A Fearless Independence Day for Fido
Every year, as Independence Day rolls around, we veterinarians field many phone calls from clients worried about how their dogs are going to react to the noises of the celebration. The whole concept of the day seems odd to me. Isn’t England our greatest friend and ally? It strikes me that celebrating our break with them is like throwing a party every year for your parents and friends with the theme “I’m so glad I moved out”. Get over it already. And we celebrate a war with the sounds of war? Soldiers sacrificed themselves on our local fields so we could eat hot dogs 239 years later? Anyway, back to our canine companions.
Many dogs have an innate anxiety about loud noises. This comes from being confined while hearing ominous sounds from an unknown source. Some become quite frantic and can harm themselves trying to escape houses – actually jumping through windows and chewing through garage doors. Estimates are that 12%, nearly 20 million,, of the dogs in the US suffer from noise related anxiety. This can be from any loud sound source such as: thunderstorms, fireworks, gunfire, car backfires and loud music. This is often compounded by our dogs’ excellent sense of hearing. They’re actually able to hear low frequency sounds up to 150 miles away. That’s right – your dog will be hearing the New York City fireworks display in addition to every other one in our area over the next few days. They can hear a thunderstorm far up in the Catskills when there may not even be one in our area. Yikes! No wonder they can be so stressed. The key to breaking the anxiety is to try to stop it from even starting. This can be tough when you can’t hear what they do. You must be proactive. Take steps to intervene before your dog gets worked up. There are many successful strategies for helping them cope – some take a long time to work but improve the issue permanently, others are short-term coping mechanisms.
Strategies for Reducing Noise Phobia and Anxiety in Dogs
- Behavior Modification: This technique involves shaping your dog’s behavior by teaching coping mechanisms such as calming and relaxation techniques. Playing a CD of thunderstorms at slowly increasing volumes over a long period of time can help extinguish the fears permanently. This takes guided training on your part and some time and patience to be effective. http://throughadogsear.com has some basic information and guides available.
- Anti-Anxiety Medication: We can successfully use many of the same anti-anxiety medications as can be used in humans to help reduce generalized anxiety in dogs. To be effective these medications need to be given on a daily basis long term. Some dogs need these medications for their entire lives; some only during thunderstorm/firework season from May to November.Short Term:
- Pheromonal and Aroma Therapy: There are several products on the market which contain a pheromone, a special odor designed to influence another animal at a distance, which is made by a mother dog to help calm and soothe her puppies. These are made as sprays, room diffuser plug-ins and collars. Lavender and chamomile scents are often included as these too have been shown to have a calming effect on dogs. My go-to product is Adaptil http://www.ceva.us/Products/Product-List/Adaptil-Formerly-D.A.P-R.
- Behavioral Therapy: Many of our clients have achieved good results with versions of a fairly new product known as the “Thundershirt”. This is a vest-like garment made of compression material which gently “hugs” your dog creating a calming effect. Seems like a crazy idea but it works. Find them at www.thundershirt.com.
- Sedatives: Veterinarians used to routinely dispense long acting sedatives and tranquilizers to severely calm down anxious dogs. These meds can literally knock your dog off of its feet and may last for 8-12 hours. They’re no longer in widespread use although some patients may still benefit from them. Some clients will use Benadryl (diphenhydramine) a common anti-histamine which has a side effect of making dogs (and people) drowsy. While it may make your dog sleepy, it does not have good anxiety-reducing properties.Ultra-short term:
- Anxiolytics. Short acting drugs such as Xanax and Ativan can be used in dogs to decrease anxiety attacks. To be effective these need to be given before the anxiety sets it. Since they may only be effective for 1-2 hours repeated dosing may be needed.
- A secluded location. Moving the dog to the most insulated sound-proofed room in the house can help. Placing her in a covered kennel or darkened room is also often helpful.
- Bailey’s. Before reliably effective and safe anti-anxiety medications were developed we often recommended giving an anxious dog a small amount (shot or smaller) of sweetened liqueur. Most dogs drank this readily. I used to recommend one for the dog and two for you. We now prefer that you don’t get your dog drunk since we have all of the above safer techniques available to us now, but this can still work in a pinch. I hope you, your dog and your family have an enjoyable and safe holiday. If your dog is prone to anxiety issues speak with your veterinarian about which of the above techniques or medications may work best for her and your family. We can get you all through this. Happy Independence Day!
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