Storm & Noise Phobias
When loud noises make your pet panic
By some estimates, half of dogs and cats have some level of noise phobia: fear of loud noises, like thunder or fireworks. With summer weather upon us – and the Fourth of July next week – this can be a tough season for LVC’s pets and their families.
More prevalent in dogs than cats, common signs of noise phobias are shaking, crying, whining, excessive licking, hiding, urinating or defecating in the house, pacing, panting, drooling, restlessness, trying to escape out of a pen or the house, looking to a pet owner for comfort by pawing, nuzzling or whimpering. If these signs sound familiar, I feel for you and your pet. But there are ways we can work to make the season more fun for everyone.
We don’t know why certain pets are affected by noise phobias and others are not. In some cases, genetics may be the underlying cause, while other pets may be fearful because of trauma earlier in life. Poor socialization as puppies or kittens can play a role as well. Studies in dogs show that female dogs are more likely to have noise phobias. Dogs who are partially deaf may react worse than others because they can’t tell where the sounds are coming from.
Interestingly, it’s not always noise that triggers these phobias: when a storm is approaching, some pets display fear before any thunder is heard. Darkening clouds, humidity changes, changes in barometric pressure, wind, rain, and lightning can all lead to fear responses in a dog. This is important to know, because minimizing all these stimuli -- not just noises -- during a storm will help keep your pet relaxed.
How can we help our furry friends?
First: don’t make things worse. Pets often look to us for guidance on how to react in certain situations, so one of the most important things you can do is to keep your cool. Animals pick up on anxiety and may become even more anxious and fearful if they see that you are getting stressed.
When possible, make sure your pet is not alone during the stressful event. Create a safe and secure environment. This could be a darkened room or a crate covered with a blanket or a windowless interior room where flashes of light and sound will be muted.
If your pet has a preferred hiding place, don’t try to remove them. This is not helpful and may even cause an aggressive response.
Sometimes music played loudly or with a strong beat or some type of white noise will muffle the outside noises causing the distress. You have to play this by ear though, as loud music may only make the noise phobia worse.
Never punish your pet or yell at them for acting afraid. This includes urinating or defecating in the house: punishment will make this worse.
On the flip side, avoid comforting your pet too much as this can be interpreted as a reward. Ignoring your pet is actually more helpful than comforting, and an even better option is to play with them to keep them distracted. Try familiar toys, games or practicing training. Chew toys or treat-dispensing toys with food inside can be very helpful because chewing is a proven stress reliever in dogs.
If you have already trained your pet to go and settle on a mat, bed or other location, this would be a perfect time to use this training technique. In some cases, putting on a collar and leash may offer additional control and can be calming for some dogs.
Long-term, desensitizing and counterconditioning exercises can help your pet cope better with the next episode. As an example, you could play recordings of storm noises at a low level during periods of good weather. The volume should only be set at a level that does not cause distress. Over an extended period of time, you can increase the volume to help your pet become comfortable with storm sounds. During these sessions, keep your pet distracted and at ease with treats, playtime and toys.
Some animals respond well to aromatherapy including lavender or chamomile, or pheromone therapy. Body wraps help in some cases and some dogs tolerate headphones or ear muffs to decrease storm sounds. In some cases pets need other supplements or prescription medications to help them get through these stressful periods.
If you’ve already gotten medication or supplements from your vet, give them to your pet at least 30 minutes prior to the stressful situation. It is much easier to get ahead of stress and anxiety than to try to get it under control after the pet has become stressed. In cases where storms or other noisy events (the days leading up to and following the 4th of July) can’t be predicted, you may need to give medications daily.
If you’re worried about your pet’s reactions to loud noises, give us a call to set up an exam and talk about possible remedies: 914-248-5050.
Article ©2019 Lincolndale Veterinary Center