What is Kava Kava for Anxiety?
The kava kava plant is a tropical plant in that is grown in Micronesia, Fiji, the Samoas, Vanuatu, and Tonga. Its scientific name is Piper methysticum, and its powdered root is frequently used both medicinally and recreationally as it can produce feelings of relaxation and euphoria, but does not affect the mind in such a way as to dull the senses. It can also be recommended for canines who are suffering from phobias or generalized anxiety, and can be used along with training techniques to reduce the symptoms of these types of disorders. Discuss the use of kava kava with a veterinarian knowledgeable about the use. Although this medication is generally considered safe, when given in high doses for extended periods of time it can become hepatotoxic.
Although recent studies indicate that continual use of Kava Kava supplements can cause damage to the liver, it is still considered safe to use as a shorter-term remedy.
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Symptoms of Kava Kava for Anxiety in Dogs
There are several types of conditions and symptoms that the kava kava plant is helpful in mitigating for your pet. The conditions or symptoms that it eases may include:
- Fear responses (like fear of thunderstorms)
- Muscle tension
- Pain or inflammation
Kava kava should only be used as a temporary measure. Canines have varying amounts of sensitivity to the kavalactones in the plant and although some individuals have successfully used this supplement for many years, others have incurred permanent liver damage after just a few months.
There are other natural alternatives that may be used for anxiety relief for dogs, including:
- Pheromones - The synthetic pheromone most often used for treating dogs with anxiety is called Adaptil, and it comes in a spray, collar, and diffuser dispensers
- Melatonin - Melatonin is useful as a sleep aid as well as for reducing levels of anxiety
- Tryptophan - This naturally occurring chemical has been shown to reduce territoriality behaviors and it may increase the level of serotonin available to your pet
- L-theanine - Reduces signs of anxiety related to phobias in both dogs and cats
Other herbs that are credited with easing anxiety and calming patients can include St. John’s Wort, passionflower, skull cap, and hops. It is important to note that these medications have not been fully evaluated by the scientific community yet, and your veterinarian should be consulted for the most recent information before starting any of these treatments.
Causes of Kava Kava for Anxiety in Dogs
The intoxicating effects of this supplement lie in the kavalactones that are contained in these plants. There have been at least 18 of these kavalactones with psychoactive properties identified in the kava kava plant. These kavalactones induce a feeling of well-being which help to alleviate feelings of anxiety, stress, and depression. Studies have indicated that kava kava may be an alternative for benzodiazepines and tricyclic antidepressants for the treatment of generalized anxiety disorders, both in humans and in canines. It should be noted, however, that the same kavalactones that are responsible for the calming effect may also result in liver damage when given over extended periods of time.
Diagnosis of Kava Kava for Anxiety in Dogs
Kava Kava is processed through the liver and can cause serious damage to dogs whose liver is already compromised. Testing the efficiency of the liver is required before using kava kava for your dog. Some of the tests that your dog’s doctor might include are:
- Enzyme testing - Enzymes that your veterinarian may test and monitor may include Alanine aminotransferase (ALT), Aspartate aminotransferase (AST), Gamma-glutamyl transpeptidase (GGT), Serum alkaline phosphatase (SAP)
- Albumin levels - Albumin is a chemical that is made only in the liver; low levels indicate damage to either the liver or the kidneys
- Bilirubin - This by-product of hemoglobin breakdown is processed through the liver; buildup of bilirubin in their blood may indicate that the liver is overwhelmed
- Coagulation factors - The liver produces factors that contribute to coagulation and lowered coagulation abilities may also indicate problems with the liver
- Bile acid testing - This tests the liver’s current ability to produce bile acids
Treatment of Kava Kava for Anxiety in Dogs
Treatments for the overdose of hepatotoxins like the kavalactones in the kava kava plant are mostly supportive. If the ingestion of large quantities of this supplement were recent, within two to three hours, your veterinarian may instruct you in the proper technique for inducing vomiting in dogs and may administer activated charcoal to soak up toxins in the stomach so that they don’t reach the bloodstream. Any indication that the liver is already involved should prompt a visit to the nearest veterinary clinic. Supportive treatment will be administered at this time which can include pain medication, IV fluids, and hepatoprotective medicines.
If your dog has ingested enough to cause damage to the liver, the prognosis of this condition can be mixed. Any damage that has already occurred to the liver may not be reversible, however, careful management can keep further damage from occurring. Several factors would have an effect on the outcome, including the dog’s overall size, the amount ingested and period of time it was ingested over, and how long it has been since the symptoms began. Damage to the liver from this plant seems to occur only after long-standing treatments of several weeks to months.
Recovery of Kava Kava for Anxiety in Dogs
It is important that your dog’s doctor is up to date on all the supplementations and medications that your pet is taking as kava kava interacts with several other medications. Some of the medications that it is known to interact with include:
- Drugs that affect the liver
- Sedative medications
Kavalactones are not one of the standard compounds studied in general blood tests, so it may not be found in the blood if the technician does not know to check for it. It is essential to test the blood for liver functionality before beginning treatment with this particular plant as it is known to become toxic to the liver over time.