I love a good thunderstorm and watching fireworks. The situation changes though, when you live with a dog (or cat) affected by the loud noises created by fireworks and thunderstorms. Officially known as loud noise phobia, the fear of loud noises is a clinical situation; trying to calm the pet or say 'no' to fearful behaviors may actually increase the pet's anxiety.
This type of phobia can be frustrating. Trying to calm your pet by petting or soothing are usually ineffective. These behaviors tend to increase with age and exposure to loud noises. Some animals will jump through windows or similar life-threatening situations to try and escape the noise. July 5th is the busiest day at shelters across the US taking in lost and injured animals running from the noise of fireworks.
Here are some tips to reduce the effects of loud noises for dogs and cats. These are techniques I have used on my noise phobic dogs, sometimes alone or in combination. The success rate depends on the degree of noise and how quickly the techniques were employed. If I can anticipate the noise event and keep my dogs calm from the start, the results were better. The anxious behaviors definitely ramp up if untreated.
Tips To Help Pets With Noise Phobias
Create a 'White Noise' Room
Some people use turn on the television, fans, or other quiet/normal distracting sounds. One year I set up the bathroom as a white noise room. It is an interior room, with a loud fan. I brought in the dog beds and had music playing. This worked great to dull the noise from the fireworks.
Play a Game
Dogs and cats pick up on our stress and what we are feeling. Taking a light-hearted approach is a great distraction. If room in the house allows, play ball, give your pet a Kibble Nibble, Kong, or similar 'keep-the-mind-busy' toy. A fishing pole catnip toy works great for cats.
I have used the Thundershirt for fireworks and thunderstorms, and was amazed at how it calmed my dog Sophie down. My pacing, panting dog actually laid down on her own after I put it on.
I have also made my own wrap when I didn't have the Thundershirt available.
Related: The Body Wrap and the Thunder Shirt: Applying the Right Touch to Fearful, Phobic Dogs - by Linda Tellington-Jones, Tellington TTouch Training
DAP (Adaptil) Collar
The DAP Collar is also for made for dogs. This is my mainstay item for managing my dog's noise phobia. The DAP collar works by releasing pheromone from body heat and friction from the fur. It lasts one month. I place a new collar on around the first of July. Each dog will react differently to DAP, but for Sophie, it has been extremely effective at keeping her calm during loud noise events. I also use DAP for managing separation anxiety.
DAP (Adaptil) Spray
DAP Spray is another dog product. The spray is effective for 2-3 hours, and I use it on dog beds, bandanas and even the Thundershirt as needed. This product is not to be sprayed directly on the dog.
Feliway Spray is the cat version of DAP; pheromones that are cat-specific to reduce stress and impart feelings of calm and well-being.
Worth The Effort
While these tips may seem like a lot of work and, in some cases, expense, it is important to remember that each time your pet makes it through the stressful event calm and with feelings of well-being, that helps for the next event. Noise phobias are more often managed instead of cured, but after Sophie wore the DAP collar and breezed through some major fireworks, she also remained calm and slept through a July thunderstorm - a first.
It is important to note that this fear is very strong for some pets. Pets that are highly stressed may experience diarrhea later that day or the next day. They may injure themselves biting, clawing and digging to escape the noise, and may be hit by a car if they do get loose.
While these tips are good starting points and work well for mild to moderate cases of noise phobia, please see your veterinarian if your pet has noise phobias. There are effective and safe anxiolytic drugs (medications to reduce anxiety) to help your pet through these noise events.