Anxiety is defined as a feeling of nervousness, worry or unease. Anxiety is so common that in many cases it could be considered normal. However, when it becomes exaggerated, it is problematic. It interferes with social interaction, sometimes to the point of being disabling. Anxiety is often described with terms such as generalized anxiety, social anxiety, phobias, obsessive compulsive disorder and PTSD. Anxious dogs exhibit drooling, panting, withdrawal, fearfulness, excessive vocalization, destructive behavior and , in extreme cases, vomiting and diarrhea.
Historically, treatment of anxiety has involved drugs which effect the neurotransmitters, serotonin and dopamine. Drugs such as Prozac and other selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors were the common form of treatment. These drugs were considered to be about 60% effective. Recently, the neurotransmitters, glutamate and gaba, have received increased attention. Glutamate is the principal excitatory neurotransmitter. Gaba is the principal inhibitory transmitter. Many studies have demonstrated the role of glutamate and gaba in many diseases, including anxiety.
In the nervous system, a delicate balance between glutamate and gaba is maintained. Any imbalance between the two will have profound effects on the body. Imbalance can occur for many reasons. The key point is that too much glutamate or too little gaba will be problematic. There are drugs, such as diazepam and memantine, which effect glutamate and gaba ; however, side effects limit the use of such drugs.
Functional treatment of anxiety disorders has two components. There are nutritional supplements which effect the glutamate/ gaba balance. Magnesium, taurine, n-acetyl-cysteine, valerian, rhodiola, and passionflower are the most commonly used. In addition, it is often necessary to restrict the amount of glutamate in the diet. This is done by adopting the G.A.R.D. diet ( glutamate aspartate restricted diet). Behavior modification is also useful, but unlikely to be effective without restoring the glutamate/ gaba balance. Anxiety, in all its forms, is the most common behavior problem in dogs. Hopefully, appreciation of the importance of glutamate and gaba will result in more efficacious treatment.