Noise Phobias in Dogs

By Dr. Lindsay Lane, Managing Veterinarian

If you are like us, you absolutely HATE seeing your fur-kid shake in terror the moment that first firework or thunder boom hits. Or maybe you just haven’t noticed the fear that your pet exhibits because you’re not really sure what it looks like! We’re going to go through some common signs of fear and anxiety and discuss why addressing that fear and helping to manage it is often an overlooked aspect of your pet’s quality of life.

It’s beyond frustrating when you try to sit in your yard to enjoy a nice, summer night and your neighbors start to set off fireworks – which seems to happen almost every single night nowadays! Or, when you just want to enjoy a good, summer thunderstorm on your front porch, but the noise of your pet’s trembling against a wood floor is more noticeable than the rain hitting your roof. Trembling, shaking, panting, vocalizing, pacing – these are just a few of the signs of fear and anxiety when your pet is stressed or terrified! We are here to tell you there is a solution. 

We will get to the “good drugs” in a moment but first, here are a few things you can get or set up in your home to help your dog or cat who doesn’t appreciate the “booming noises of death”:

  1. Thundershirts – they do work! For moderate to severely affected dogs, they will not work alone. You WILL need additional medications and/or nutraceuticals (supplements) to help their effect.  Place one on your dog if you’re expecting a night of fireworks, or a day/night of thunderstorms.  It has that swaddling effect just like is used for babies. And no, hugging your pet to the point of their eyes popping out, rubbing them telling them “it’s OK” is not “OK”.
  2. Use a calming pheromone (adaptil for dogs, feliway for cats) to spray around areas your petlikes to hide during these events. It needs to be freshly sprayed, and reapplied once a day to work effectively.
  3. Does your dog go and hide? Good! Listen to them! When scared, they will often go under, behind, or into something if it is available – away from windows, doors, and preferably dampening the sounds from outside. Do not retrieve them from where they are unless it is harmful to them. How about hanging a blanket to cover a table in a corner for your pet to go under during storms and fireworks. You can also use a crate. Try not to confine your pet into a small space because they will often try to escape if it is not appropriately set up and that is where they can sometimes get hurt!
  4. Play a radio or TV but try to do so before storms or fireworks. Otherwise you may be teaching your pet this is a “trigger” to the scary noises, thereby giving them something else to fear!

The above-mentioned tips can work for mild anxiety and fear. However, if your pet is more severely affected by fear, including severe shaking, panting, vocalizing, hypersalivating, pacing, will not engage in social interaction, will not play or eat, and otherwise just tries to find a place to hide, then you may need to step up your game to help! This comes in the form of medications/sedatives/anxiolytics. These types of medications are generally short term, or situational in their use, and timing is everything! Some of these medications can work great but may take anywhere from 1-3 hours before you see an effect and by that time they have already gotten worked up and terrified and the trigger has likely passed. Also, for some pets one medication or environmental change is not enough! Most of the time we recommend several different medications to help cover the time frame we expect a pet to react to the fearful stimulus or noise until it ends. 

No matter the regimen you use, our goal is the same; to lessen the fearful response of your pet because if you just continue to let it happen it WILL get worse! The most common concern we hear from owners is that they do not like to “sedate” their pet.  But we ask you this – which is worse; temporarily sedated or progressively terrified? We encourage you to always discuss your concerns with your veterinarian and we will always try to prepare you for what to expect. Together we can find a solution!

As summer thunderstorms continue to roll through the area and fireworks will seemingly be just a natural summertime sound, please reach out and ask one of our veterinarians to discuss a behavior plan and medication if warranted for your pet if you notice any of the signs above! We want you and your pets to have the safest, most enjoyable time together that you can. 

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