As I get older, I often find myself astonished at the rapid passage of time. Spring flies into summer, summer flits away into Fall, and fall crashes into winter. Blink and you’ve missed half the year. I looked at the calendar today and couldn’t believe that it was already the middle of June and that July was just around the corner. This means that the Fourth of July is bearing down on us and this fact, in combination with the stormy weather we’ve been having (Hello, Summer!), is the inspiration for this week’s column on noise phobias.
Most commonly associated with thunderstorms, noise phobias can be triggered by storms, fireworks, and other loud noises like gunshots and even loud engine noises. It’s normal for dogs to be startled by loud noises, but once it has been established that the noise offers no other threat, the dog should relax somewhat. For dogs with thunderstorm anxiety or other noise phobias, this relaxation does not happen and there is no respite from the heightened awareness and severe anxiety triggered by the noise. These dogs are often very distressed, panting, salivating, pacing, and trembling until long after the storm or fireworks display has passed. They may hide and refuse to come out, seek their owners for comfort, and in some cases, may even try to break out of the home sometimes resulting in physical injury. Untreated, noise phobias can become more intense over time. It is also distressing for owners to watch their pet made so miserable by something that is considered to be innocuous or even fun in the case of fireworks.
What is often so distressing for owners is feeling helpless in the face of their pet’s misery. It can be very difficult to know how to best help and bring comfort to a pet in these situations. For many dogs, creating a space for them in which they feel safe can be a big help. Creating this space in an interior room of the house with no windows helps lessen anxiety triggered by the flashing of lightning or fireworks and helps muffle noise. Putting in the dog’s favorite bed and toys will also help make the space inviting to your pet. Playing music or white noise can help by muffling the sounds of thunder or fireworks. For some dogs who consider their crate or kennel their safe space, placing a blanket over the kennel may provide additional comfort by minimizing light flashes and noise. Some dogs can be distracted with a favorite game, toy or treat. Body wraps like Thundershirts may also help your dog feel less anxious.
In some cases, dogs may also require medication prescribed by their veterinarian. These medications work best in combination with the environmental and behavioral changes described. For most dogs, it is unlikely that they will be fully cured, but the hope is that the fear and anxiety will be reduced to a level with which the dog is able to cope during storms or other noise triggers. Behavioral therapy aimed at desensitizing dogs to the noise trigger can be helpful in some cases, but not all. Every dog is unique and your veterinarian can help you figure out the best method for managing your dog’s noise phobia. If your dog does not respond well to more common solutions, your veterinarian may recommend that you speak with a Veterinary Behaviorist, a specialist veterinarian who has done advanced study in animal behavior and may be better able to address your pet’s specific needs.
For the Fourth of July specifically, all owners should take care to keep their pets safe, regardless of whether they have a true noise phobia or not. Any pet may become frightened during fireworks displays. Because of this, it is best that pets are left at home, rather than bringing them to a public fireworks event. Keeping your pet in a separate room or in their crate if they are happy there can help them stay safe. Make sure that your yard is secure so that if your pet does get out of the house, they can’t escape and get lost. Make sure that they are wearing ID tags and that their microchip information is up-to-date. If you don’t have a regular veterinarian, the Louisiana SPCA offers affordable microchipping at their Community Clinic. You have to make an appointment by calling 504.363.1333 or going online to www.la-spca.org/appointments.
If you think your pet may have a noise phobia, or you’re concerned about your pet’s safety this Fourth of July, talk to your veterinarian. They can address your pet’s individual needs and help you keep your pet happy and safe this summer.