Noise phobias in pets

by Yolande Howell

With Guy Fawkes, and all the fireworks which come with it, having just gone it seems a good time to talk about noise phobias in dogs and cats.

Behaviour problems and phobias develop when animals learn to overreact to stimuli suchas  fireworks or thunder that actually do not represent a threat.

Signs of fear when exposed to noises include:
Panting
Vocalising (whining, howling)
Trembling / shaking
Pacing
Hiding
Salivating excessively
Seeking people 
Digging
Chewing or running through barriers
Urinating and/or defecation

Risk of noise phobias include breed, age and the pet’s origin. Some breeds are less likely to be fearful of noises such as labradors, springer spaniels and cocker spaniels. 

The risk of noise phobias has also shown to increase with age, while dogs have a reduced risk of noise phobias when they have been living with the owner who bred them, compared with a dog that has had two or more owners.

Treatment and management of any phobia is not straightforward, but your vet will be able to advise you with the options available and devise a plan. 

Owners can help at home by exposing a new puppy or kitten to a variety of noises — recordings of different noises are available and very useful. Such CDs should include thunder, fireworks, firecrackers, vacuum cleaners, gunshots, trains, baby crying etc. Another important aspect that all pet owners need to bear in mind is that when a pet is fearful it is best to not molly coddle them. 

Giving them more cuddles and saying “it’s okay, it’s okay” basically sends them a message that it is okay to be fearful. It tends to reinforce the phobia. 

Pets that seek their owner’s company should be allowed to stay by them, but owners should bear in mind that petting and comforting them is also reinforcing the fear and phobia.

The best thing one can do is to go about your normal routine and show your pets that there is nothing to be worried or be fearful about. Turn the music or television up and just have them near you. 

There are other products available to help pets such as dog or cat pheromones, but these are best discussed with your vet. Medications tend to be reserved for severe cases and it will have to be prescribed by your veterinarian.