay with my mother-in-law whilst we holiday abroad are all crosses that she has to bear every now and then. As the Diazepam had no visible effect in reducing her distress, the vet recommended that Calmex may be able to help calm her down for longer car journeys. We took her suggestion on board but declined the pay the £20+ price tag they wanted for it at the surgery. A quick search on the internet revealed that we could purchase Calmex direct for half the price the vet was asking. Nothing ventured, nothing gained - we decided a £10 investment was a small price to pay in trying to cure Tattie of her aversion to car travel, and we duly purchased a course of 12 Calmex capsules.
*** WHAT IS CALMEX AND HOW DOES IT WORK? ***
Calmex is a fairly new product to the market and it's described as a calming supplement for dogs. Calmex can be used for dogs that suffer from separation anxiety, noise phobias or situational phobias (visiting the vet, going into kennels, being groomed or simply car travel). It aims to calm your dog down within an hour of them ingesting it. As with humans, fear and stress in dogs is fairly easy to spot - they will tremble and shake. However, dogs will also bark, drool or lick themselves excessively. Other symptoms can include things like trying to escape or hide, urinating or defecating in the house, and even self-harm or destruction of furniture. Tattie pants excessively and becomes extremely restless. She will then try to hide or escape. Luckily she has never defecated in the house, but she will urinate purely through nerves (and then be very ashamed of herself afterwards).
The capsules contain a blend of two amino acids, piper methysticum (a psychoactive plant extract) and a blend of B-Vitamins all of which help de-stress any dogs who are anxious, nervous or just stressed out. I'm not going to list the full ingredients of the tablets here as there are better explained by the experts who make them at
For dogs who weigh less than 10kg = ½ capsule
For dogs who weigh between 10kg to 25kg = 1 capsule
For dogs who weigh over 25kg = 2 capsules
The leaflet with the tablets suggest that you can increase your dog's intake by ½ a capsule if they are particularly stressed, but it does emphasises that veterinary advice ought to sought in this instance.
The capsules are quite large and your dog may not be too keen on swallowing them (or do Tattie's favourite trick of pretending to swallow them, and then wandering nonchalantly outside to spit them out on the lawn....). We tend to wrap Tattie's dose inside a small piece of ham or cheese, and she is then inevitably tricked into thinking there's nothing but a tasty titbit on offer with no ulterior motive in sight. If your dog flatly refuses to swallow pills then the capsules can be split open and sprinkled on their food. The dose should be given 30 minutes to an hour before any event that you suspect is going to upset or stress your dog.
We've used 11 out of 12 of the capsules in our initial pack, so we've tried them on four or five different occasions, mostly when we have to take her on a longer than average car journey. We tried them when we took Tattie down to Dorset for a long weekend in April, and we've also given them to her whenever we take her to stay with my mother-in-law in Bournemouth. All these car journeys are for 1½ to 2 hours plus (traffic permitting), and despite giving Tattie the recommended dose at least an hour before her journey, they really have done NOTHING at all to visibly reduce her stress. We tried upping the dose to 2½ tablets and that didn't help either. She still has to be manhandled into the car and then quickly shut in before she tries to leap back out again. She then barks furiously, before trying to wedge herself into a hiding place behind the driver's seat. She does then settle down in that position for the remainder of the car journey, but she pants and dribbles furiously during the entire period, and it's quite distressing to listen to her audible stress during that time. Added to which that kind of prolonged panting and racing heart beat really cannot be good for her long-term health.
*** KEEP CALM AND CARRY ON ***
So you've tried all the recommended tablets and they don't work on your dog either, what else can you do?
Whenever we know there's a thunderstorm in the offing, local fireworks or low-flying jets, we firstly make sure Tattie is quickly shepherded indoors, so she has no opportunity to escape. We then turn the music up loud so it drowns out any outside rumbling or banging (and you can always join in and sing along so the music is even louder. Tattie seems to like it when she is sung too...although goodness knows why...neither of us can really hold a decent tune!) We find if we sing to Tattie and gently stroke her head she does start to calm down. Music and reassurance works for Tattie in this instance, but only until the next car journey...where nothing or nobody can calm her down enough to make a trip out enjoyable.
The best way to deal with a stressed dog is to act normally. It's tempting but if you smother a frightened pet with affection or try and comfort them too much, they may believe there really is something to be scared off or they may use their panic attack to gain your attention on another occasion. It goes without saying that you should never punish a dog for being frightened as that will only make things worse.
Make sure you close any doors to the outside and try and contain your pet to an area where it will feel safest, and will cause least mess for you. If your dog is going to wee or poo indoors you certainly don't want it to be on a carpet, so the kitchen is the ideal choice of room. Once you have enclosed your dog in a "safe" place, provide a few favourite toys or treats to distract them. Closing the curtains and playing that loud music to mask any outside noise really does work.
Finally, do microchip your dog, so if the worst does happen and they do run away from you during an unexpected incident or sudden terror you have a fighting chance of them being returned to you. Otherwise they may end up alone and unloved in a dog pound as no one knows who they belong to.
*** RECOMMENDED OR NOT? ***
Sadly Calmex has no discernible effect on calming Tattie down. Whilst we are able to deal with the loud noise problem quite effectively by simply making sure she is inside the house and distracted by loud music, we were really hoping that Calmex would be the solution to her aversion to car travel. Unfortunately Calmex haven't proved to the miracle solution we were looking for.
We've tried giving her two Calmex tablets an hour before a car journey and they had no effect. We shortened the period to two tablets half an hour before a trip, and that didn't work either. Finally we tried upping the dose to 2½ tablets and that had no effect. She is exactly the same in the car whether she is given 1, 2, 2½ tablets or nothing at all :o( The only solution is to limit her car journeys to those of an absolute necessity. Any plans we once harboured of travelling through France with the dog are now firmly on the back boiler as it is just too much like hard work getting her into the car in the first place and then trying to stop her from jumping out any window or door left slightly ajar. Added to which, when she is finally secured inside the car, she pants and dribbles throughout the entire journey and that sort of noisy and visible stress is neither good for her health nor for our peace of mind.
I've not totally written Calmex off, as I will try them again when Tatters is a bit older. She may be four years old now, but she still acts like a puppy most of the time. Most Golden Retrievers don't tend to accept that they are adult dogs until they're about 5 or 6...so I do intend to try Tattie on Calmex again once she finally calms down (hopefully sometime in 2014 or 2015). By then she may have become a little more placid and less highly strung so the capsules *should* be more effective...and we may even begin to reconsider those driving holidays in France again.
Not recommended for Tattie (yet)...but I've read plenty of dog help pages and forums where owners claim Calmex has worked wonders on their dogs. For a small £10 investment, you may manage to de-stress your dog and make your own life a little calmer :o)
*** PRICES AND AVAILABILITY ***
Tel: 01253 667422
Vetplus do not appear to sell their product direct to pet owners, although their website does have plenty of useful information. For example you can also obtain a feline version of Calmex for cats and there is an equine version for horses too.
If you wish to buy Calmex then the product can be purchased from your Vet in packs of either 12 or 100. However, you are likely to pay a premium for it if you purchase it this way. It can be purchased without a prescription and reasonably cheaply too; a quick trawl and I came up with various suppliers, with the best prices as below:-
12 tablets = £11.75 or 120 tablets = £89.99 at http://www.petdispensary.co.uk
12 tablets = £10.99 at http://www.petmeds.co.uk (plus 6% cashback from Top Cashback)
12 tablets = £8.49 or 120 tablets = £83.30 at http://www.myvetmeds.co.uk
Further reading on dealing with stressed dogs and puppies can be read at http://vetsci.co.uk/2011/09/27/dealing-with-canine-anxiety-and-phobias