The baritone rumble of an afternoon thunderstorm, the flash and bang of a fireworks display… aren’t the sights and sounds of summer great? Not if you’re a pet with noise phobia! It is a sad fact that approximately 20% of dogs, and a smaller percentage of cats, develop a genuine fear of loud noises. Pets with noise phobia become terrified by approaching storms, and can make summer afternoons quite the ordeal for pet owners. Here are some tips on how to deal with this common issue.
1. Have a safe, secure place for your pet. Pets with noise phobia should have a small, secure, “den” like area in which to stay during storms or fireworks displays. This area ideally should be an indoor room away from windows if possible. If the room does have windows, be sure they are completely covered to minimize the anxiety-inducing effects of lightning flashes.
2. Diminish the outside noise. This can be done through the use of classical music played over a stereo or a white-noise machine. If your pet will tolerate it, you can also place cotton balls in its ears – just remember to remove the cotton balls after the noise has diminished. Certain companies even make ear muffs for dogs – Mutt Muffs is one such example.
3. Try to divert your pet’s attention. Fill a Kong toy with a tasty snack that will take some time and effort for your pet to get out of the Kong. Banana, dry kibble, and peanut butter are good options.
4. Try over-the-counter calming agents. No agent is 100% effective at calming pets with noise phobia. Nonetheless, some pets do seem to feel better with the use of the following:
- Thundershirt. This wraps snugly around your pet’s body and provides a swaddling sensation that some pets find comforting. A Thundercap also exists to minimize visual stressors like lightning flashes.
- Adaptil for dogs, or Feliway for cats. These products are appeasing pheromones that can help alleviate your pet’s stress in a number of situations. The products come in a variety of forms: plug-in wall diffusers, sprays and collars are available.
- Zylkene. This is a natural calming agent that can help with pet anxiety in general. It does not work immediately, so must be given on a daily basis.
5. Desensitize your pet to loud noises. Purchase a CD of storm noises, and play it on good-weather days. Play it quietly at first, then gradually turn up the volume. Do not play the CD on days of potential stormy weather.
6. Do not reward your pet’s anxiety. It is natural to try to comfort your pet when it is stressed. However, our efforts to alleviate the situation by giving attention, food, kind words and petting only serve to reward our pets for being anxious. Similarly, do not try to reprimand, correct or punish your pet for its anxiety. Treat loud noises as no big deal.
7. Medications. We do sometimes use prescription medications to help with noise phobia. It is important to note that medications alone are not the answer, and also have the potential for adverse side effects. Nonetheless, some pets may receive an additional benefit from medications such as the following:
- Clomipramine: an anti-depressant medication that can be given daily during the storm season to help with noise phobia.
- Alprazolam (generic for Xanax): an anti-anxiety medication that can be given as needed. However, it will be of no use unless it can be given well before your pet becomes aware of an approaching storm or the sound of fireworks. It also has the potential to cause certain pets to act out in ways they ordinarily would not do.
Working together, we can help minimize the stress your pet experiences from loud noises, and make the summer a better season for all of us.