Can’t Leave Home Without It
A new device helps dogs and their humans weather separation anxiety.
There’s the barking, panting, and pacing before you even leave the house. Then, when you return, you find deep scratches in the front door, the couch cushions shredded. Sometimes your dog has eliminated on the living room rug.
That’s what separation anxiety looks like, and according to the American Veterinary Medical Association, it’s one of the most common canine behavior problems, diagnosed in 20 to 40 percent of dogs who are referred to animal behavior practices.
“Usually the signs occur right after [the dog is] left alone, and they sometimes happen in waves,” says Margaret Gruen, a veterinary behaviorist and assistant professor at North Carolina State University, in Raleigh. She is involved with a study on separation anxiety and the use of a new device, Calmer Canine, to quell the behaviors.
Called Canine Separation Anxiety or CSA, the behaviors can diminish quality of life for both you and your dog. And, if it goes on long enough, CSA can affect your pet’s long-term health. Over the years, veterinarians have relied on medications like fluoxetine, clomipramine, benzodiazepine, and selegiline. Some suggest dietary changes. Some owners turn to CBD oil. All have varying amounts of success.
But veterinarian Judy Korman, chief business officer and product developer at Assisi Animal Health thought there must be a better way. “Pill treatments can often leave an animal fairly non-functioning,” Korman says. She created Calmer Canine to help solve separation anxiety in a different way.
The product, which looks like a vest that wraps around the dog’s chest and is connected to a halo, “sends microcurrents of an electromagnetic pulse—the amount emitted is less than 1/100th of that of a cell phone—into the dog’s amygdala, the brain’s center for emotion and anxiety,” Korman says. The treatment is sensation free.
First tried in the early 1990s, pulsed electro-magnetic field therapy (PEMF) has been used successfully in humans for pain management (particularly those with chronic pain and fibromyalgia) and even in various cancer treatments. A recent Harvard University study used PEMF signals to help humans with depression and anxiety. It is FDA-approved for use in humans for pain.
Assisi Animal Health has been using “targeted” PEMF, tPEMF, for almost a decade in its Loop products, which are available only by prescription. The Loop is used to help with chronic and degenerative conditions or for acute care following surgery or an injury. “There’s a lot of data to support outcomes for pain relief related to arthritis and surgery and wound healing,” says veterinarian James Gaynor, founder of Peak Performance Veterinary Group, in Breckenridge, Colorado, who has studied and written about tPEMF and has been prescribing the Loop for more than a decade.
Gaynor says it works this way: “In its simplest form, tPEMF is a coil of wire attached to an electrical source that pulses on and off. It creates a three-dimensional electrical field in that coil. The pulsing algorithm—frequency and whether it changes—is proprietary, but that algorithm targets one specific reaction in the body. It’s the binding of calcium and calmodulin [a calcium-binding protein found in cells] which creates or sets off a cascade of events that include an anti-inflammatory effect, anti-swelling, anti-edema effect, and a wound-healing effect.”
Assisi’s Calmer Canine is based on the same principles that power Loop but is available to pet owners without a prescription at CalmerK9.com.
The Rochmans, of Ann Arbor, Michigan, didn’t know any of this when a friend suggested they try Calmer Canine for their dog Pixel, an 8-year-old American Foxhound mix. She is fearful of lightning. Of wind and rain. Of the kitchen exhaust fan, the fan in the convection oven, loud noises, and walking on hardwood floors. If she must walk across the hardwood floor she seems “like she’s about to have a heart attack any minute,” says Gary, who along with his wife, Liora, and their two children got Pixel as a rescue when she was 6 months old. Leaving the house, of course, is a nightmare. Pixel is chock full of anxiety.
As shown with Pixel, there are a lot of comorbidities when it comes to anxiety and so it is difficult to tease out just “separation anxiety,” Gruen says. That was one difficulty when recruiting participants for the Calmer Canine study.
The original study, an open trial, had only 10 dogs, but their improvement was enough that researchers were convinced they should keep going. Now, more than 50 dogs have been studied and the device became available in late October 2019. Owners treated their dogs with the device twice a day (15 minutes each session) for 42 days by placing the vest around the dog’s chest and positioning the halo over their head. (In the original study, owners had to hold the halo over their dog’s head. That has been changed in the current product, in which the halo is connected to the vest and holds itself in place.)
The dogs’ behaviors were videoed before and weekly after treatment started. Owners filled out questionnaires at the beginning of the study, after each week of treatment, and again at day 56, after two weeks of no treatment. In one case, Korman says, “the dog barked 855 times in one hour, and after a month of treatment he went to zero barks.”
The Rochmans noticed positive results within five days, Gary says, and they used Calmer Canine on Pixel for four weeks. But it was rough at first. “She was not enthused at all with the treatment. Occasionally she tried to shake it off, usually with success. We needed to be by her and monitor it, and it worked best if she had just eaten or come in after a walk, when she was ready to lay down and be still.” Soon after stopping treatments, he says that there were strong winter winds, “which would have sent her off the deep end in the past but seemed to concern her only slightly—no panting or shaking.”
Jennifer Miller, DVM, of Prairie Rivers Holistic Vet Services in Byron, Georgia, says she used Calmer Canine successfully with her own dog, an English Cocker Spaniel with generalized anxieties, and has also told her dog-owning clients about the product. In one case, a dog with separation anxiety went from “breaking his teeth on his crate to having to be only lightly medicated and no longer gnashing his teeth,” Miller says. In another, an anxious patient had paced so much in the backyard that “he’d worn a path that you could see from Google Earth. Within two weeks of using the device he stopped pacing.”
As for Pixel, several weeks after stopping treatment the family went on a week-long vacation and left the dog at a boarding facility. “The effects of Calmer Canine are definitely still present,” Gary says. “Several of her old triggers are gone. We had some rainstorms recently, and she was nervous but was much better than the quivering bowl of Jell-O of the past.”