Are Your Pets Terrified of Fireworks and Thunderstorms?

If you have pets that dread our summer time fun of fireworks and other loud noises like fireworks, the backfire of a car, thunder, gun shots, or other loud noises you’re not alone.  A study conducted in the United Kingdom reports that just under 50% of all pet owners believe their dog responded fearfully to loud noises.

Anxiety from loud noise may cause you dog to do any one or a combination of the following:

  • Trembling or shanking
  • Hiding
  • Following you closely/seeming clingy
  • Panting or drooling
  • Pacing or appearing restless
  • Whining or barking
  • Cowering
  • Appearing Hypervigilant (continuously looking around like danger is near)
  • Attempting to escape or chewing on furniture, walls, or crate

Some dogs may show other behavior changes when loud noise causes excessive fear and these symptoms may be due to something else.  Fear of loud noise is often called noise aversion.  Dogs with noise aversion may also have other behavior problems like separation anxiety.

An exact cause is not often known, however, we believe that it is possible it be inherited, and/or created from a traumatic experience involving a loud noise. Noise phobias can affect dogs of any breed or age.  German shepherds, border collies and other herding breeds may be more susceptible to developing this condition.

Treatments and ways to help are available.  As a veterinarian we can evaluate each case on an individual basis.  Underlining illnesses can make these phobias worse or mimic the signs you may be seeing.  Dogs in pain will often show similar symptoms.  It is also important to understand the health of our pets when deciding what products to prescribe.  Some medications should not be used if there is an underlining condition such as heart disease or liver problems.  A full physical exam, history, and laboratory work are vital in helping us understand your dog’s needs and the best medicine and/or other treatments to use.

Many steps may be used to control exposure to loud noises or reduce their intensity, helping your pet feel more comfortable.

  • Avoid triggers: Noise-averse dogs should not be brought to fireworks displays or forced outside during a storm in the hope that they’ll get used to these sounds.  In fact, doing so will probably intensify their fears.
  • Modify or remove triggers: Use of sound-insulated areas, acoustic tile, and other means to minimize the noise can help.  Radio or TV as a competing noise may muffle the loud noises.  Shut blinds, shutters, and curtains or use of a windowless room may also have a dampening effect.  Dogs have even been trained to wear earplugs or noise-cancelling headphones, so give it a try and tell us about your experience.
  • Don’t use punishment: Shouting or physically punishing your dog for reacting to loud sounds will often just make it worse.  This can reinforce your dog that something is wrong, make them more anxious, and may at times cause your pet to react aggressively to you or other people.
  • Comforting the dog: Having someone home and staying with your dog during a loud noise event to help reassure them everything is all right.  Long firm massage strokes may help, holding your dog or just being near them.  It is important not for force your dog to be held or make them stay near you, every dog is different and this approach does not work for every dog.
  • Safe haven: Many dogs that have been create trained find comfort in being able to go in to their “safe space”.  A dog’s personal blanket, cushion or favorite toys can also help.  Choose a place where the noise will be minimized, windowless room or basement.  Allow them to get use to this area before the thunderstorms or fireworks.
  • Medication: We can prescribe anti-anxiety medication to aid treatment and minimize your dog’s suffering. These medications should be used in combination with a behavior modification plan.  The goal of these medication is to reduce the intensity of your dog’s fear and anxiety.  Some sedatives only make your dog not able to respond to the loud noises these can often increase the anxiety while others work more directly on the areas that trigger these emotions.  It is important to not give any medications unless prescribed by a veterinarian, some medications can do more harm than good or may seriously harm your dog’s health.

Noise aversion can present a significant problem for many dogs and these conditions often get worse without appropriate treatment.  Many treatment options are available.  These treatments may not cure your dog of noise aversion but can improve her/his ability to cope with events such as fireworks and thunderstorms.

Treatment is most effective when employed at the first sign of a problem.  If your dog reacts to thunder or fireworks, please make an appointment as soon as possible.  Veterinary behaviorists are also available for complex cases.

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