Noise anxiety in dogs is a phobia or strong feeling of fear around loud noises, like sounds from fireworks or thunderstorms. It can result in many anxious behaviors or even cause dogs to bolt out of fear and get lost.
When young children hear a scary noise at night, they often run to their parents. The response is usually something like, “Don’t worry, it was just thunder.” Or, “It was just a noise, nothing to be frightened of.”
Unfortunately for a dog who’s afraid of noise, no amount of explaining or consoling will help. Noise Anxiety is a very common problem for dogs across the country. The estimates vary, but somewhere between 5 million and 15 million dogs suffer from noise anxiety severe enough for their owners to seek help.
If your dog suffers from a fear of loud noises, there are choices available to help relieve his or her stress. You must consult your veterinarian for a proper diagnosis and treatment plan before you attempt to remedy the problem on your own.
Here’s what you should know about canine noise anxiety including symptoms, causes, and treatments.
Symptoms Of Noise Anxiety In Dogs
Noise anxiety can result in many symptoms and have different severity levels for dogs.
On the less extreme end of the spectrum, a fear of thunder may just cause some shaking and clinging to their human. On the other extreme, it may cause panicked running, destructive chewing, defecating indoors, or even jumping through a plate glass window!
Here are a few symptoms that may vary in severity based on dogs’ levels of anxiety:
- Shaking or trembling
- Panting or drooling, even without exercising
- Tucking their tail between their legs
- Pushing their ears back
- Wide eyes
- Clinging to their human
- Hiding or cowering
- Refusing to move, sometimes to the point of seeming catatonic
- Unusual vocalizations (barking, whining, etc.)
- Potty accidents, even though a dog is otherwise housebroken
- Destructive behaviors like chewing, digging, or scratching
- Bolting or trying to escape from the home or situation
Some pet parents aren’t even aware that an unwanted behavior they’re seeing is actually caused by noise anxiety.
For example, does your dog get upset when you take photographs using a flash? That may be noise anxiety! The flash may remind your dog of lightning, which may trigger them to feel frightened that a storm is coming.
Causes & Triggers Of Noise Anxiety In Dogs
Determining what caused your dog’s noise anxiety may be difficult to pinpoint. However, you may be able to trace the start of your dog’s anxiety to a traumatic incident such as being too close to a fireworks show or too close to a lightning strike and its subsequent thunder clap.
Here are a few common noise anxiety triggers in dogs:
- Loud gatherings
- Sounds from televisions, radios, or other devices
- Beeping noises from electronics, such as timers, smoke alarms, or home security systems
- Fire alarms
- Warning sirens, such as tornado sirens
- Ambulances, police cars, or firetrucks
- Car traffic or airplanes
- Other dogs barking
Your dog may also have a genetic predisposition for noise anxiety. Studies have shown that noise anxiety appears in some breeds, such as Collies, Golden Retrievers, and German Shepherds, more than others.
For some dogs, noise anxiety gradually appears and worsens as they age for no apparent reason. For other dogs, it appears in puppyhood and stays with them.
One thing that most experts agree on when it comes to noise anxiety is that petting, coddling, or otherwise consoling the dog when they’re exhibiting symptoms may worsen the problem. Your dog will most likely interpret your behavior as, “You see, I do have something to be worried about!”
It’s important for the people around the dog to behave normally during events that trigger the dog’s anxiety. In fact, a possible cause for noise anxiety in the first place is a dog’s humans displaying nervousness or fear of some kind of noise.
Most dogs are very sensitive to their humans’ moods. If a pet parent has a fear of thunder, a dog may pick up on it and also develop fearful behavior.
Treatments For Noise Anxiety In Dogs
Before you attempt to treat your dog for noise anxiety on your own, you must consult your veterinarian for a professional diagnosis and treatment advice.
Different treatments work for different dogs. There is no guarantee that any one alternative is best for your dog. Your vet can help you explore your options safely.
Besides the effectiveness at reducing symptoms, there are other issues to consider when evaluating which treatment may work best. Some treatments can be very time consuming for pet parents. Other treatments can become very expensive and pose risks of side effects.
It’s also not unusual for a combination of treatments to ultimately be the most effective for a particular dog. Here are five options you should discuss with your vet.
1. Change The Dog’s Environment
There are “common sense,” simple things you can try if feasible for your circumstances. Here are a few easy environmental changes you can make to curb your dog’s anxiety:
- Create a safe haven for your dog, such as a blanket-covered crate, or find a location that will reduce the noise level.
- Turn on soft music or the television to help mask the sound of the problem noise.
- If you know an event is coming, like a thunderstorm or fireworks, give your dog a lot of exercise beforehand. This can help burn off energy that would otherwise go toward anxious behaviors.
None of the above typically shows dramatic results, but they can help to reduce symptoms.
2. Pressure Wraps
This is a surprisingly simple and effective treatment for many dogs. A “pressure wrap” is anything that wraps around the dog’s torso and chest to provide a constant, gentle pressure.
Why does it work? No one knows for sure, but it’s likely a combination of making the dog feel comforted and secure while distracting them from concentrating on whatever they fear.
You can try to make one yourself out of an appropriately sized t-shirt, or purchase a Thundershirt. Pressure wraps often show good results with the first usage, however some dogs require two, three, or more usages before you see reduced or eliminated symptoms.
3. Behavior Modification
Desensitization is the most common behavior modification tried for noise anxiety.
In a nutshell, you begin by exposing your dog to a low level of the noise that bothers them in a controlled environment. As they get accustomed to it, you increase the levels louder and louder over time until they learn to tolerate the real deal.
If you want to give it a try, several books are available on the subject. However, it’s best to consult your vet and possibly a professional pet behaviorist for the most effective results.
If your dog’s anxiety is serious enough, there are a variety of prescription medications that your vet may suggest.
Some are administered on a regular basis for the life of the dog. Some are given only at the time of an anxiety event. Sometimes a combination of drugs are used.
If you go this route, make sure you ask your vet about any potential risks and side effects with the drugs you’re considering.
Many pet parents use over-the-counter medications like Benadryl to sedate their dogs. You should not do this without asking your vet first.
5. Pheromones & Supplements
Some pet parents choose to treat their dogs with more natural remedies, which can include pheromones and supplements meant to keep dogs calm. These can present alternatives to medication that often don’t cause as many side effects.
Several products on the market emit natural pheromones that can have a calming, reassuring effect on dogs. These can come in the form of collars, diffusers, sprays, and more.
Many calming supplements in the form of chews, additives, or drops can also help some dogs. Ask your vet for recommendations.
Does your dog get anxious around loud noises like thunder or fireworks? How do you help them stay calm? Let us know in the comments below!
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