Vet Blog

Treating Pet Noise Phobias

June 27, 2019

Do you find yourself dreading summer and events where fireworks are included in the celebration because your pet is so traumatized by thunderstorms and fireworks?

You're not alone. During this time of year, we see a large number of dogs (and sometimes cats) with noise phobias. If these phobias aren't addressed, they can leave pets stressed out and unhappy, and their families frustrated. If you're worried about how your pet will react during noisy events, we recommend that you come to us to discuss treatment options.

Signs of Noise Phobia in Pets

To see if your pet has a serious problem with regard to loud noises, watch for these signs during the next thunderstorm:

  • Hiding or cowering
  • Acting unusually clingy
  • Whimpering
  • Panting
  • Pacing/restlessness
  • Hypervigilance
  • Trembling
  • Crouched low to the ground, not moving
  • Ears pinned back
  • Inappetence

In addition to these signs, try to think about how often they happen, and how long they last. This can help us better understand the severity of your pet's condition.

How We Can Help

Unfortunately, just trying to comfort your pet may not be enough to help them deal with this phobia. In extreme cases, pets may become destructive, run away, or do physical harm to themselves.

We have a detailed handout on dealing with noise phobia. Some of the key points we discuss include:

  • Environmental Modification. This involves creating a "happy place" or safe haven that is away from windows and insulated from the sights and sounds that may be triggering your pet's behavior.
  • Behavior Modification. This uses the principles of desensitizing and counter-conditioning. Desensitizing involves the gradual exposure to the stimulus or sound at a level below which the patient reacts. The stimulus is slowly increased over days or weeks as the dog continues not to react. Counter-conditioning is finding a competing stimulus stronger than the one that triggers the reaction. Favorite games, toys, or treats may serve to distract the dog during the event.
  • Medications. In many cases, pets may need medication to help them deal with noise phobia. There are many different classes of medications that work by very different mechanisms. These range from nutraceuticals or nutritional supplements with pharmaceutical activity to many of the medications used to treat fears and phobias in people. As with people, finding the right drug or drugs for behavioral problems is much more difficult than selecting a medication for physical illnesses.

If your pet has noise phobia or seems to be showing noise phobia signs and you are concerned about how it is affecting their life (and yours), we recommend that you bring them in for a visit. We will collect a detailed history and conduct a comprehensive physical examination. Then we can discuss a treatment plan to help you and your pet live a calmer and happier life. To set up a visit, please give us a call at (205) 884-4104 so we can help.