Pets and Noise Phobias
With New Year's Eve quickly approaching many of us are thinking about festive celebrations and get togethers with friends. Unfortunately, for many pets and their owners, this holiday brings anxiety and fear thanks to the traditional fireworks displays that it brings.
Noise phobias are a common affliction among pets. The condition is defined as excessive fear of a sound or several sounds resulting in a feeling of panic in the pet. It can be in response to seemingly mundane sounds (such as a beeping microwave), however a reaction to fireworks and/or thunder may be the most common. This panic can be displayed as hiding, urinating/defecating, drooling, panting, pacing, trembling/shaking, or excessive barking. In extreme cases, the pet may actually try and flee the area, even breaking through windows in an attempt to escape! In fact, shelters report that the July 4th holiday fireworks displays results in the largest number of escaped pets being brought into their facilities.
The cause of noise phobias is often not known to the pet owner or behavior professionals. Genetics can play a roll in phobias, but past trauma or even a lack of early positive exposure can result in phobias as well. Regardless of the source, keeping your pet safe and comfortable, then managing their fear is of the upmost importance.
Management of the Environment: While there are long-term treatment options for noise phobias, initially keeping your pet safe and content should be your primary concern.
Safety First: Make sure that your pet can be safely and comfortably contained during a fearful event. A quiet room without windows is ideal, but you can also use a small room with sound-absorbing window covers. Make sure your pet cannot reach or jump through the windows and cannot hurt themselves on furnishings. Make this are a “safe space” by training your pet to relax here far before they are exposed to the scary noise. Have comfortable bedding, familiar toys, etc. If your pet enjoys time in a crate, have a familiar crate set up in this space, as well. Encourage your pet to spend calm time there whenever possible.
Security Jackets and Pheromones: It can be helpful to use calming pheromones (Adaptil in dogs and Feliway for cats) in your pet’s “safe space.” These pheromones can help instill a sense of calm in your pet and help establish the area as a place to relax. Additionally, multiple companies make compression jackets (such as the “Thunder Shirt”) for pets which can further help with your pet’s sense of security.
Nutraceutical and Pharmaceutical Options: In addition to creating a safe environment, there are both nutritional supplements and pharmaceutical medications that may be able to help your pet. Nutraceuticals: There are a variety of nutraceutical options on the market to help calm your pet. While these usually do not have as significant an effect as prescription medications, many owners report positive results with theses products. However, because the pet supplement industry is only loosely regulated, it is important to consider the product and its source. Your veterinarian can help make recommendations for your individual pet. Pharmaceuticals: There are several prescription medications that have been proven helpful in managing fears and phobias in pet dogs. A wellness exam and consultation with your veterinarian can help determine the best option for you and your pet.
When starting a new supplement or medication, it is recommended that you give it to your pet BEFORE the actual phobic event. That way, you know how it affects your pet and for how long. Some products can have what is called a paradoxical effect in individual pets, meaning it could result in hyperactivity or anxiety, making that product a poor choice for managing phobias in that particular pet.
Behavioral Management: For long term care of phobias in pets, behavioral management is your best option. Consulting with an experienced positive-reinforcement based trainer about your pet’s fears is a good way to start. Note that you should NEVER use “correction” or “punishment” based training to manage phobias! Ideally, pet owners should consult with a Veterinary Behaviorist about pets with severe phobias. These are veterinarians with special training in animal behavior. They are able to both recommend the best nutraceutical/pharmaceutical options and behavioral training options to help your pet long-term with managing their phobias.
With New Year's celebrations around the corner, now is the time to consider your pet’s phobias and safety. Make sure your pet has their collar/tag and microchip information up to date in the event of an escape. If you feel that your pet would benefit from supplements or medications to help get them through the holiday, contact your veterinarian early!