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Supplements for Mental Wellbeing

May 20, 2024 Dr. Chuck Zumbaugh

As pet owners, we want to ensure our pets have the best life possible including, their mental health. Like us, pets can suffer from mental health disorders such as anxiety, depression, and stress resulting in changes in behavior like loss of energy and appetite, increased barking and pacing, and antisocial behavior. Left untreated, these behaviors can become worse. Addressing these changes early on can improve the quality of life for your pet and you.

It is important to work with a veterinarian, first to make sure there are no underlying diseases that may present as behavioral issues, and to diagnose the type or source of anxiety and stress properly. Once a diagnosis is reached or potential stressors are identified, there are steps we can take to proactively promote mental well-being in our pets. In addition to a consistent environment and routine, such as regular walks, that can help to keep our pets happy, an over-the-counter supplement that targets anxiety and stress can help manage these conditions. When choosing a supplement to support your pet’s mental well-being, it is important to ensure that the ingredients and their inclusion rates have been scientifically substantiated in the target species to support stress or anxiety.

Ingredients that support mental wellbeing


L-theanine is an amino acid analog that is found in tea and certain mushrooms. It is commonly used in pet supplements that target anxiety and has been shown to improve anxiety in several pet studies. Dogs with a history of storm sensitivity demonstrated decreased anxiety during storms following L-theanine supplementation in a 4-week experiment.1 Similarly, a prospective field trial with cats demonstrated that L-theanine may help reduce stress and anxiety.2


Alpha-casozepine is a bioactive peptide that is derived from milk and has anxiolytic properties. While less common than L-theanine, alpha-casozepine has been shown in several studies to have calming properties when supplemented to dogs and cats. An experiment comparing alpha-casozepine to an anxiety medication (selegiline hydrochloride) found that anxiety scores decreased similarly following supplementation.3


Ashwagandha, or Withania somnifera, is an evergreen shrub that is commonly found in India, the Middle East, and Africa. In particular, the root powder of Ashwagandha is commonly used in herbal medicine and has been studied for its stress-relieving effects in dogs. A recent study found that daily supplementation with Ashwagandha root extract was associated with improvement in stress-related signs in anxious dogs.4 However, it is important to note that this is a relatively new supplement in dogs, and rigorous safety evaluations are limited. The same study included a safety component that demonstrated no major adverse effects or changes in blood biochemical parameters. While it is likely that supplementation at doses to facilitate calming is safe in dogs, caution should still be taken when designing supplements containing Ashwagandha.

Ingredients that support cognitive health

Cognitive health is an important component of mental well-being, and supporting cognitive function, especially in aging animals, can improve their quality of life. It is well documented that there is a general cognitive decline that accompanies aging in dogs5 and humans6 due to factors including less efficient metabolism and increased oxidative damage. Aging is a multifaceted process, and while there is no way to reverse it, several studies have identified nutrients that support cognitive function in aging animals.

Medium chain triglycerides

Medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs) are fatty acid esters of glycerol that contain fatty acid chains that are 6 – 12 carbons in length. While the brain’s primary source of energy is glucose, it can utilize ketone bodies as an alternate energy source. Medium-chain triglycerides can be converted to ketone bodies in the liver and can, therefore, serve as an energy source for the brain. Previous research has suggested that supplementing aging dogs with high levels of MCTs can improve cognitive function.7 While the levels used in this study are too great to be reasonably included in a supplement, it provides an option to support cognitive health in diets.

B vitamins

B vitamins are a subset of essential, water-soluble vitamins, abundant in animal products and commonly supplemented in pet foods. They play an important role in metabolism and co-factors for many enzymes. A recent study demonstrated that supplementing dog diets with arginine, antioxidants, B vitamins, and fish oil can enhance cognitive function in aged dogs.8 Dogs supplemented with the blend performed better on tests, such as a landmark discrimination test than the control.


Antioxidants are compounds that protect against damage from free radicals. Left unchecked, free radicals can damage cells and cause diseases such as cancer. Antioxidants play a role in cognitive health and can help to protect brain cells from oxidative stress. Previous research has demonstrated that supplementation with antioxidants, namely vitamin E, L-carnitine, DL-alpha lipoic acid, and ascorbic acid, can improve learning in aged dogs.9 Additionally, the effect of these antioxidants was improved when supplementation was combined with behavioral enrichment. Therefore, these results suggest that supplementing dogs with antioxidants can help to improve cognitive function.


The world of pet supplements is large, and there are numerous options regarding cognitive health. The abundance of options is great for consumers as they have a greater ability to choose one that fits their unique needs, but it can also lead to confusion regarding the “best” one. While there is no one-size-fits-all, consumers can provide the best opportunity for success by choosing supplements backed by research demonstrating efficacy.


  1. Pike, A.L., D.F. Horwitz, and H. Lobprise. 2015. An open-label prospective study of the use of l-theanine (Anxitane) in storm-sensitive client-owned dogs. J. Vet. Behav. 10(4):324-331.
  2. Dramard, V., L. Kern, J. Hofmans, C.A. Rème, C.S. Nicolas, V. Chala, and C. Navarro. 2018. Effect of l-theanine tablets in reducing stress-related emotional signs in cats: an open-label field study. Irish Vet. J. 71(1):21.
  3. Beata, C., E. Beaumont-Graff, V. Coll, J. Cordel, M. Marion, N. Massal, N. Marlois, and J. Tauzin. 2007. Effect of alpha-casozepine (Zylkene) on anxiety in cats. J. Vet. Behav. 2(2):40-46.
  4. Kaur, J., S. Seshadri, K.H. Golla, and P. Sampara. 2022. Efficacy and safety of standardized Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) root extract on reducing stress and anxiety in domestic dogs: A randomized controlled trial. J. Vet. Behav. 51:8-15.
  5. Chapagain, D., F. Range, L. Huber, and Z. Virányi. 2018. Cognitive Aging in Dogs. Gerontol. 64(2):165-171.
  6. Salthouse, T.A. 2009. When does age-related cognitive decline begin? Neurobiol. Aging. 30(4):507-14.
  7. Pan, Y., B. Larson, J.A. Araujo, W. Lau, C. de Rivera, R. Santana, A. Gore, and N.W. Milgram. 2010. Dietary supplementation with medium-chain TAG has long-lasting cognition-enhancing effects in aged dogs. British J. Nutr. 103(12):1746-1754.
  8. Pan, Y., A.D. Kennedy, T.J. Jönsson, and N.W. Milgram. 2018. Cognitive enhancement in old dogs from dietary supplementation with a nutrient blend containing arginine, antioxidants, B vitamins and fish oil. British J. Nutr. 119(3):349-358.
  9. Milgram, N.W., E. Head, S.C. Zicker, C. Ikeda-Douglas, H. Murphey, B.A. Muggenberg, C.T. Siwak, P. Dwight Tapp, S.R. Lowry, and C.W. Cotman. 2004. Long-term treatment with antioxidants and a program of behavioral enrichment reduces age-dependent impairment in discrimination and reversal learning in beagle dogs. Exp. Gerontol. 39(5):753-765.

About the author: Chuck Zumbaugh, MS, Ph.D. works at BSM Partners as an Assistant Manager in Nutrition Services. He has experience in biochemistry, chemistry, software development, and animal nutrition. Outside of work, he enjoys spending time outdoors with his family in Kansas.

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