Noise and Thunder Phobias in Dogs

Filed Under: Dogs, General Care

Are you planning a huge 4th of July party this year complete with all those fireworks? Maybe think twice before shooting off all those noisy firecrackers. Your 4-legged friends may have difficulty handling all the noise. In fact, fear of loud noise and thunder are some of the most commonly seen phobias in dogs.

Many dogs will try and outrun the offending noise, injuring themselves (self-inflicted injury) in the process. A fearful animal will tear through fences or walls, clawing, chewing, and going under or over obstacles to escape the source of the fear. Others will hide under the bed or soil the house or bed areas when fearful, while still others just crouch and shake in fear.

Dogs may be confined to a kennel which may eliminate destruction to the house but may actually exasperate the self-inflicted injury. A particularly fearful dog may continue to dig or chew out until such time that the nails, paws, and gums may be bleeding. A kennel does not address the core problem which is the fear response.

In many instances heavy sedation and tranquilizers may be the best immediate solution. The most commonly used drug is a tranquilizer by the name of acepromazine. Most sedatives in the oral form may take 20 to 30 minutes to become fully effective and will necessitate that the owner be home in order for the medication to be given. When the source of the phobia is frequent, such as daily afternoon thunderstorms in Florida, being home to give the medication may become problematic.

A group of drugs known as benzodiazepines may be used to treat the anxiety. This group of drugs would include diazepam, better known as Valium®. Alternatively nonbenzodiazepine anxiolytics such as buspirone or Buspar®have also been used successfully.

Several other drugs traditionally marketed for separation anxiety such as Clomicalm® a tricyclic antidepressant from Novartis, or Reconcile®, a serotonin reuptake inhibitor available from Eli Lily, may help relieve stress associated with noise phobias and thereby decrease the reaction to the offending noises.

When time is available, counter-conditioning may be used. Low levels of the offending noise, such as that of a thunder storm, may be gradually increased with the pet around. At the first sign of fear the volume of the offending noise should be lowered to a less stressful level. Gradually the noise should be increased. Sometimes the noise recording alone may not be enough to evoke a fearful response and other props such as a water sprinkler may be necessary.

Whenever the pet becomes agitated, the appropriate recording and props should be decreased in intensity and the pet reassured with positive reinforcement. Counter-conditioning requires patience and time. Unfortunately a severe summer storm during a counter-conditioning program can send you back to square one, necessitating that you restart your program from the beginning. In many parts of the country there may not be adequate time for counter-conditioning to be fully effective.

One of the best ways to deal with noise phobias is to prevent them from developing in the first place. When you expose a young puppy to various offending noises when they are young, reassuring them or associating the noise with some treat or special attention, they may learn to associate these noises with additional pleasurable experiences. Often hunters will train their bird dogs by shooting off guns while a young dog is eating or in the midst of a pleasurable play situation. Typically offending noises will then be associated with positive experiences.

Topics: fright, noise, phobias

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