The fear and anxiety associated with noise is commonly called noise sensitivity, anxiety or phobia, depending upon the types and severity of clinical signs.
Noise aversion is a term used to encompass the spectrum of degrees of fear and anxiety associated with noise. While some phobias cannot be completely eliminated, the severity of the disorder can be greatly reduced in most cases.
Symptoms range from mild anxiety, trembling, clinging, barking, hiding, pacing, to severe panic attacks, trying to escape, inappropriate soiling, salivating and destructive behavior. Although noise aversion is common, dog owners often do not seek help from their veterinarians. One reason may be that pet owners recognize that their dogs overreact to noise, but do not recognize that these behaviors are a demonstration of fear.
As is true for any behavioral disorder, it is ideal to avoid the trigger for the anxious response when possible. Accessing weather reports can provide some degree of predictability for high risk days for storms. Events such as fireworks, thunder, celebrations, construction work and traffic or street noise will reliably increase the risk of exposure to potential noise sensitivities (especially fireworks).
Additionally, if left untreated, noise aversion can progress, resulting in an increased intensity of signs, aversion to other types of noises and /or development of other types of anxiety. Sometimes it is possible to transport your pet to a quiet area, some boarding facilities will have specialized noise sensitive areas, and some clients are able to sound proof an area of their home. Ideally the dog will have human company for the storm but there are times this will be impractical.
Here are some wasy you can help to control and manage your pet's noise phobia:
1. Relaxation training. Behavior modification takes time, effort and repetition. Training the pet to settle and relax in its own bed or comfort area (safe haven) should be the focus of reward based training prior to desensitization exercises to ensure that the pet can first be calmed and settled in the absence of potentially fear evoking stimuli. Owners are encouraged to perform these activities several times every day. Providing a safe and secure environment where the animal has a sense of control and predictability is a good foundation. This can be done by encouraging calm response to cues before provision of the things the dog values, as well as rewarding behavior that is spontaneously calm and relaxed. It is best to begin training during times of the year when exposure to the fear evoking stimuli can be avoided, so that the pet can be improved prior to next thunderstorm season.
2. Desensitization is exposure to a stimulus at intensity insufficient to produce the phobic response, with gradual increase in intensity as the dog exhibits an ability to cope. Desensitization alone is unlikely to be successful. Many dogs display phobic behavior at the sound of thunder. In these cases, a CD recording of thunder noises, played initially at a low level and gradually increased over time, can help. However, may dogs have multiple trigger stimuli, such as wind, ozone and barometric pressure changes, lightening and rain. In these cases, desensitizing against many of these stimuli is not possible. In other cases, the trigger stimulus is not identifiable, so desensitizing strategy cannot be employed. A noise phobia cd might be made by using a video or tape recording to record sounds of actual stimuli. Commercial recordings are also available ranging from thunder and storm cds to products that have been specifically designed for desensitization purposes.
3. Medications are usually necessary to combat noise or storm phobias. Sileo is the first and only FDA-approved medication indicated for the treatment of canine noise aversion. Alprazolam -Xanex is a short acting anti-panic drug, commonly used in treating storm phobias. It is administered prior to the storm developing approximately 1 hour before the storm. Long-term drugs (Prozac, Clomicalm, Elavil) are often indicated as base line levels of anxiety can be higher for affected pets, even when they do not appear overtly anxious. Additionally these medications help in situations that cannot be pre-empted by the owner.
4. Other helpful ideas: background white noise “Through a Dog’s Ear CD”, body wrap “Thundershirt”, ear covers “Mutt Muffs” and sound muting cage covers “Thunderhut” might also assist in reducing the intensity of the feared stimulus. Eye covers “ Doggles” and room darkening shades can reduce the visual stimuli associated with storms. “Adaptil” dog appeasing pheromones can reduce your dog’s anxiety whether it’s related to storms, traveling, or separation. Melatonin is over-the counter supplement, pet parents reported differing levels of relief. Consideration should be given as to the best location for the dog’s safe have to minimize stressful stimuli and improve security
5. Give us a call today to make an appointment to talk about your pet’s noise phobias, and how we can help. (609)-965-6008
Sources used in this article include Storm Phobias: Debbie J. Calnon, BVMS, MACVSc(behavior); Gary M Landsberg, DVM, ACVB, ECAWBM and the Sileo Zoetis website.