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Thunderstorm and Firework Phobias in Pets; Fear of the Big, Bad Noises

 Dog in Rain with Umbrella

With the Fourth of July inching closer, fireworks as well as thunderstorms will become more frequent. For some pet owners, this can be a very stressful time of the year. Many dogs have thunderstorm or firework phobias. This can cause anxiety and stress for the owner, damage to the house and other property or worse, injury to the pet. More dogs go missing this time of the year compared to any other time due to their heightened anxiety and fear. 

Understanding and Managing Noise Phobias

Thunderstorm and firework phobias are disorders in which there is a persistent and exaggerated fear of storms or fireworks. The breeds of dogs most commonly affected by these noise phobias are of the herding breed such as Border Collies, Australian Cattle Dogs, and German Shepherds. 

For the immediate management of storms or fireworks, owners need to plan ahead both for management and medication. Alterations to the environment to minimize or quiet exposures to the stimuli can help the pet and owner cope. Owners might take the pet to a room or area of the house where the stimuli will be mildest and the dog can be most easily distracted.

Curtains and drapes might seal out many of the external visual and noise stimuli. Visual stimuli might be further reduced with eye covers such as a ThunderCap. A ThunderCap can go over the eyes of a dog to help block some of the visual fears, but does not completely block their vision through its sheer material.  A blanket placed over the dog’s crate might further mute the sound or the use of a ThunderHut. Retreat to a safe hiding place during a storm is an appropriate response.

External sounds might also be reduced by turning on a television or radio.  Having a constant, low, soothing sound in the background can sometimes help reduce their anxiety and put them at ease.

Medical Management

thundercapWith severe noise phobias and fears, some dogs still do not cope well even with changing their environment and adding in noise or visual blockers. Sometimes medication has to be added into the equation and used in conjunction with the above tips and home management. There are different classification of medications used in the veterinary field to help these patients such as anti-anxiety medications and sedatives. Many factors such as the severity of the phobia, the age and health status of the patient will help the veterinarian decide which medication to prescribe to the animal. Recently, Zoetis launched a new product called Sileo aimed for the treatment of noise aversion and phobias in dogs. Sileo is an oromucosal gel that is administered by placing the gel between the dog’s cheek and gum allowing for transmucosal absorption. Sileo aids in the block of norepinephrine release, a chemical in the brain that is involved with the development of fear and anxiety. The product has a quick onset and can be given multiple times during one event.

Final Thoughts

Thunderstorm and firework phobias affect many dogs and their owners every year. Steps should be taken at home to change the environment to make it more inviting for pets to seek shelter. If modifications in the home do not help, scheduling an appointment with your veterinarian is recommended. The veterinarian may prescribe medication for your pet to help further reduce its anxiety and fear of noises. Remember to update your pet’s microchip information as more pets go missing this time of the year compared to any other time.

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