NOISE AND STORM PHOBIAS
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Have you heard the latest?
Noise phobia may have a genetic origin, click here to read an enlightening article, PET PROJECT from the Journal called NATURE!
The warm weather is here! With this season comes frequent thunderstorms and holidays with fireworks. For many of our pets, this is a very stressful time, especially if they suffer from Noise or Thunderstorm Phobia. Many clients call us asking for help. Unfortunately many of these calls come on the night of a storm, or on July 3rd, when a quick fix is needed. We can offer some help at the last minute, however preparing for this high anxiety situation in advance has many advantages. The purpose of this webpage is to help prepare you and your pet to enjoy a happy and relaxed warm weather season.
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We wish there was a single, quick acting, pill that we could simply offer our frightened patients to fully resolve their fright. Sadly such a pill does not yet exist and the problem is much more complicated. Anxiety states and fear behavior are very complex in both people and animals. Fear can help an animal survive, so it is a very difficult emotion to extinguish. Phobias are falsely and irrationally magnified fears and therefore are not easily suppressed, and now we are learning that part of the problem may be genetic.
Treatment of noise phobia is best achieved with a combination of treatments along with behavior and environmental modifications. Often the more treatments we can do, the better the results. Unfortunately there is no simple single magic solution for phobias.
Let's start with a few links to some great handouts with quick tips for noise phobias. Then we will go on with more detailed information on the methods of treatment.
Click here for Veterinary Behavior Specialist, Dr. Radosta's Fireworks Handout
Click here for APDT's Thunder and Noise Phobia Handout
Click here for the Denver Dumb Friend's League's (named for animals that can not speak for themselves back in 1910) DDFL Fear of Thunder Handout.
Click here for the UC Davis Vet School Behavior Handout on Fireworks Fear. It discusses the use of Desensitization CDs, you will find more info on this below as well.
It is important for pet owners to understand the goals of treatment. In many cases, complete resolution of the anxiety and fear is impossible. Often the goal must be to diminish the fear enough so that the pet can rest quietly. We often have to accept that some degree of anxiety will still remain. Before treatment starts, we must set realistic and obtainable goals for our pets and ourselves. For instance, a noise phobic dog might still pant; but instead of pacing, sit in one place. Or, the dog may pant, pace slightly, but then go and hide. In other words, you need to know what the behavior looks like NOW to know if it is improving. It is unlikely that all anxious behaviors will be resolved.
THE FIVE MAJOR CATEGORIES OF TREATMENT ARE LISTED BELOW:
- Environmental changes and modification
- Behavior Modification--Counter Conditioning (CC) and Desensitization (DS)
- DAP Pheromone Therapy
- Body Wraps and Capes
- Medications--Nutraceutical or Herbal Supplements and Prescription Behavior Modifying Drugs
It is also important to note that PUNISHMENT SHOULD NEVER BE INVOLVED and will make the situation worse!
Simple "tranquilzers" like Acepromazine are no longer recommended. Tranquilzers simply paralyze and immobilize the dog in its fear, they do nothing to relieve the anxiety and fear.
THERE IS HOPE FOR THE STORM OR NOISE PHOBIC PET! For best results, utilizing several different therapies will be much more effective than relying on a single treatment or a drug. Behavior modification should be started early on in the season, or even in the off season. A veterinary exam and consultation should be scheduled if drug therapy is required. Drugs should ideally be started and tested for response prior to their use for noise events. Drugs can have positive effects if used appropriately and along with other therapies. Drugs can have side effects and require veterinary monitoring. There is no single simple answer to noise phobia, but there are many things that we can do to reduce the anxiety and distress that our pets are feeling. If your dog is suffering from noise phobia, please schedule an appointment with your veterinarian to tailor a treatment program for your pet.
1. Environmental Modification
Environmental treatment can start out with some very basic environmental changes. We will out line suggestions below along with links to helplful products that can be purchased on the provided website links.
The dog should be rewarded with praise or treats ONLY WHEN he shows relaxed behavior and postures. We do not want owners to be "mean" to their dogs, but they must be aware to not inadvertently reinforce fearful behavior. Inappropriate coddling, acting anxious yourself, or rewarding the dog for being fearful by telling them it is "ok" can be detrimental.
Providing "white" or background noise to block out the stimulus often helps. Try turning on a fan, playing the radio, or turning on the TV. Sometimes moderately loud Rock or Rap music, with a methodical and regular down beat, can block out the erratic storm noises. Dr. Salle J Foote provides a list of examples on this handout. Down Beat Playlist for Storms & Fireworks
- Alternatively, playing soothing music such as the Through A Dog's Ear CDs may help. These CDs were developed by Dr. Susan Wagner,a board-certified veterinary neurologist, and Joshua Leeds a sound researcher, music producer, and one of few published authorities in the field of psychoacoustics.
The Music of Through A Dog's Ear has been clinically tested on more than 150 dogs. It is recommended that this calming CD music is first played when the dog is not exhibiting anxiety. This allows the dog to associate the calming music with a positive state of being. After doing this at least four times, proceed to using it when the dog is exhibiting anxiety. If the music doesn't keep the dog calm at first, stop and use it several more times while not exhibiting anxiety. This music is psychoacoustically designed to calm dogs.
Closing drapes and blinds to block out the lightening may help as well. A product called Mutt Muffs can help dampen the noise!
The ThunderBand is another sound muffling product that wraps around the ears to offer a sense of security.
- Allow the dog to find a safe haven. This may be in the bathtub, in a laundry basket, under a table or bed, in the closet, or in a crate. A darkened and quiet room such as a basement or interior bathroom without windows can be ideal. A commercial product that can cover a crate,called the Thunder Hut is available that muffles sound and creates a safe haven inside.
If using a crate, it is important to gradually habituate the dog to the crate. A dog should learn to enjoy and rest in the crate BEFORE using the crate for storm phobia. There are many behavior references with tips on crate training, here is one from the Denver Dumb Friends League DDFL Crate Training Handout that offer tips on positively acclimating dogs to crates and crate training.
If your dog does seek refuge in its "safe place" do not attempt to make the dog come out, or try to pull it out. This can sometimes cause defensive aggression in a frightened dog.
2. Behavior Modification There are two basic methods of behavior modification, Counter Conditioning & Desensitization.
With counter conditioning we want to gradually teach the dog to relax in the presence of the fearful stimulus. We want to start this training prior to the noisy event. Ideally this should be done in the winter months, well before storm season.
We want to teach the dog to relax in a calm setting first. Select a mat or rug for the dog to settle on. To cue the relaxing behavior, choose an easy to remember word or phrase such "go to your mat", "settle", "relax", "chill" or "easy". Always use the same word or phrase for this exercise. Teach the dog some simple tasks such as sit, down, or stay, and use them once the dog goes to the mat or rug. If the dog settles on the mat with a relaxed body posture or expression, immediately give a tasty food reward.
How to Teach Your Dog to Lie Down Click to view a YouTube Video on how to easily and quickly train your dog to lie down! Teaching your dog to lie down is the first step in teaching a dog to relax! This is a valuable first step to teaching your dog how to relax on a mat.
5 Steps to Train Your Dog to "Go to Place" This information comes from Karen Pryor's Clickertraining.com website and teaches the technique to get your dog to lie down and be relaxed on an area such as a mat. Remember teaching this skill must be done when the noise phobia is NOT happening. Once your dog learns the mat is a safe place, you can use it to relax when the phobia is happening.
Once you have reliably trained your dog to lie down, teach your dog to stay relaxed on the mat and resting peacefully. Offer him a very special long lasting treat such as a stuffed food toy or Kong. Special rewards make the mat a very happy and rewarding place for your dog to visit.
Click on this link to learn The Magic of Chew Toys & Food Toys. This webpage will teach you how to stuff a delicious Kong toy to keep your pet relaxed and happy during stressful events.
Teaching a Dog to Relax on Cue is another You Tube Video that shows you how to "clicker" or positively reward and train your dog to RELAX on a mat once he has learned to lie down.
Remember when you start training a dog to settle or relax, you are must do this without the fearful stimulus being present.
Teach this on quiet days, and have your dog perform it over and over, rewarding generously each time until the dog goes willingly to his mat every time after a simple word cue.
Over time your dog will look forward to going to the mat and will willing settle down there in anticipation of the special food treat or toy. You can also offer other rewards on the mat such as praise, a tummy rub or an ear scratch.
Once your dog has mastered these exercises, you are ready to try them during a noise event. If the dog follows your cue to settle on the mat in the presence of the noise, generously offer the food reward. Look for a happy, or at least a relaxed, facial expression or posture from the dog before rewarding with the treat or affection.
Along with teaching the dog relaxation techniques, TRY TEACHING YOUR DOG TO FOCUS ON YOU on command. When the focus is on you, your dog will tend to forget about the noise. Again this is taught away from the stressful stimulus at the beginning. Use a delectable food treat. Get you dog's attention, ask him to "look at me", "watch me" or "focus" and hold the food treat up to YOUR nose. Encourage the dog to look at you and the treat. When your dog focuses on the treat and your face, immediately reward him. Once you have your dog's focus, you can gradually ask him to hold focus longer, or to do a trick, or play a game.
Once your dog has mastered this, you can start having your dog focus on you in the presence of the noise stimulus. When the dog ignores his environment and the noise, and focuses on you, reward with a tasty food treat, praise, or play a favorite game.
Throw your dog a party during storm times! If you have mastered getting your dog to be relaxed and focused during a noise event, the next step is to do something fun and entertaining, throw your dog a party! Use relaxed but happy voice tones, play games, and offer lots of really special party treats. Teach your dog to anticipate that storm time is party time, not scary time!
To desensitize to loud or scary noises, we can use audio recordings at very low volumes and slowly increase the noise over time.
Once you have the "settle on the mat" exercise down, you can play a CD with storm or fireworks noise at an extremely low volume. Start so low the dog shows no response. As long as the dog is not showing any signs of anxiety, reward with play, tummy massages, and treats. Very gradually turn the volume up, if the dog remains relaxed continue the rewards. It is important to understand that this method may take many days to weeks of practice to succeed. Desensitization should take place and be completed BEFORE the season starts, not during storm season!
If the dog is becoming anxious, it tells you that you are increasing the volume too quickly. Go back to a lower volume that does not antagonize the dog and start over again and increase the volume more slowly. In the ideal situation, desensitization should be started in the off season, when sudden loud storms or fireworks will not come up quickly, before desensitization has a chance to be successful.
Thunderstorm and noise CDs for desensitization training can be purchased at the internet sites listed below.
Legacy Canine Behavior CDs This website sells a collection of CDs to desensitize dogs to a variety of sounds like storms and fireworks, vacuums, guns, and babies.
Soundtherapy4pets This is United Kingdom website, but you can credit card order the "Sounds Scary" Desensitization CD training program on the website for US Shipping.
Helping Fido.com--Fearful Behavior Helping Fido has a variety CDs specially created for use with noise sensitive dogs. These include recorded noises of Thunderstorms, but they also have CDs for fireworks, guns, car trips, children, cars and trucks, kitchens and vacuums, and flight. They also have detailed lesson plans on how to properly do desensitization and counter conditioning.
Some dogs may respond better to relaxation techniques if they have learned how to relax with a head halter or Premier's Gentle Leader Head Collar.
Before using one of these training devices for noise phobia, be sure your dog is well acclimated to it, and completely relaxed using it. Proper use of a head halter takes time, patience, and proper training. We recommend working with a Veterinary Behavior Specialist, or your veterinarian, before using a head halter or Gentle Leader to get proper instruction on use and fit. There are also several websites that can demonstrate the use of the head halter. If the dog is not acclimated properly to this training device, anxiety may worsen so proper technique is crucial with the head halter.YouTube Video on How to Fit a Gentle Leader Head Collar
Conditioning an Emotional Response Video If using a Gentle Leader head collar, this video explains how to teach your dog to enjoy wearing the Gentle Leader.
3. Pheromone Therapy
Dog Appeasing Pheromone or D.A.P. is a synthetic analog of a relaxing pheromone secreted by the mammary glands of a nursing mother dog. This pheromone is recognized by puppies and dogs and provides them with a sense of safety and security. Many Veterinary Behavior Specialists are studying this product and are recommending the use of D.A.P to reduce anxiety. D.A.P. can be purchased in a refillable, plug-in room diffuser (similar to a "Glade Plug-In"). It also comes as spray and as collar that the dog can wear. Best results may come using the D.A.P. both in the environment and with a collar on the dog.
We recommend plugging a D.A.P Diffuser in the room where your dog's hiding/safe place or relaxation mat is located. Be sure the diffuser is out in the open and not blocked by furniture. Humans will not notice any odor from the diffuser. In addition, your dog can wear the D.A.P. collar so that the calming effects can move with the dog as he moves around the house and goes outdoors. Ideally we recommend plugging in the diffuser and applying the collar a few weeks before noise events start. The diffuser and collar each last approximately 4 weeks.
D.A.P. products are available for purchase at Deer Run Animal Hospital. We do not recommend "other phermone products". We caution our clients to beware of claims made by manufactures of other, "cheaper" phermone products, they are NOT the same as D.A.P. Be sure to use products that contain the true Dog Appeasing Pheromone or D.A.P.
Please check out the links listed below to learn more about D.A.P.
DAP for Dogs
DAP-The Secret to Happy Dogs!-FAQs
D.A.P. Phermone Therapy for Fireworks and Noise Phobias
Behavior Problems and D.A.P.
4. Body Wraps Or Capes
Body Wraps for Calming, Focusing & Anxiety An Article from the APDT Chronicle of the Dog
Special body covering wraps called Storm Defender Capes, Anxiety Wraps, or Thundershirts have been developed recently for their calming benefits. Although these products may first sound like they are gimmicks, there is increasing evidence that they may actually help, and studies are underway to investigate their effectiveness. These coverings have been found to be useful for several anxiety problems including noise phobia. They may not work in all dogs. We do not sell these body coverings at Deer Run Animal Hospital but we have provided links below to their manufacturers.
The Storm Defender Cape was developed assuming that electrostatic charges in the air during storms cause dogs to become anxious. The lining of the cape was designed to eliminate these static charges. Studies with the cape show improvement in dogs wearing the cape, but also in dogs wearing a similar cape without the special anti-static lining. This may indicate that just wearing the covering may decrease anxiety.
The Anxiety Wrap is made of a stretchable fabric the animal wears. It uses a technique called Maintained Pressure. Maintained Pressure is a technique also used with Autistic children, and in neuro-rehabilitation to modify the body's sensory receptors and change the nervous system back to a more normal state. There is currently a scientific study being done on the benefits of the Anxiety Wrap at Tufts University Veterinary Behavior Department.
The Thundershirt uses the covering theory and also adds gentle pressure over the dog's body with a snug Velcro closure and stretchy fabric. It is hypothesized that this body pressure hugs the dog, giving relief to anxiety. It is not fully understood how all these body coverings work, but many dogs have shown improvement in noise phobia and a decline in anxiety wearing a cape, wrap or shirt. Usually the response to these coverings takes some time to develop and is not instantaneous. At least 3 wearings, and following the manufactures instructions carefully are important for success. Especially when combined with the other anxiety treatment modalities, body coverings can often help decrease the stress of noise phobia. See these websites for more information.
Not Every Cape Has Or Needs A Silver Lining
Storm Defender Cape-How it Works!
The Anxiety Wrap: How it Works!
The Thundershirt-How it Works!
Thundershirt Anxiety Treatment Tips
Many owners call us requesting medication for noise phobia. There are both nutraceutical or herbal supplements, and prescription drugs that can help! It is key to understand that most of these medications need to be started in advance.
Do not wait until the last minute in hopes that a single medication will instantly resolve the problem! Some medications will need does adjustments, some may have side effects, some may need periodic monitoring with blood work. Medications alone are usually not successful in controlling the problem. Medications should be matched with environmental and behavior modifications for best results.
In mild to moderate Nosie Phobia cases, there are some new Herbal and Nutraceutical supplements that can be tried along with behavior and environmental modification, before moving on to prescription drugs!
Anxitane and Harmonease are two examples of natural anti-anxiety supplements. Ask your veterinarian if a natural supplement might be helpful for your dog.
A veterinary clinical research study was recently published showing benefit from product called Anxitane that contains the amino acid L-Theanine or Suntheanine. This amino acid is also found in green tea. It has recently become available as a veterinary product called Anxitane. This product will not produce instant results. In most cases it takes 1-2 months on Anxitane to see an improvement in anxious behavior, although occasionally benefit may be seen as early as 2 weeks.
Anxitane Information Brochure
New Research: Managing Anxiety in Dogs An article on the use of Anxitane for anxiety disorders in dogs.
Another herbal anti-anxiety option is Harmonease tablets. They lower stress without causing lethargy. For treating noise phobia they ideally should be started about 1 week before the anticipated event and continued through the season. This 2nd link will provide additional information and more background on Harmonease. Many Veterinary Behavior Specialists are seeing positive results with this natural product.
IDEALLY THE PRESCRIPTION BEHAVIOR MODIFYING DRUGS ARE RESERVED FOR SEVERE CASES, OR WHEN OTHER TREATMENTS HAVE FAILED, OR HAVE NOT IMPROVED SYMPTOMS TO AN ACCEPTABLE LEVEL. Just as when we diagnose and prescribe drugs for other medical conditions, an exam and office consult is needed to select and monitor the most appropriate prescription drug.
Again, these drugs work best when combined and added to environmental modicfication and other relaxation techniques. However, if you feel your dog is in distress, and you do not have time to try the other techniques, we may need to start drug therapy immediately. The other treatments can be added in later.
It is important to realize noise phobia can be a very serious problem of emotional distress to both dog and owner. Serious injury to the dog and/or home may occur if we do not take rapid action. An appointment with your veterinarian is needed to discuss all medication and treatment options. We will briefly outline some of the medication options below.
1. Benzodiazepines (drugs such as Valium or Alprazolam are in this class)
2. Selective Serotonin Re-uptake Inhibitors or SSRIs (such as Fluoxetine or Reconcile)
3. Tricyclic Antidepressants or TCAs (such as Clomipramine or Clomicalm).
4. Tranquilizers such as Acepromazine. Acepromazine was commonly used in the past but is now no longer recommended. Acepromazine may cause sedation, and can give a false sense that the dog is ?better?, but it does not relieve anxiety. The dog may still suffer but be immobilized giving a false sense that the medication is working.
IN MILD TO MODERATE CASES, ESPECIALLY IF NO ADVANCE PREPARATION IS POSSIBLE, THE RAPID ACTING BENZODIAZEPINES ARE OFTEN CHOSEN. There is a wide range of doses for drugs in this class and dogs vary widely in their response to them. Often the dose needs to be titrated to effect and to the individual patient. The goal is to titrate to a dose that causes mild to moderate sedation, with possible mild ataxia (in-coordination), a preference for sleep, but still allows the ability to respond, come when called, eat etc.
Giving some test doses of a benzodiazepine before the stressful event is recommended. The drug should be given at least 30-60 min prior to the noise event. The benzodiazipines may have side effects of sedation, ataxia (loss of coordination), and increased appetite. In a few rare individuals hyperexcitability may be seen instead of relaxation. Trying these drugs prior to need to determine response and proper dose is recommended. Close communication with your veterinarian will be important to determine how to use dose and use them properly. These drugs can be used off and on, as needed, as noise events arise.
IF STORMS ARE FREQUENT AND LONG TERM, OR THE NOISE PHOBIA IS SEVERE, THE LONGER ACTING SSRIs OR TCAs MAY BE NEEDED.
These drugs must be given on a long term, daily basis. It usually takes several weeks before these drugs become effective. Ideally they should be started very early in the spring before storm season starts, or several weeks before fireworks season. A veterinary physical exam and laboratory blood work are recommended before starting these medications, and should be repeated periodically with long term use. It is important that your veterinarian review your pet's full drug history before starting these drugs as there can be many interactions with other medications (Amitraz, Tramadol, Phenobarbital, other SSRIs/TCAs, thyroid medications, Phenobarbital, and even over the counter herbal remedies). The SSRIs and TCAs can occasionally have some gastrointestinal side effects such as decreased appetite or nausea. While on the longer acting SSRIs or TCAs, if anxiety is still present when storms or fireworks occur, one of the benzodiazepines can be added in for additional benefit.