Noise Phobias in Pets

With the beautiful spring weather, my thoughts turn to summer. For a Veterinary Behaviorist in this part of the country, summer means three things; fireworks, thunderstorms and dogs who are scared out of their minds. These noise phobias are very common in our patients (mainly dogs but cats can have thunder or other noise phobias, too). For a dog with a phobia about these noises, a storm or fireworks results in a true panic attack. Dogs may try to escape from a house or yard, they may dig through dry wall or rip up carpets or even jump out windows.

Fireworks-DoxieNow is the time to start thinking about these phobic pets because there are treatments that can help them, but treatment works best if we have a plan before the problem starts. There are several different medications and other products that can help a patient who is terrified of thunder or fireworks as well as behavior modification techniques.

Many pet owners are familiar with the tranquilizer acepromazine, which has been used for noise phobias for a long time. But we often don’t like what we see when dogs take this medication. Because acepromazine causes sedation but doesn’t reduce anxiety, dogs will often try to fight the sedating effects because they are still scared and still want to get away from what’s scaring them. Fortunately, there are other medications that can help dogs with noise phobias by reducing anxiety, not just sedating them to the point where they can’t react. Among these drugs is Sileo, which is an FDA licensed treatment for canine noise phobias. This is a great medication for most dogs with noise phobias, but it does have some limitations. It is a gel that you put on the inside of your dog’s cheek, so if you have a dog who isn’t good about having his mouth handled, this isn’t the right drug for him. It also lasts for only a few hours so it may not be great for slow moving storms. But there are other options that you could ask your pet’s doctor about.

As far as behavior modification goes, these are usually things that we do to teach the pet to feel safe and comfortable regardless of what’s going on around him. These are definitely things that need to be in place before the scary event happens. For dogs whose reactions are less intense, you can try things like a white noise machine to block out the sounds and giving a really delicious, long-lasting treat, like a bully stick or a Kong toy that you fill with yogurt and freeze. If your dog tries to get to one particular place in the house, like the basement or in a bathroom or closet, make sure she has access to that room. For dogs with more severe reactions to these noises, we recommend seeing a Veterinary Behaviorist to set up a comprehensive behavioral treatment plan.

The most important thing in helping these dogs is to speak to your veterinarian or schedule a behavior consult sooner rather than later. Waiting until July 3rd or the day that our first really big summer storm is forecast may be too late. Because every individual, whether dog, cat or human, can respond differently to medications it’s really important to try out some of these treatments before the storm or fireworks show.

If you think your dog might have a noise phobia, contact NorthStar VETS to schedule an appointment with the Behavior service.

Learn more about the Berhavior service at NorthStar VETS

Laurie Bergman, VMD, DACVB
Dr. Laurie Bergman received her VMD from the University of Pennsylvania in 1993. She worked in small animal practice on Cape Cod and completed an internship in Wildlife Medicine and Surgery at Tufts University School of Veterinary Medicine. She began working in behavior practice in 1998 and entered a residency in behavioral medicine at the University of California Davis in 2000. Since becoming a Diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists in 2003, Dr. Bergman has worked in academic practice in California and private practice in Pennsylvania.

Dr. Bergman’s interests include pet-family interactions, finding practical approaches to behavior problems and treating behavior problems in birds and exotic pets. Dr. Bergman lives in Pennsylvania with her two human children, senior dog, Riley, Australian Terrier puppy, Ivan, Leopard Gecko, Mo, and Bearded Dragon, Frederick. She competed in agility with her previous Australian Terriers and hopes that Ivan can grow up to be an agility dog, too.

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One Response to Noise Phobias in Pets

  1. Elysa Bergenfeld says:

    Hi. I wanted to discuss my dog’s behaviors. I was hoping that I could schedule a phone consult with Dr. Bergman. I was referred by Matt Tuzzo who is my dog, Sadie’s trainer. We have many issues including anxiety, aggression, noise phobias. I’d like to know what the process would be as I have spoken to our vet about meds already. I’ve wanted her on anxiety medications just about from the time we got her. It was obvious to me that she needed something. Regardless, she’s been with us a year and it seems her anxiety has worsened and her aggression has definitely worsened. I want her to have a happy life and us as well. I need to prevent anything bad from happening of course as well. If you could call me, that would be great. 6092732487. I want to speak to Dr. Bergman specifically please. Thank you.

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