Does your dog try to fit under the lowest furniture possible when it starts to thunder? Does your cat’s tail bush out like the latest Swiffer attachment? Is the 4th of July your pet’s least favorite day of the year? If so, your pet may have a noise phobia. Many dogs and cats are afraid of thunderstorms, firecrackers, and backfiring cars. Here are a few tips to help you help your frightened furry family member.
There are several steps you can take to help your pet endure episodes of loud noises. It is critical to provide a hiding place that is somewhat insulated from the noise, a “safe place”. This safe place may be a crate in the basement, or it may be a crate draped with blankets to help insulate from the noise. Acquaint the pet with this safe place before a noisy event by giving it a treat or feeding it in this area so that it associates this place with peace and safety.
There are also products that may reduce stress for your pet. “Thundershirts” are fairly new to the market and may be helpful in reducing stress. These are tight-fitting shirts for dogs that have a calming effect. Some animals may also feel more calm if exposed to pheromones during a stressful event. All of these products should be introduced to the pet before an actual noisy event occurs.
The best way to help your pet deal with thunderstorms is to try to modify its behavioral response to a noisy stimulus. This will take some work on your part. You can use a recording (downloaded from the internet) of a thunderstorm to help desensitize your pet to these sounds. According to Dr Valerie Tynes, this should be done by “playing the recording at a level that is so low that it does not appear to cause the pet any fear or anxiety. Over repeated sessions, the volume is slowly increased until the pet no longer responds to the sound even when it is as loud as the sound of a real thunderstorm”. This process will take time, consistency, and persistence. You can help by sitting with your pet while the recording plays and petting it or giving it treats, so that it begins to associate these noises with positive things. All of this desensitization training must be done before the actual thunderstorm occurs. Trying to train the pet during a storm may be counterproductive.
Finally, if all else fails some animals may require anxiolytic medications to help them weather the storm. The choice of anxiolytic and does should be discussed with the pet’s veterinarian. Each pet is different and may respond to medications differently. Good communication between the pet owner and the veterinarian is essential to ease the fears of a pet that has noise phobia.
For more information, call Homefront Veterinary House Calls at (917)396-4041 or e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.