Summertime is a great time of year for pets unless they are fearful of thunderstorms and fireworks. Many dogs in our practice panic when these loud noises are heard. They can keep the entire household up at night because of it. The challenges are real. As veterinarians we understand the frustrations for both the client and the pet. There are various options to consider when addressing these issues. I decided since we are heading towards the Fourth of July and all the loud celebrations that go along with it, a blog about noise phobias would be in order.
I just wish the suggestions and solutions to address these pet behaviors would be easy. We have more options today than we did years ago when Dr. Jim and I started practicing veterinary medicine. Even with those options, no two dogs are alike when it comes to response to therapy. There are multiple variables that impact behavioral therapies in general. Therefore, I want to stress right now that the likelihood of complete control with noise phobia treatments is zero. We can improve the behaviors and reduce the undesirable side effects. However, these pets will always be afraid, and our medications are designed just to reduce panic and its side effects.
I want to encourage people to get puppies during the seasons where storms and fireworks are plentiful. If puppies are exposed to these noises when they are younger, they traditionally will not have fears. When puppies are born in winter months with no storms to experience until they are older, this can create fear and panic. If you have a puppy or dog showing storm anxiety, do not cuddle them and offer an over-abundance of sympathy. You are just rewarding the anxious behaviors. Attempt to continue to do life as usual during the storm. This will help them learn to accept these noises as a normal part of life. If it helps, turn on lights and turn up the music or TV or a fan. Go to the basement to avoid the visual lightening effects that can add to their fears. Thunder shirts have had benefits for dogs that already have issues with noise phobias. They act as a tight comforting hug (pressure) on the torso of the dog. They are used for separation anxieties as well. These shirts are available online and are ordered according to the size of your dog. They are great for protecting surgery sites on the dog’s torso as well.
If your dog is exhibiting any of the following symptoms: keeping you awake at night, pacing the floor, drooling excessively, shaking uncontrollably, hiding, destroying your home, etc., please reach out to your veterinarian for options. The medications that are available now to prescribe are numerous. Many are human medications that have been successfully used in our dogs for anxieties of different natures. We require doing blood work and an exam prior to starting the medications to ensure that there are no underlying problems. When we begin the medications, we are doing so on a trial basis. The drug and dosages may need adjustments before we hit the sweet spot for control of symptoms. Again, owners must understand that their expectations should be improvement of symptoms, and not a complete cure.
If your pet has a history of noise phobias, please do not contact your veterinarian the day before the fireworks or storm. These work ups take time to determine the best course of action for your dog. The dosages take time to find the best levels to reduce symptoms but allow your dog to continue to function normally during a storm or fireworks. We do not have any miracles to offer on those emergency phone calls when the family and dog are all in a panic. These phobias do intensify over time so if last year was not bad, this year could be much worse. Have that conversation with your veterinarian before storms and fireworks season arrives.
Did you get a new puppy this year? This is the perfect time to introduce them to these storms and fireworks. Plan to attend events in the area where you can be prepared to offer them a meal, a treat, interactions with friends and family which distracts them from the loud sounds. If thunderstorms and rain showers are predicted, get out your rain gear and go for a walk with them in the rain. Sit out on the porch and listen to the rain while offering them their food or treats. Keep them from thinking anything scary about weather changes. In their mind, it is a time when they get food or yummy treats. Do you want to hunt with your puppy? Prepare to go trap shooting or to a shooting range with your young puppy to introduce them to these sounds at a young age. Maybe the first few trips are just to be in the area of the shooting range and with time you introduce them to shooting the gun around them. If you are seeing a fear reaction to these loud noises in your puppy, please seek professional help from your veterinarian, breeder, or pet behavioralist. Hoping they will grow out of it is not a good plan.
The staff of Winterset Veterinary Center hope you have a wonderful summer and especially enjoy the Fourth of July. We must be thankful for the freedoms we have here in America. These freedoms have come with great sacrifices over the years. It is important to remember those sacrifices and BE SAFE as you gather with family and friends to celebrate this year.