Sep 06 2011

Thunderstorms and Other Noise Phobias In Animals

The spring, summer, and early fall herald the arrival of thunderstorms. They are also the seasons when fireworks displays and other noisy celebrations are common. Some pets, particularly dogs, can develop severe phobias to these loud noises. Left untreated, the phobias can become progressively worse or can generalize to all loud noises. Affected pets are capable of inflicting damage to themselves, to their surroundings, and in severe cases, to any people that try to comfort them.

If your pet is nervous about loud or unfamiliar noises, but has not yet developed a noise phobia, you should speak with your veterinarian about the problem before it becomes worse. In the early stages, common sense solutions, such as avoiding exposure to the fearful stimulus or providing distraction to the pet to relieve some of the anxiety, may be helpful. Once the fear has progressed to a general noise phobia, the help of a trained animal behaviorist is usually necessary.

Treatment of noise phobias often involves behavioural techniques such as desensitization and counter conditioning. If these techniques are done incorrectly, they can actually worsen the problem! Products that are available on the marketplace may or may not be effective. Sometimes, especially for intense phobias, your veterinarian will prescribe strong sedatives or anti-anxiety medications. In these cases, the medication will be used in conjunction with a behavior-modification program, with the aim of eventual withdrawal of the drugs. For some information about what is involved, see our handouts on Canine Fears and Phobias – Storms and Fireworks – Immediate Guidelines; Canine Fears and Phobias – Storms and Fireworks – Treatment; and Fears, Phobias and Anxiety.

The best treatment and solution for noise phobias is prevention. Pets that are exposed to emotionally traumatic or stressful situations at the wrong time in their social development are more likely to develop irreversible or persistent phobias that can become more generalized as they get older. Dogs are most sensitive to development of fears between 2 and 4 months, while the most critical period for cats is between 1 and 3 months. Therefore, when you welcome a new puppy or kitten into your home, it is very important that you book a consultation with your veterinarian to get specific advice on correct behavioural training and prevention of potential behavior problems. The advice you get from friends or some media sources such as television or the internet may be well-meaning, but may not be appropriate for the personality of your individual pet.

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Caution: These news items, written by Lifelearn Inc., are licensed to this practice for the personal use of our clients. Any copying, printing or further distribution is prohibited without the express written permission of Lifelearn Inc. Please note that the news information presented here is NOT a substitute for a proper consultation and/or clinical examination of your pet by our clinic veterinarian.

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