Noise Phobias: Helping Pets Cope
Do thunderstorms send your pet cowering under the bed, pacing the house, or trembling by your side? A noise phobia can affect any pet, but the issue is more common in dogs than cats. Not only thunderstorms, but also fireworks, gunshots, or even the sound of birds chattering can trigger an irrational fear response. If a phobia isn’t treated promptly, it can develop into the fear of sounds and other signals associated with the scary noise. For example, a dog that is afraid of thunderstorms can grow to be scared of common noises such as rain or the clanking of pots and pans in the kitchen. Watch out for these symptoms of a noise phobia so that you can seek a veterinarian’s help before your pet’s phobia worsens:
Symptoms of Noise Phobia
- Trembling or shaking
- Seeking out the pet owner
- Urinating or defecating
- Not eating
- Panting or drooling
- Barking or howling
- Trying to escape (digging, chewing through restraints, running away)
Treating Noise Phobia
Treatment of noise phobia is based on reducing your pet’s fear. You should never punish your pet for showing fear; this will only increase your pet’s anxiety. At the same time, you should avoid excessive petting or comforting. If you comfort your pet during a storm, you are confirming that the storm is something to be afraid of. Your pet might also interpret your attention as praise for its fearful behavior, which will only promote the behavior in the future. Don’t use comforting phrases, such as “it’s okay,” because your dog probably associates these phrases with desired behaviors, which will reinforce his phobic behavior.
If your pet suffers from noise phobia, consult your veterinarian. Moderate to severe cases of noise phobia are often treated with medication. Some medications are prescribed during an entire thunderstorm season, while others are administered right before an approaching storm or other noisy event. However, medication by itself only temporarily relieves the problem. The most effective form of treatment is a combination of medication and environmental & behavioral modification techniques.
Instead of praising or punishing, use these methods to soothe your pet during a phobic episode:
- Lead your pet to a quiet room in the house and leave him alone or stay silently with him there. He may eventually soothe himself.
- If your pet seems to be seeking out a dark, quiet space to calm himself, make sure he has a place to go. If your dog is crate trained, he may go there voluntarily or you can lead him to it. Draping a blanket over the crate to create a dark space may help your dog relax.
- Play calm, soothing music. If you know a storm or fireworks are coming, start the music before the noise occurs. This can help relax your dog and drown out the distressing noise.
- Try leaning gently on your pet, but do not pet them. If the pressure calms your pet, you will feel their muscles relax. But, if your pet tenses up or seems more anxious, this technique is not helpful for him or her. If your pet does respond well to gentle pressure, you may want to buy a Thundershirt or other compression wrap for them to wear in stressful situations.
- Project calmness and confidence. Your pet is very aware of your own anxiety level. If you are anxious, your pet will become even more anxious. Keep an upbeat, confident attitude and your pet will feel more comfortable.
- Never let your pet outdoors during a phobic episode. Dogs with noise phobias often run to try to escape the noise. Your dog could run away or hurt himself trying to escape your yard.