Thunderstorm, Firework, and Noise Phobias

It is the time of year in Buffalo where thunderstorms are abundant, and fireworks are used for celebration.  Along with these loud, spectacular storms and holidays come fears and phobias for humans and pets.  Fears can soon become phobias, which is defined as a persistent, excessive, and irrational fear response.  To prepare and help your pet cope with the upcoming summer months, we will discuss thunderstorm and firework phobias.

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It is important to note that a medical condition can trigger or worsen fearful behavior, particularly if the medical condition is new. Please see your veterinarian to rule out a possible medical problem if your dog has recently started acting fearful.

Different animals may display different signs of noise phobias, they include:

  • Hiding
  • Urinating
  • Defecating
  • Chewing (can be on toys, furniture, or even excessively licking/chewing themselves)
  • Panting
  • Pacing
  • Trying to escape (digging, jumping through windows or going through walls, running away)
  • Drooling
  • Seeking the owner
  • Expressing anal glands
  • Not eating
  • Not listening to commands
  • Trembling or shaking
  • Dilated pupils
  • Vocalizing (barking or meowing)

Thunderstorm Phobias:

Triggers:

With any phobia it is important to know what the trigger is.  For thunderstorms there any many factors that can go into the reactions that we see from pets.  The loud noise is scary to some.  Dogs especially can hear it at a much greater distance than humans can.  They have early audio warning of an approaching storm, and most storm-phobic dogs eventually start reacting long before the sounds are loud.  It can be difficult sometimes to understand this trigger because if we are unaware a storm is coming, the anxiety signs may be displayed without the cause being displayed.

Electricity in the air may be a major factor for a pet with a storm phobia.  There is still learning to do with this aspect of storm phobias.  Some questions that have been raised include: Is there something unpleasant about this to the pet’s sensations?  Does it perhaps become even scarier to a dog who has been trained with an electronic collar, or frightened by a static shock in everyday life?

Have you ever noticed that “rain smell” in the air.  Or how it gets damp or change in temperature when a storm approaches.  A pet can also detect this early with their more adept nose.

The air pressure changes too, and a dog’s ears are especially more sensitive to pressure changes than most people. In some cases, it might hurt.

The family may change routine when a storm is approaching too.  If you have family members that are fearful, the pets often feed off your anxiety.  This can add to or heighten their symptoms.

Dogs can also have a visual fear with the lightening.  If they are seeing constant lightening flashing, it can visually disturb them.

High winds and rain may also be associated with the storms causing increased noise with the storms.  The audible sound of the rain drops against the windows and the high pitched whistling noise from the wind may disturb some pets.

Firework Phobias:

Triggers:

With fireworks the triggers include the loud noises and the flashing lights.  The constant streaming of light from the fireworks can cause visual disturbance to pets, but what is more disturbing is the noise factor.  Fireworks can vary with their loudness and they can be more unpredictable than a storm.  Fireworks are really only guaranteed the day is July 4th, but many people celebrate before and after the holiday or weeks prior and after the holiday as well!

Tips to Help Your Pet with Noise Phobias:

  • Give your pet a quiet, dark, sheltered refuge.  Many pets tend to choose places such as basements, bathrooms (sometimes in the bathtub), closets, and crates that are kept in secluded parts of the house.
  • If your dog becomes frantic and as a result might suffer injury or do damage during a storm, you may need to develop a good means of confining the dog. Sometimes a secluded crate works (this will work if the dog has been conditioned to rest calmly in a crate).
  • You and your veterinarian or veterinary behavior specialist may decide to medicate your dog with an anti-anxiety drug for the entire storm season or year-round (these medications generally do not work until the dog has been on them for weeks).  Sedatives can also be beneficial during storms. Due to the unpredictability of storms, it may not be possible to administer a sedative when it’s needed.  It is also important to note that medications are always recommended to be used with behavior modification techniques.  With pets and behavior and phobias, there is never “one true fix”, it works best when you use a combination of remedies.
  • Some pets find it comforting to get under a “security blanket” to combat storm fears. Due to the risk of overheating, don’t force this method. You might give it a try, though, monitoring them to see if it helps and to find a covering that provides the benefit without excessive heating. Don’t leave dogs alone with the covering if the dog is likely to chew and swallow pieces of it.
  • A behavior specialist can help you work out a behavior modification program to work on this problem. Learning more about communicating with your dog and modifying dog behavior in positive ways is always time well spent.
  • Bring outside pets inside, so they can’t bolt. Keep your cats securely inside, and if your dog needs a potty break during the fireworks, take him outside on a leash, even in a fenced yard. Make sure all your pets are wearing an ID tag or a collar that contains your phone number. Tags and collars can be lost, so a microchip is even more useful in helping you find your lost pet.
  • Distance from the fireworks can be less intimidating, as would be keeping the pet indoors.  If you live in an area that has fireworks displays it might be best to take your pet to a family member that is not near them.  Or if you can board them and keep them in a safe environment away from the noise.
  • Music may disguise the bursts of noise; consider loud music with a regular beat.
  • Classical counter conditioning can create a positive association with fireworks if the anxiety isn’t extreme. Give high-value food rewards (canned food or peanut butter), offer your pet his favorite toys or food puzzle toys, or have your pet practice his tricks with you. The goal is for him to learn that fireworks result in highly pleasant rewards.  You are teaching a desirable coping response.
  • Acupuncture can also help with general anxiety behaviors or storm phobias.  The Village Veterinary Clinic of Hamburg offers acupuncture.
  • Thundershirts: these apply constant, gentle pressure to pets.  It gives them a calming and safe feeling.  It is equivalent to the swaddling of a baby.  The shirt compresses in areas that will apply pressure to specific acupuncture points, causing a reduction in anxiety.  It is available for both dogs and cats.
  • DAP (Adaptil is the product name): DAP stands for “dog appeasing pheromone”.  This is a synthetic pheromone created to help dogs in stressful situations.  It is meant to give dogs a natural feeling of contentment.  It is dog specific, odorless, non-sedative, and non-systemic.       *Can purchase this through our online pharmacy, VetSource
  • Feliway: Feliway is a synthetic copy of the feline facial pheromone, used by cats to mark their territory as safe and secure.  By mimicking the cat’s natural facial pheromones, Feliway creates a state of familiarity and security in the cat’s local environment.  This allows cats to be comforted, feel content and reduce stress.     *Can purchase this through our online pharmacy, VetSource
  • Lavendar Collars: There are company’s that create collars that have herbal supplements built into them (calming collars.com).  “Calm Me Down Calming Collars” are the specific collars designed to help with noise phobias, along with other stressful situations.  They blend lavender, chamomile and balsam. No essential oils or fillers, just the actual dried herbs. They were mixed to help the wearer overcome stress and anxiety and just be a bit more relaxed. They can be effective all day long. You can clip one on your pet when you leave the house in the morning, and not worry if it will be still working late in the afternoon – long after any medicine would have worn off. Or your dog or cat can just wear one for a few hours to reduce anxiety.
  • “Through A Dog’s Ear” and “Through A Cat’s Ear”: these are CDs or music downloads created to help reduce anxiety.  For noise phobias, they use a method called “sound inoculation”.  Repeated playing of this series will gently introduce them to common noises. Intermixed with bioacoustically designed piano arrangements, these soundtracks will accustom and acclimate your dog or cat to common household and outdoor sounds in their environment.  The arrangements are meant to reduce heart rate.  The music uses a studied method called BARD, which stands for BioAcoustic Research & Development project.  They investigate the effects of multiple types of classical music on the behavior of dogs.
  • Composure Treats (VetriScience) : These treats are made for both dogs and cats.  The ingredients in Composure™ work synergistically to support relaxation without changing your dog’s or cat’s personality or energy levels. The C3™ colostrum calming complex supports stress reduction and cognitive function; L-Theanine helps the body produce other amino acids to bring specific neurotransmitters back into balance; and B vitamins (thiamine) affect the central nervous system to help calm anxious animals.  * Can purchase this through our online pharmacy, VetSource
  • Solliquin (Nutramax): this is a product for both dogs and cats.  Helps alleviate the most common signs of anxiety for each species.  Dogs can help with fireworks, destruction, being home alone, moving, kenneling, car rides, aging, traveling, or loud noises.  Cats it can help unfamiliar pets or people, new smells, environment changes, or multicat households.    *Can purchase this through our online pharmacy, VetSource
  • Zylkene (Vetoquinol): Zylkene helps balance reactions in some situations (travel, moving, grooming, meeting new people, loud noises, etc.) and helps animals maintain normal and relaxed dispositions. * Can purchase this through our online pharmacy, VetSource

** It is important to also note other noise phobias that pets may encounter during the summer months.  All the windows and doors tend to be open at our homes, allowing for more noise to be welcomed in.  Some other phobias can include (sounds to notice triggers with): sirens, musical instruments, television sounds, fly swatters, lawn mowers, construction noises, road noises, wind, rain, skateboarders.  These are just to name a few.  All the above coping mechanisms discussed can be applied to these phobias as well.  Enjoy the summer and be safe!