Summertime is in full swing which also implies frequent summertime thunderstorms and 4th of July festivities. You may find yourself actually dreading this time of year if you have a furry friend that suffers from noise anxiety. If this is the case, you are not alone; a recent survey found that 41% of the pet owners surveyed has or have had at least one dog who exhibited some type of anxiety or fear related issue.
Common symptoms that indicate your furry friend is not so fond of loud noises such as fireworks and/or thunderstorms include panting, drooling, whining/barking, scratching, pacing, trembling, inappropriate chewing, indoor elimination, not eating, and hiding or seeking tight spaces. While some breeds are known to be predisposed to noise anxiety, some dogs may experience a traumatic event associated with a loud noise that results in expression of fear and anxiety, while others gradually develop a fear of loud noises which can get worse as the pet ages.
Some suggest that it is possible that physical pain can manifest as noise anxiety, and can be the result of dogs having more sensitive hearing than humans, being more sensitive to large changes in barometric pressure as well as the build-up of static electricity in their coats with an approaching thunderstorm. Since the canine nose has a highly developed sense of smell, it is possible that your furry friend can smell a storm before it arrives and begin exhibiting the anxious behavior before you are even aware that a storm is approaching.
There are various methods that can be used to deal with these behaviors such as behavior modification, creating a safe environment for the pet, desensitization training, the use of products such as the Thundershirt, calming pheromones and administration of pharmacological agents.
Often pet parents see their trembling, panting, anxious dog and feel bad for him or her, which is an automatic compassionate response; however many trainers and dog experts agree that feeding, petting, or coddling an anxious dog during the event responsible for the anxiety should be avoided. Often dogs interpret these behaviors by humans either as a ‘reward’ or praise for behaving this way or as an affirmation that the storm/noise is something that should indeed cause fear and anxiety. To employ behavior modification training, one should not be affectionate, offer treats or coddle the anxious pet during the event creating the anxiety. At the same time one should also not use this as a time to discipline an anxious pet as this may increase your pet’s anxiety.
A safe environment for a family pet may include an interior room to reduce the noise, a crate covered with a blanket. Turning on background sounds such as a radio or television also may help to reduce the effect of storm or fireworks noises. For times in which you anticipate loud noises such as July 4th or New Year’s Eve or are aware of an incoming storm, give your furry pal some extra exercise since excess energy can contribute to anxiety.
Desensitization training is a common behavior modification method used to improve pets’ anxious response to noises. This typically involves playing a CD with sounds that your pet finds bothersome beginning at a volume that does not affect him/her. The volume is gradually increased so that the pet becomes accustomed to the noise and no longer reacts. This is a time consuming method of treatment, and is excellent in theory, but does not always work in reality.
Products such as the Thundershirt work by providing constant gentle pressure on the dog’s body possibly resulting in a feeling of comfort and security similar to swaddling an upset infant. Pressure wraps may also serve to distract your pet from the noise causing his/her anxiety. Depending on your pet’s personality, you may need to introduce the use of a pressure wrap during a time of fun and enjoyment so that he/she becomes accustomed to wearing the wrap prior to exposure to the anxiety causing noises.
Other potential treatment options include pharmacological agents that can be recommended and prescribed by your veterinarian. There are a variety of agents; some that are given on a daily basis and others that are given just prior to the anxiety-causing event. The disadvantages of pharmacologic treatments include unwanted side effects as well as the ongoing cost associated with medication regimens. What is viewed by many pet owners as a major disadvantage of using pharmacological treatments is the time delay of the onset of the full effect of the medication. One must be able to anticipate the noise event which renders these methods of treating anxiety fairly ineffective for unexpected storms. These agents can be effective for anticipated events such as 4th of July, New Years Eve and hurricane season (for those living in hurricane-prone coastal areas).
If you have a furry friend who suffers from noise anxiety, it can be very saddening to watch as he/she panics during a storm. Not every method or remedy will work for every pet, but these of these recommendations, there is likely something that can at minimum reduce your pet’s response to storms and other loud noises.