It's a warm summer night and you can hear the oohs and ahhs of the crowd. Beautiful colors light up the sky with a boom so loud it shakes your insides. Sound familiar? That's right! It's 4th of July and the fireworks are amazing!
Wait. Where's Fido? Why is he hiding? And trembling?
Does this sound like your pet's reaction to fireworks, thunder, howling wind or other loud noises? If so, your faithful friend might be suffering from a noise phobia.
A phobia is a fear that is out of proportion to the actual danger of a situation. Noise phobias can develop through several means including direct association, lifestyle backgrounds and genetics.
Noise phobias are often associated with separation anxiety
Studies have found that certain dog breeds are more at risk of developing noise phobias. These include herding, sporting and hound breeds.
Pets may suffer from one or a multitude of symptoms. Common signs and symptoms of a noise phobia include:
- Dilated pupils
- Trying to escape
- Seeking the owner
- Expressing anal sacs
Storm and noise phobias are an urgent condition, according to WVMA member veterinarian and clinical instructor at the University of Wisconsin School of Veterinary Medicine, Dr. Sandy Sawchuk.
Contrary to common belief, repeated exposure to noise phobia triggers (storms, thunder, fireworks, and gunshots) will only make phobias worse, she explains.
There is no guarantee that phobias can be cured or resolved completely, but most can be managed efficiently. Talk with one of our veterinarians about the best treatment for your pet.
The following may help your pet deal with loud noises.
Avoid rewarding or coddling your pet's fearful behavior. Do not give punishment for this behavior; it will only increase anxiety levels.
Teaching animals to display acceptable behaviors as a response to a certain stimulus. The animal will associate a negative stimulus (storm) with a positive event (treat). For example, only give your pet their favorite treat, toy or game during or just prior to a storm. Pets will start associating a storm with receiving their favorite thing.
Another form of behavior modification. During desensitization, the animal's response is decreased while being exposed to increasing levels of the fear-producing noise
For example, play a recording of a storm at a level that does not induce a fear response. If the animal becomes fearful, decrease the volume.
Each session should last about 20 minutes and pets may require 50 to 80 sessions. It is best to train in the storm off-season. Training should occur in various rooms and to make the "storm" seem real, dim the lights and add a strobe light.
Changing the environment of the animal during the storm to a quieter, darker room with no windows can help diminish anxiety.
Create a safe-haven for your pet in an appropriately sized crate or in a small room like a bathroom. Crates can be covered with a blanket to increase the animal's sense of security. Mask the storm noise with "white noise" like fans, air conditioner, TV or radio.
In addition to other treatment methods, offer your animal an appropriate pheromone through a pheromone releasing collar or diffuser. Contact our office for more information on these products.
Medications can be helpful alone or in combination with other treatments. Prescriptions can help animals through their phobias, however dependency can develop. Some prescription medications are fast acting, while others need to be taken for a longer period of time to be effective.