The beginning of summer means the beginning of our “Summer Monsoon season” as well as fireworks shows for holidays and special events. Many dogs are so sensitive that they can actually predict an approaching thunderstorm by the subtle changes in barometric pressure. If your dog has problems with thunder storms or noise related phobias there is help for them and you. Please contact our office for more information or to schedule an appointment to discuss it with one of our veterinarians. Below is an article written by Dr. McGuire addressing storm and noise phobias in dogs.
Storm and Noise Phobias
Storm and noise phobias are some of the most upsetting problems that we can have with our canine family members. It is important to remember that the goal of addressing this problem in your dog is to reduce the stress reaction to a reasonable level (no harm done to self or property, rapid recovery from the event and decreased intensity of reaction). It is often difficult to completely abolish the behavior, but we want to give you tools to keep things manageable for you, your dog and your family.
Your dog’s main motivation during these events is to increase their sense of safety. If your dog wants to go to the closet, into the bathroom or to hide under the bed, it is best to let them go there. If there is not yet an established “safe space”, set up one for your dog. This can involve a crate but does not have to. An internal closet or room with darkened or no windows is best as the light cues (lightening) and sound will be less intense. If helpful, placing a crate in such a space and covering it with a heavy blanket can decrease the intensity of the noise. Another noise-buffering technique is to place nested cardboard boxes around a crate to absorb the noise.
Add background noise to help decrease the impact of the thunder or fireworks on your dog. The use of “white noise” is helpful for some dogs. This type of noise works best when turned up fairly loudly to distract from the outside noise. A good website for obtaining such soundtracks is www.simplynoise.com. You can download the tracks or get them as an app for mobile devices. Another approach is to use music with a strong background or base “beat” such as hip hop or raps songs. With this method, the music can be at a medium to low level as the point is to just “camouflage” the outside noise with a more constant but similar sound. Finally, using a loud fan or turning up the TV are very simple ways to lessen the impact of the event on the pet.
Get your dog to the safe space early if possible. The Weather Underground website www.weatherunderground.com is very accurate in predicting local storms. It is available as an app for mobile devices so that you can be alerted when storms are headed our way. If you are likely going to be gone when the event occurs, setting up the safe space so that your dog can go there in your absence is ideal.
Offer distraction activities in the safe space BEFORE the storm intensifies. Kongs with frozen peanut butter, cream cheese or Cheese Whiz can be prepared in advance so that you can offer them before the storm gets rolling. Other high value chewing or treat toys such as compressed rawhide with peanut butter coating can be used with observation.
Be sure that you are not reinforcing the anxious behavior by giving your pet extra attention such as petting, stroking or talking to him/her. All such behavior should be ignored! The only behavior that should be rewarded with vocal cues and treats/toys is settling into the safe spot. By giving the dog any attention for pacing, hovering, etc. we are confirming that their behavior is appropriate. Get a space set up, walk them to it and only reward them for settling in and staying there.
Adaptil collars or infusers can be very helpful. The infusers can be set up near the safe space while the collars can be worn full time during storm season. These products release a pheromone that is naturally produced by glands located between the mammary chains of lactating female dogs. This pheromone has been shown to have a calming/comforting effect on puppies and adult dogs and can increase the sense of comfort during the storms. We have these products here at Aztec or they can be purchased at local pets stores and online.
The Thunder shirt may decrease anxiety in some dogs. This product is intended to calm your pet through constant gentle pressure (hugging). It is available online at www.thundershirt.com.
Medications and supplements for noise-based phobias. There are several supplements that have been used for decreasing overall anxiety in dogs. The one that we feel is most helpful is Zylkene. Zylkene is a purified form of Alpha tryptic casein, a protein derived from milk that has a calming effect. For storm and firework phobic dogs it is most useful when started a few weeks before the predicted season of events. It can then be discontinued for the rest of the year unless other anxiety-based behaviors are being treated. Short-term anti-anxiety medications such as clonazapam and trazadone are very helpful and are given as needed for actual events. These medications each have pluses and minuses (time to onset, duration of effect, side effects) that will be discussed by your veterinarian when they are prescribed. They can be used with Zylkene safely and effectively. In general, we strongly encourage the use of these medications as soon as you know that there is an event developing or likely. The desired response of your dog is to be a little drunk and a little hungry (LDLH). This is the ideal response in order to help prevent the severe stress response seen in these dogs. Try to remember that your dog would rather be LDLH than in panic mode (who wouldn’t?).
Finally, if implementation of the above strategies does not result in a reasonable level of stress reduction, long term medication as well as counter-conditioning training may be necessary. This is best done during the “off season” as it takes time and careful planning in order to implement these techniques successfully. There is a veterinarian in Albuquerque whose practice is limited to behavior problems. We are always willing to refer you to this veterinarian if you would like us to do so.
Please let us know if you have any questions about these recommendations. We also would like to know what ends up being the most helpful techniques for you and your dog. Our hope is that with a good plan in place, we all will no longer dread the summer months in Albuquerque.