Noise Phobias and Calming Techniques

Jul 1, 2019   Tracey Aston   Behavior

The summer months can be a virtual minefield for pets with noise phobias. The hotter, humid days can usher in the chance of severe thunderstorms and Independence Day celebrations, outdoor baseball games and concerts are often celebrated with a fireworks display.  Up to 30% of dogs have a thunderstorm phobia and according to a study published in the journal of Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 45% of dogs have a fireworks phobia.   Due to these noise phobias, more pets are lost on Independence Day than any other day of the year!

With those high percentages, there is a good chance a dog you love suffers from some type of noise phobia.  So what is a pet parent to do when their beloved pets become a ball of shaking, panting anxiety? Thankfully, there are several different options to help calm down a fearful Fido.

Noise phobias come in varying degrees and how affected the particular dog is will determine what options may work best for them. It may come down to the dog's personal preference and comfort levels.  Always act normal around a fearful pet as the more their pet parent reacts, the more they will react. If possible, try distracting the pet with a game, a puzzle treat dispenser or even cuddling.

By far, the simplest way to address minor noise phobia is background music to drown out or muffle the fear-inducing noises. This can be as easy as turning on the TV or tuning the radio into soft, classical or instrumental music. Keep in mind, our pets hearing is far better than ours, so be careful how loud you turn on the TV or radio. In an attempt to cover over the outside noise, some pet parents will raise the volume too high, which is just as jarring to pets.  There are also music CDs made especially to help a pet relax, such as Through a Dog's Ear and Wholetones.  Victoria Stilwell takes using music to soothe pets a step further with her Canine Noise Phobia Series.  According to her website, “The Canine Noise Phobia Series (CNP) is a 4-CD compilation of specialized audio recordings and innovative training protocols specifically designed to reduce and prevent noise phobias and anxiety in dogs.”

Some pets respond well to calming or appeasing pheromone products. These products can be bought in sprays, plug-in diffusers and wipes. In a Pet Web MD article, Jacqui Neilson, DVM, DACVB, owner of the Animal Behavior Clinic, explains that pheromones are a type of chemical communication between members of a species. The vomeronasal organ, which is located between the nose and mouth, receives pheromones. Neilson says certain pheromones, called calming or appeasing pheromones, can sometimes help relieve stressed pets.

Thundershirts are popular among both dog and cat owners as a means to relax a noise phobic pet. According to their website, the Thundershirt “Applies gentle, constant pressure, similar to swaddling an infant.”  This effect can also be made with a properly placed aced bandage, scarf or form fitting t-shirt. If using an ace bandage, train yourself on how much pressure is required. Applying too much pressure can cause circulation issues and damage nerves. 

Image by Lili.

Some pet parents have luck with a product like Rescue Remedy, which is a blend of 5 original flower remedies, in a pet-friendly, alcohol-free formula. Rescue Remedy can be given by placing a few drops on your finger and rubbing it on a pet's gums, or putting a few drops on a treat. Never place the glass dropper into a pet's mouth!

Essential oils, such as lavender can be diffused in the air or a few drops can be placed on a collar or bandana to help alleviate stress.   There are a few warnings that come with essential oils – they aren't to be given orally or in a place that dog can easily lick. Also, what is a background smell to you may overwhelm the delicate noses of our dogs. Warning: lavender is harmful to cats! If a household contains both dogs and cats, refrain from using lavender essential oils!

Dogs love a safe place to den and their crate can be used as their safe place. If a pet is still experiencing anxiety while in their crate, a thick blanket can be draped over the top or acoustic foam panels added to the sides to act as a sound reducer.  Zen Dog Crate is a crate made specifically for sound reduction for noise phobic pets and may provide more relief than a normal crate.

In cases of extreme noise phobia, anti-anxiety medication can be prescribed by a veterinarian.  Never use prescription medication for a pet without first consulting their veterinarian to check for side effects or possible medication interaction with other prescriptions.

It's important to realize the pet is acting out of fear and may react differently than they normally would. In some cases, a pet will even try to outrun the noise, and this can lead to lost and injured pets. Close all windows and watch entering and exiting doors.  If taking a pet out for a potty break, make sure they are securely on a leash or harness.

Whatever option is chosen, it's important to remember the pet is experiencing real fear. Don't scold or punish them for this. A pet parent may have to try several different options before finding the one that works for their pet; don't give up. Patience, love and understanding are always the best soother. 

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