If your cat hides during a storm, or your dog salivates and paces when there are fireworks; it may be showing symptoms of distress or noise phobia. There are a range of symptoms from mild to severe; and often it co-exists with other anxiety disorders (e.g. separation anxiety). Herding breeds are more often affected but any breed may suffer from this condition. The earlier noise aversion is addressed the better, as it often progresses in severity. Treatment is multifaceted – including physical, environmental and behavioural modification as well as medication.
- Avoid exposure (relocate the pet in the case of planned fireworks).
- Create a safe den (somewhere quiet and dark).
- Soft furnishings help to absorb sound, a thick pile of blankets is ideal to hide under.
- Play classical music.
- Pheromones sprayed into the environment /on a scarf are extremely beneficial (they signal safety and security).
Using a ‘thundershirt’ may help calm your pet, the pressure on the torso can provide comfort similar to swaddling a baby or hugging a distressed person. It does not work for every pet but is definitely worth a trial. They can be bought online or you can try a DIY version.
Punishment is totally inappropriate. Counter-conditioning can be used early on (training techniques to allow the pet to associate noise with pleasant stimuli e.g. games and toys). Desensitisation involves training where the pet is gradually exposed to sounds of increasing intensity (e.g. using the ‘Sounds Scary’ training package available for free online at the dogstrust.org.uk).
There are three broad categories for medicating noise aversions.
1. Nutraceuticals – these are natural products that are helpful for mild anxiety (e.g. L-tryptophan in the products Calm-Eeze and Nutricalm). These medications are available over the counter.
2. Short term anxiolytics (e.g. alprazolam); these act rapidly but cannot be used long-term. They can be given for a few days before and after the event.
3. Long term treatment that aims to normalise neurotransmitter levels in the brain. A veterinary consult is required for the latter two categories. Giving a sedative is not advised as your pet will still be anxious, but won’t be able to do anything about it, thus making the condition worse in the long term.
Contact your veterinarian to discuss the best management plan for your pet if you suspect your pet suffers from Noise Phobia.