Just like this time every year before, my mailbox is full of pleas for help from owners of pets, mostly dogs, who are terrified of fireworks, thunderstorms, and other loud or unusual noises. I’m hearing about it from my clients, and dealing with it in my own dog Quixote.
I don’t know if noise phobias are on the rise or just being recognized more, but I do know this: Our pets are genuinely suffering. How can we help them?
The most important tool, however, is you. Way too many people delay recognizing the problem and talking to their veterinarian or a veterinary behaviorist about it. They shy away from giving medication, or even a simple supplement that might help them, until their pet is already shaking and crying or, worse yet, running down the road or eating a hole in a wall in a blind panic.
The time to give your pet help is before he or she is frightened, before the loud noises begin.
There are lots of methods you can use to reduce their fear and build their confidence around loud noises. nutraceuticals and supplements like Zylkene, Anxitane, melatonin, and more. There are also Fear Free sanctuary spaces, anxiety wraps like the ThunderShirt, pheromone sprays like Adaptil for dogs and Feliway for cats, and specific counter-conditioning steps you can take. I outline all these things, plus medication, in my article Turn down the volume on pets’ fireworks fear, which I just updated for 2019.
I’d also like to debunk one myth. Don’t “ignore” your pet’s fear out of the mistaken belief you will “reinforce it” and make it worse. The key is to stay calm and not get all worked up yourself, but instead provide calm attention similar to how you normally interact with him. By acting as normally as possible, you’ll signal to him that nothing’s wrong. As long as you’re calm, and it’s not all you do, you should definitely comfort your terrified pet.
One last thing: I am a firm believer in medications for pets who need them. Our own dog gets alprazolam (generic Xanax) and Sileo, the only FDA-approved medication for noise aversion. But not all medications are created equal. Sedatives like Acepromazine (AKA “Ace”) and antihistamines do not treat anxiety and fear; there is even some evidence Ace can make noise phobias worse. Ask your veterinarian to prescribe actual anti-anxiety medications like alprazolam and Sileo. Don’t “Ace” the fear!
Have a safe and Happy Independence Day, my friends! And to our friends to the north, Happy Canada Day!