Noise phobia, often manifested as excessive fear during thunderstorms, is a relatively common affliction of dogs. Sadly, it is a problem that leads some frustrated owners to drug, euthanize or give up their dogs. Many pet owners who feel that they can no longer deal with their pets fearful and sometimes destructive response to thunderstorms often abandon the animal to their local shelter. If your pet suffers from fear of loud noises, you may want to share this article. The possibility of alternative treatment options for noise phobia may save a life.
What is a Phobia?
A fear is classified as a phobia when it is out of proportion to the danger of the real situation. Phobias generally become worse, not better, with repeated exposures. Dogs with mild noise phobia may look anxious during thunderstorms, tremble, hide under the bed or stairs, and be afraid to go outside for hours after the storm has subsided. Severely afflicted pets may relieve themselves in the house, destroy carpet or furniture, attempt to break through walls or crash through windows in a frantic effort to flee the source of their fear. In addition to thunderstorms, dogs may develop noise phobic reactions to fireworks and gunshots.
"Wrapping therapy" seems to really calm and focus anxious and stressed dogs. Neurobiologists believe that any type of trauma can damage nerve receptors, leading to exaggerated responses to stimuli. By applying maintained pressure, the wrap amazingly provides an unchanging, quieting stimulus.
Dog behaviorists have developed a variety of techniques for "wrapping" a dog ranging from snug fitting T-shirts to elastic bandage wraps. The easiest wrap for a dog owner to try is the ThunderShirt -- a sturdy, stretchy vest that hugs the torso like a body stocking. The Wrap's inventor emphasizes that the dog should be introduced to the wrap before anxiety causing situations are present because you don't want the dog to associate the Wrap with something that causes distress.
Dogs who wear the wrap feel calmer and more confident and learn to manage or overcome their fear. It's the same technique used when autistic children wear "hug vests" or mothers swaddle their babies.
Whatever the situation that makes your dog anxious, fearful, reactive or over-excited, Thundershirt's gentle, constant pressure can bring calm and focus back. It seems to be a terrific solution for many types of anxiety including thunder, fireworks, separation, travel, grooming or vet visits and crate anxieties. And a terrific solution for eliminating "bad manners" such as barking, leash pulling or reactivity towards other animals and people. For more information about "Thundershirt" and how to use it for your dog click here.
One of the most effective treatments for thunderstorm phobia is melatonin, an over-the-counter hormone used by humans to treat insomnia.
The behavioral section at Tufts New England Veterinary Medical Center had been looking for something that would help reduce canine thunderstorm phobias when they discovered research papers on the effect of melatonin. Research indicated a positive effect of melatonin on dogs that continually lick their flanks as well as a calming effect on chickens in overcrowded conditions.
Tufts Doctors Dodman and Aronson wondered whether melatonin might work on noise phobic dogs. The first dog in the study was Dr. Aronson's own Bearded Collie who had severe thunder phobia after lightening struck close to her home. The effect of the melatonin was dramatic. The dog simply stopped being anxious and afraid instead of frantically pacing the house and digging at the carpets. The melatonin did not put her to sleep, she stayed and alert -- just not bothered by the thunder.
Drs. Dodman and Aronson then gave the melatonin to other dogs and produced the same result. Melatonin worked for other noise fears (one dog was afraid of songbirds) including fireworks!
Melatonin is sold in capsules and tablets in health food stores, pharmacies and online. It is sold in doses as low as 200 micrograms (mcg.). For most dogs (medium to large), Aronson prescribes 3 milligrams (mg.) For smaller dogs that weigh less than 30 pounds, 1.5 mg was the dose. Although they have not treated any tiny dogs for phobias, Aronson recommends reducing the dosage further for them.
We strongly advise you to comparison shop and read the labels on melatonin bottles carefully. Some are mixed with herbs or nutrients that may not be safe for dogs. Make sure you buy the correct dosage for the size of the animal. Keep this in mind also, there are 1,000 micrograms (mcg.) in a milligram (mg.) so a 200 mcg. pill contains only 1/15 of the amount recommended for a large dog.
Because melatonin is not regulated by any federal agency, the quality varies greatly from manufacturer to manufacturer. If an inferior product is administered, it may not be effective in calming a dog whereas a higher quality product might be. You should purchase the product from a supplier you trust and believe to carry the highest quality.
If thunderstorms are predicted you can give your dog melatonin in advance because it remains effective for several hours. Otherwise, give it when thunder seems imminent. Give melatonin immediately when you see your dog becoming agitated. If your dog has autoimmune disease or severe liver or kidney disease, check with your veterinarian before giving melatonin.
A solution that is very safe, enexpensive and quite effective for most dogs is the homeopathic remedy Phosphorus 30c. The remedy picture is of a dog who is easily startled. They are excitable, restless, fidgety. OVERLY-sensitive to external impressions. Fearfulness as if something were creeping out of every corner. Fear of thunderstorms, electrical changes, loud noises. They like a lot of company. They may have palpitations and a desire to drink cool water frequently. The animal may feel BETTER for, being in a dark place; lying on right side; cold food; open air; sleep. The animal may feel WORSE? from touch; exertion (both mental and physical); evening; warm food or drink; change of weather.
Aconite 30c: This remedy may be called for after the thunderstorm or fireworks are over, if the dog is still in a state of shock. The animal may show signs of being unusually thirsty. A dog in an Aconite state feels fear and anxiousness with every situation no matter how trivial. Feels he is going to die; fears death; crowds. Has restlessness. Extreme anxiety, salivation, strong heart palpitations, shortness of breath, and shaking.
For Homeopathic Acute Dosage Guidelines for pets see this blog post:
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Prescription Drug Medications
Most veterinary prescriptions drugs do not help a dog recover from noise phobia or prevent a negative reaction the next time he hears the sound. About all you end up with is scared dog that is too drugged to run. However, sometimes this is the only option for the owners of dogs who cannot be helped by an other treatments.
The latest preferred medication is clomipramine (Clomicalm) which has been approved by the FDA for treating separation anxiety in dogs. This is closely related to amitriptyline, a drug that has had beneficial results on thunder-phobic dogs. Both drugs work to correct the balance of the level of chemicals called neurotransmitters in the brain. Unfortunately, some drugs do have side effects and to get the fullest benefit, thunder-phobic dogs must take anti-anxiety medications from the beginning of the stormy season and extending through the season's duration.
Consult your veterinarian for advice.