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Managing Noise Phobias for Your Pets

October 19, 2013

Treating behavior issues can be challenging for pet owners. Loud noises are usually an intermittent problem that is easy to forget about until the next storm or holiday comes over the horizon.

There are two approaches: getting by and modifying the pet’s response.

Getting by.

Luckily in Central Oregon we don’t have many thunderstorms and you can count the number of firecracker holidays on one hand. When you anticipate a noisy event, you can provide a “safe place” for your pet where they can avoid, as much as possible, the stimuli from the noise.

This safe place can be a dog crate or cage that is placed in a basement, closet, or internal room in the house. The crate or cage may be covered with heavy blankets or other materials to mute the noise and the door should be left open. You can entice them to go inside with long lasting treats or chew toys. Once they discover that the crate is a safe, quiet place to hide out, most will learn to use it whenever the need arises.

Another aid for more difficult cases is anxiolytic medications that can be given as needed. If we prescribe these medications for your pet, it is important to realize how dose-dependent their effects are. At low doses these medications reduce anxiety; at higher doses they produce sedation. This means it is crucial to test the medication before a storm occurs. Start at the low dose prescribed. If you think it has no effect you should consult us before increasing the dose. We are trying to reach a mildly sedated state.

Understand that many pets will experience a short-term excitement phase when the medication is first administered. This is another reason for you to test the medication before an actual noise event. Also remember to give the medication thirty to sixty minutes before you anticipate noise otherwise they are much less effective.

Modifying your pet’s response.

For those who wish to change their pet’s response, you will need to desensitize and counter-condition them to loud noises. Desensitization is performed by playing recordings of thunderstorms or fireworks. Start at a low volume that does not appear to create fear. Over repeated sessions slowly increase the volume until the pet no longer responds to the sound even when it is as loud as the actual noise.

Desensitization combined with counter-conditioning makes the process much quicker. Counter-conditioning is achieved by sitting with your pet while the recoding plays and feeding high value treats. The pet eventually learns to associate food with the sound that previously caused distress.

Problems are usually caused by turning up the volume too quickly. Patience is a virtue. Let your pet dictate when the volume gets turned up.

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