Noise Fear, Anxiety, and Phobia in Dogs
The summer flies by too fast and Independence Day is already almost here! The 4th of July brings great celebrations but the fireworks and noise can make some dogs anxious. Not only do fireworks cause fear of noises (noise phobia); alarms, thunderstorms, gunshots, and other loud noises can be frightening. My dog was in a house fire 2 years ago (she was thankfully unharmed) and she now has a great fear of smoke detectors or any other beeping alarm. For those who have experienced a pet with a fear of certain noises, you know how hard it can be to watch your pet be frightened. There are many medications, prescription and over the counter (OTC), marketed to help with anxiety in dogs, but which medications are actually effective for the fear of noises?
What is normal in dog fears?
It is very hard to define a “normal” in dogs because each one is different and there are differences between breeds. Some breeds may be more prone to having excessive fears or to being more reactive than others. Some dogs may also be more prone due to their training and environment. Fears are normal in dogs and are a part of instincts: Fears were learned by all animals to keep them alive. Fears are a response to something putting your pet in danger and cause a fight or flight response. When your pet is anticipates the event they fear, it is called anxiety. A phobia is a response to a fear that is exaggerated or unhealthy. Fear, anxiety and phobia are commonly confused terms and it can be hard to explain the differences between them. Below is an analogy which may help you understand the differences between the terms.
- Fear= the thunderstorm. This is a normal fear because storms are dangerous for animals and the fear causes them to seek shelter to prevent themselves from getting hurt. An example of a behavior of fear would be if a dog wants to come inside the house or their doghouse because it is storming and behaves relatively normal once they are in. This is normal because it is obviously safer for them to be inside.
- Anxiety = how the pet acts before the storm happens. This would be when the animal senses an incoming storm and paces, hides, or doesn’t act normal before the storm comes. Anxiety is due to the anticipation or waiting for the storm to come because they sense it and know it is something dangerous.
- Phobia = when the animal is inappropriately afraid. It is normal for dogs to want to come inside or lay low when a storm comes because they know it’s safer. However, if a dog starts panting excessively, hides, excessively licks their lips, becomes aggressive, or shows other abnormal behaviors then it is classified as a phobia.
Behavior modifications before medications in dogs:
The first part of treating noise phobia and anxiety is to change your pet’s behavior during the fearful event. Below is a strategy and some tips to reduce your dog’s fear of noises.
- Identify the problem causing your dog to be frightened. You can make a journal or record of when your pet gets frightened and what was happening around them. After a while you may notice similarities and identify a cause of their fears.
- After you have identified the cause of fear, you should try to avoid it. Some things cannot be avoided such as fireworks or thunderstorms, but gunshots and alarms can be prevented. Try to keep your pet away from the noises causing their fear. When it’s storming or fireworks are going off, you can take your dog to a quiet dark room to help reduce their fear. Having a safe room or crate with a blanket over it can be helpful in noisy situations.
- Don’t get upset or mad with your dog- it only makes their fear worse. By disciplining your dog, you are showing them there is a reason to be afraid.
- Don’t reward your dog too much. Trying to comfort them or give them treats while they are hiding rewards them for their inappropriate behavior. Don’t give them treats or physical rewards while they are behaving in a fearful or anxious manner.
- Distract your dog by working on some training exercises. You can work on your dog’s sit, stay, lay down, and other tricks while the noisy event is happening. This can help distract them and keep their mind off their fears. It is a great time to reward your pet while they are working on training exercises. Rewarding your pet during this time teaches them appropriate behaviors during fearful events.
- Contact your veterinarian for specific recommendations they have.
When changing your dog’s behavior doesn’t work:
Some dogs may respond well to behavior changes during the noisy events and others may not. Some dogs can be too anxious, depressed, or hyperactive to even try helping them. When this happens, you should make an appointment with your veterinarian to discuss your dog’s anxiety and fear. Your veterinarian can decide if there are any other behavioral changes you can make or if medications are the best option.
There are many different treatment options for phobias and anxiety in dogs. They include antidepressants, anti-anxiety medications, melatonin, dog appeasing pheromones (DAP), milk proteins, plant extracts, supplements, and aromatherapy. Each of these treatment options can work for certain dogs but it just depends on the situation and some may work better than others for your dog. The natural products have the advantage of being OTC but they are also disadvantageous because they aren’t always approved by your veterinarian. It is best to consult your veterinarian prior to starting an OTC anxiety medication in your dog. In general, the OTC products are better for mild cases of phobias and the prescription medications are usually reserved for moderate to severe cases.
Below is a table of OTC and prescription medications used for noise phobia in dogs. Please note VetRxDirect does not sell the prescription anti-anxiety medications because they are controlled substances.
What products have you found to be helpful with dogs and fireworks? We’ve concentrated on dogs today, but please leave any comments about your cats and noise phobias so all pet parents can learn. Thank you.