Noise phobia, often manifested as excessive fear during thunderstorms, is a relatively common affliction of dogs. Sadly, it is a problem that leads some frustrated owners to euthanize or give up their dogs. Each Summer YGRR receives many calls from families who feel that they can no longer deal with their Golden’s fearful and sometimes destructive response to thunderstorms. If your dog suffers from fear of loud noises, you may want to share this article with your veterinarian. Hopefully the possibility of new treatment options for noise phobia may save some dogs from euthanasia or abandonment. This article includes information on:
A fear is classified as a phobia when it is out of proportion to the danger of the real situation. Phobias generally become worse, not better, with repeated exposures. Dogs with mild noise phobia may look anxious during thunderstorms, tremble, hide under the bed or in the bathtub, and be afraid to go out of doors for hours after the storm has passed. If your dog suffers mildly, the best you can do is train him to go to a certain place in the house where he feels comfortable; some dogs like to go into an open crate, some like the bathtub or shower. If your dog heads to a certain spot and seems calmer, reward him. Severely afflicted pets may soil in the house, destroy furniture, attempt to break through walls or crash through windows, often hurting themselves in frantic efforts to flee the source of their fear. In addition to thunderstorms, dogs may develop noise phobic reactions to fireworks, gunshots and, less commonly, loud engines or sirens.
Some dogs can be taught not to fear thunder and other loud noises. For information on the accepted methods of doing this, see the Behavior Modification section below. For dogs who are resistant to behavior modification, anxiety reducing treatments (natural or pharmacological) may offer a solution.
An article in The Whole Dog Journal reports that one of the most effective treatments for thunderstorm phobia is melatonin, an over-the-counter hormone used by humans to treat insomnia.
Dr. Nicholas Dodman and his colleague Dr. Linda Aronson of the behavioral section at Tufts New England Veterinary Medical Center had been looking for something that would help reduce canine thunderstorm phobias when they discovered research papers on the effect of melatonin. Research indicated a positive effect of melatonin on dogs that continually lick their flanks as well as a calming effect on chickens in overcrowded conditions.
Drs. Dodman and Aronson wondered whether melatonin might work on noise phobic dogs. The first dog to try it was Dr. Aronson's own Bearded Collie who had severe thunder phobia after lightening struck very near her house. The effect of the melatonin was dramatic. The dog simply stopped being afraid instead of tearing around the house and digging at the carpets. The melatonin did not put her to sleep, she stayed awake and alert -- just not bothered by the thunder.
Drs. Dodman and Aronson then gave the melatonin to other dogs and produced the same result. Melatonin worked for other noise fears (one dog was afraid of songbirds) as well, including fireworks!
Melatonin is sold in capsules and tablets in health food stores, pharmacies and some supermarkets. It is sold in doses as low as 200 micrograms (mcg.). For most dogs, Aronson prescribes 3 milligrams (mg.) In a few cases, dogs weighing over one hundred pounds needed 6 mg. but that was unusual. Aronson usually gives dogs that weigh less than 30 pounds, 1.5 mg. Although they have not treated any phobic really tiny dogs, Aronson would reduce the dosage further for them.
It's important to read the labels on melatonin bottles very carefully. Some are mixed with herbs or nutrients that may not be safe for dogs. Make sure you buy the correct dosage for your size dog. Remember, there are 1,000 micrograms (mcg.) in a milligram (mg.) so a 200 mcg. pill contains only 1/15 of the amount recommended for a large dog.
Because melatonin is not regulated by any federal agency, the quality varies greatly from manufacturer to manufacturer. If an inferior product is administered, it may not be effective in calming a dog whereas a higher quality product might be. We cannot recommend any particular brand that is best, so the best course of action is purchase the product from a supplier you trust and believe to carry better quality. Some holistic veterinarians sell melatonin and their products might be better quality.
You can give your dog melatonin before you leave for the day if thunderstorms are predicted because it remains effective for several hours. Otherwise, give it when thunder seems imminent. Give melatonin immediately when you see your dog becoming agitated. If your dog has automimmune disease or severe liver or kidney disease, check with your veterinarian before giving melatonin.
The April 2000 issue of The Whole Dog Journal has a comprehensive five page article on remedies that do not use drugs. The May 2000 issue has a complete article on melatonin and other holistic phobia remedies. To purchase a copy, contact The Whole Dog Journal at (800) 424-7887 or firstname.lastname@example.org. This is an excellent publication that does not accept any advertising.
Some Golden owners have alleviated their dog's anxiety by dispensing Calm Pet by NutraBest/Natural Pet Nutrition which contains valerian, chamomile, kava kava, St. John's wort and melatonin.
A solution that is very safe and quite effective for some dogs is the homeopathic remedy Phosphorous PHUS 30C which is available in health food stores. This is a natural compound, which is used for fear of thunder or loud noises. Drop 3 to 5 pellets down the back of the dog's throat (do not touch the pellets with your hand) every fifteen minutes until you start to see results. Then stop. You can resume giving the pellets if the dog starts to get agitated again. If Phosphorous does not seem to work, during the next storm try Aconitum Napellus 30C. Administer it in the same manner. Practitioners of homeopathy point out that a remedy either will work or not, but it will not harm the dog or cause side effects.
Individual flower essences are used to address a wide range of discrete
emotional balances. Remedies are matched to the specific mental and emotional
needs of your animal. Flower essences are some of the very few substances
that foster emotional healing - unlike drugs - which never cause side
Either Rescue Remedy, Calming Essence or Five Flower Formula is a good
remedy to start with to see if it calms your dog during a storm. If it
does not help, during the next storm you can try one of the single flower
essences. Working with essences is very individualized. It often takes
a few tries before you hit upon the best one or the best combination.
Start with a single remedy. One of these two usually will do the trick;
Mimulus, which works for "fear of known things" and Rock Rose, which works
for terror and panic. Let your intuition guide you. If you're home when
a storm is approaching, administer a dose before and during the storm.
If you see that your animal is still agitated or depressed after the storm,
give the remedy again. If you try the Mimulus, for example, and notice
a slight improvement, for the next storm try Mimulus again along with
Rescue Remedy or Calming Essence. If you don't see results with these
two remedies, try Aspen or Star of Bethlehem.
You can learn more about the healing power of flower of essences. One
good book is Bach Flower Remedies for Animals, available from Findhorn
Press (850) 893-2920 or amazon.com.
Instructions for Flower Essences: Weight between 1-20
lb. - One drop every five pounds of body weight; 20 lbs. and over - 4
drops for the first twenty pounds plus one drop for every additional ten
pounds (example: 75 lb. Dog = 10 drops each dosage).
Three Ways to Administer Flower Essence
Individual flower essences are used to address a wide range of discrete emotional balances. Remedies are matched to the specific mental and emotional needs of your animal. Flower essences are some of the very few substances that foster emotional healing - unlike drugs - which never cause side effects.
Either Rescue Remedy, Calming Essence or Five Flower Formula is a good remedy to start with to see if it calms your dog during a storm. If it does not help, during the next storm you can try one of the single flower essences. Working with essences is very individualized. It often takes a few tries before you hit upon the best one or the best combination.
Start with a single remedy. One of these two usually will do the trick; Mimulus, which works for "fear of known things" and Rock Rose, which works for terror and panic. Let your intuition guide you. If you're home when a storm is approaching, administer a dose before and during the storm. If you see that your animal is still agitated or depressed after the storm, give the remedy again. If you try the Mimulus, for example, and notice a slight improvement, for the next storm try Mimulus again along with Rescue Remedy or Calming Essence. If you don't see results with these two remedies, try Aspen or Star of Bethlehem.
You can learn more about the healing power of flower of essences. One good book is Bach Flower Remedies for Animals, available from Findhorn Press (850) 893-2920 or amazon.com.
Instructions for Flower Essences: Weight between 1-20 lb. - One drop every five pounds of body weight; 20 lbs. and over - 4 drops for the first twenty pounds plus one drop for every additional ten pounds (example: 75 lb. Dog = 10 drops each dosage).
Three Ways to Administer Flower Essence
For fear of storms, give before, during and if needed 24 hours after the storm. For other conditions, administer the remedy twice or three times per day with or without food for two weeks and observe if the condition is improving. If it improves, continue for two weeks and then stop.
If you're searching for a way to calm an overly anxious dog, harp music may be the answer. Sue Raimond plucks harp strings for a living. She has successfully tested the effects of the vibrations and blended tones on wolves, dogs, cats, monkeys, goats, sheep, donkeys and gorillas. Her harp therapy has drawn the interest of leading veterinarians and animal behaviorists who regard harp music as a complementary tool in modifying undesired behavior in family pets.
How does it work? Raimond, who's studied its effects for 9 years, believes that vibrations of the strings send out overtones -- some of which are inaudible to the human ear. She believes, although it has not been scientifically proven, that the harmonic overtones work at a cellular level and reduce stress levels.
Scientific studies indicate the benefits of music therapy for humans: slowing the heart rate, lowering blood pressure, speeding post-surgery recovery, elevating endorphin levels, bolstering immune function, decreasing stress related hormones.
Raimond believes that her live harp music is 95 percent effective in calming animals, including deaf ones who appear to relax when they feel the vibrations. Playing the music on CDs or audiotapes yields about an 87 percent rate. Dogs must hear at least three minutes of music for it to take effect. Generally at this point, most dogs will start to sit down. Within 10 to 20 minutes, most lie in a resting state with some sleeping soundly.
Clients of Raimond's report that her music seems to have also helped canine cancer patients to relax.
Raimond recommends playing music as needed -- not continuously -- because some animals can become desensitized to it.
Copies of Raimond's CDs are available from her via email: email@example.com or phone (800) 971-1044.
"Body wrapping" seems to calm and focus some anxious and stressed dogs. Neurobiologists believe that any type of trauma can damage nerve receptors, leading to exaggerated responses to stimuli. By applying constantly maintained pressure, the wrap provides an unchanging, quieting stimulus that causes the receptors to adapt and modify their thresholds in a cumulative manner.
Dog behaviorists have developed a variety of techniques for "wrapping" a dog ranging from T-shirts to elastic bandage wraps. The easiest wrap for a dog owner to try is the Anxiety Wrap -- a sturdy, stretchy vest that hugs the torso like a body stocking. The Wrap's inventor emphasizes that the dog should be introduced to the wrap before anxiety causing situations are present because you don't want the dog to associate the Wrap with something that causes distress.
The Wrap comes in a variety of sizes and colors. For more information, visit www.anxietywrap.com or call (877) 652-1266.
For dogs who are resistant to behavior modification, anxiety reducing drugs may offer a solution. The two traditionally used tranquilizers for noise phobia are Acepromazine and Valium. "Ace" is classified as a major tranquilizer and is a very strong drug that at effective doses produces heavy sedation and incoordination. Where thunderstorms are frequent, these side effects may make the drug undesirable. Valium, on the other hand, may not be strong enough to block severe phobic responses and is so short acting that it may not be effective for afternoon thunderstorms when given in the morning by working owners.
Tranxene-SD is a long acting Valium type drug that may be useful for working owners. The initial dose for large dogs is 22.5 mg. once a day. This dose may need to be adjusted according to response. All drugs of this class can produce the opposite reaction, a paradoxical excitability, and should first be given when the owner is at home. If used over a period of time, the dose should be tapered gradually, rather than abruptly discontinued.
A drug that seems to offer promising results in dogs with mild symptoms is buspirone. Initial research seems to indicate that buspirone may not block severe phobic reactions. Other medications include the anti-anxiety medication alprozolam (Xanax) and a beta-blocker such as propranlol or inderol (which minimizes the dog's physiological, but not emotional, response to fear). "Beta blockers" are commonly used in people and pets for various heart conditions and high blood pressure. It is also taken by some musicians and performers to relieve the symptoms of stage fright.
The latest preferred medication is clomipramine (Clomicalm) which has been approved by the FDA for treating separation anxiety in dogs. This is closely related to amitriptyline, a drug that has had beneficial results on thunder-phobic dogs. Both drugs work to correct the balance of the level of chemicals called neurotransmitters in the brain. Unfortunately, some drugs do have side effects and to get the fullest benefit, thunder-phobic dogs must take anti-anxiety medications from the beginning of the stormy season and extending through the season's duration.
Unfortunately, sedation sometimes is the only way to help a dog with noise phobias. Bear in mind, however, that most drugs do not help a dog recover from his fear or prevent a negative reaction the next time he hears the noise. You have a scared dog that is too drugged to run. Sometimes this is the only option for the owners of dogs who cannot be helped by an other treatments.
Consult your veterinarian for advice.
Two basic techniques of behavior modification are routinely employed in treating dogs with noise phobia: desensitization and counter-conditioning. Desensitization is the process by which an anxiety producing stimulus, in this case thunder, is presented so subtly as to not produce a fearful response. Very gradually the intensity of the stimulus, or volume of the thunder, is increased, always keeping it below the fear producing threshold. Counter conditioning is the conditioning of an individual to respond to the feared stimulus with a reaction incompatible with the undesirable response. For example, the dog is encouraged to enjoy delicious food treats, as the thunder volume increases.
An excellent article written by Victoria Voith D.V.M, Ph.D. and Peter Borcheidt, Ph.D., two leading veterinary behaviorists details the specifics for carrying out a behavior modification program at home. It requires some effort on a family's part, but can offer a successful "cure" if meticulously followed and if it is possible to reproduce an authentic enough stimulus, in this case, a faked thunderstorm, to elicit a fear response in the dog. Herein lies the cause for many treatment failures. It can often be difficult, even in specially designed sound labs complete with high quality loudspeakers, darkened rooms and strobe lights to recreate a sufficiently realistic thunderstorm. (Copies of this article, outlining a detailed, well constructed behavior modification program, may be obtained by requesting Booklet #1110 "Fear of Thunder & Other Loud Noises "from Quaker Professional Services, 585 Hawthorne Court, Galesburg, Illinois 61401)
An audio tape available in pet supply
stores contains many sound effects. Instructions are included.
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