Noise phobias are a challenging—and often frustrating—behavior concern. Dogs and cats can be affected (as well as other species), and show signs of anxiety related to certain noises (see our last post for how to identify if your pet is anxious). Noise phobias include a range of sounds, such as just loud percussive noises or any grinding noise. Finally, some pets’ noise phobias are linked to other fears, such as flashing lights (classic for thunder storm phobias, where thunder and lightning are often scary stimuli).
Some of you may be able to point to a specific incident that sparked the problem, but it’s not always obvious. I know of one client whose dog was at home during severe storms; the dog still handles thunderstorms with ease, but during that particular day the fire alarm malfunctioned and was going off for a few hours before anyone could get home. Since then, their dog becomes frantic whenever a beeping or alarm goes off, even if it is quiet or only for a few seconds.
If your pet has a noise phobia, there are three things you need to know:
1. You are not alone. Many pets have these fears, and many pet parents are trying to help their dogs and cats manage.
2. There is a lot that can be done to help your pet. From making a safe room to specific training, and from calming supplements to anti-anxiety medications, there are dozens of strategies that can be combined to make a solution as unique as your family’s needs.
3. Improvement will take time and patience—if you are on the path to improvement, you are succeeding. So give yourself (and your four-legged buddy) a break, take a deep breath, and know that when setbacks occur, they are temporary, and things will get better as long as you stay on the path.
Speaking of path, what should you do if your pet has a noise phobia? Here’s our recommended approach to getting started:
Step 1 – Determine the severity of the anxiety
Does your pet pace a bit, then want to cuddle through the event? Does she drool and tremble throughout? Does she harm herself or her environment? Does she exhibit frantic efforts to escape? If your pet’s signs are severe, seek help right away. These pets often need a period of medication and professional help to get over the initial hump of anxiety, so that the rest of your efforts can have the desired effect. Let us know if you are worried this is your dog or cat; we can help you decide if this is the right step and how to best proceed.
Step 2 – Determine if the concerning stimuli are predictable
If you know when something is going to upset your pet, you can take steps to preempt the situation, such as using a Thundershirt, a safe room, or administering a dose of anti-anxiety medication. If the noises are unpredictable (construction nearby, loud trucks on the street, a child crying), your pet will need a different approach. If this is the case, let’s talk about your options – it may be that daily medication is a good idea, to help your pet take these unpredictable stressors in stride.
Step 3 – Remember that exposure does not always lead to improvement
Phobias are pathological fears, meaning that the response is not always rational. Exposing a pet to the fearful stimuli without careful training work beforehand is not likely to help your pet “get over it.” Instead, it may backfire and make your pet more fearful. It’s better to avoid the concerning stimuli until you have a solid coping strategy in place.
Step 4 – Get help
We cannot stress this enough – phobias are serious health concerns and if simple tricks aren’t helping, it is well worth getting professional help. The sooner we get the right plan in place, the sooner we can see improvement. Plus, the pets who receive early intervention are more likely to improve, and do so faster! Even if your pet (and you!) have suffered with this problem for years, improvement is achievable with the right support. We can be your support (it’s literally our job, and one we love!), and help you find the right professionals to suit your needs. We’ve seen the successes that are possible and believe you can be one of them.
Please, please let us know if you think your pet has a noise phobia. Every dog and cat is a unique being and we can help you figure out what the best plan is for his or her situation, so that your hard work to help pays off with big returns!