Monday, July 4, 2011

Helping dogs cope with firework and thunderstorm phobias

By Karen Fazio/New Jersey Pets

One of the most devastating conditions a dog may suffer from is fear of loud sounds.

Pets suffering from this condition are classified as phobic. Most react to all loud sounds, however, sounds that have most impact on behavior are those associated with thunder storms and firework displays.

Many noise-phobic dogs also suffer from additional fear-related issues such as fear of strangers, new experiences, and inanimate objects. Veterinary behaviorists, such as Dr. Nicholas H. Dodman, founder and director of the Animal Behavior Clinic at Tufts University Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine, often diagnose such dogs with Global Fear. These dogs, he explains, are caught up in a perpetual Bermuda triangle of fear.

Those suffering from global fear issues are often treated by some veterinary behaviorists with selective seratonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), such as Prozac, Zolof, Paxil. Others who have no fears other than those associated with thunderstorms and fireworks are often treated with a short-acting sedative to help them cope during the often anticipated and brief event.

There are many wonderful non-medical alternatives for helping a dog cope with firework and thunderstorm phobias. Some include:

Sit Out the Firework Display: An owner can decline invitations to firework displays in lieu of keeping their dog company.

Increase Energy Output: Exercise the dog and physically tucker him or her out an hour or so prior to a sound event. A tired dog has less energy to to devote to stress.

Relocate the Dog: Provide an alternative location for the dog, such as a friend or family member's home where no firework displays are planned.

Create a Safe Room: Provide the dog with a carpeted room free of windows, or windows that are closed. Play music or leave the television on as a distraction. One can hang bedsheets or blankets on the walls for extra noise insulation.

Block Out Scary Visuals
: Draw down shades or blinds to block out frightening flashes of light, which often serve as predictors to the dog that scary sounds will soon follow.

Fit the Dog with a Thundershirt: A Thundershirt replicates the sensation of swaddling, which is a technique often used for calming newborn infants in nurseries. Many have found swaddling calms dogs equally as well.

Help Soothe the Dog's Fears
: Contrary to popular belief, soothing a fearful dog does not encourage fearful behavior. If the dog responds to it then you're doing the right thing. If it doesn't, then it simply didn't work.


Unknown said...

My little Dede gets so upset at fireworks and thunder. Last night (the 4th), I thought her chest would explode, that little heart was beating so fast. I ended up taking her into the basement, turning up some music I know she likes and just snuggled with her, stoking her fur and massaging her. We sat like that for almost 2 hours, but it worked. Then she got lucky, and I let her sleep on the bed with me. :)

Dr. Marie said...

Great article! If your readers are interested, I wrote an article about the types of drugs and natural remedies that are used for thunderstorm phobia. You can check it out here:
Thunderstorm Phobia

Dr. Marie