Home Features PET CARE: OTHER NOISE-RELATED CAUSES OF PET ANXIETY
As I might have mentioned previously, this column is getting a life of its own. Last week we wrote about “Firecrackers/Fireworks Celebrations and their Effect on Companion Animals”. That column came about from a request that it would be appropriate to document an article about the effects explosive devices have on pets, especially dogs before and during the Diwali celebrations yesterday.
Well, enough interested persons called me to demand an extension of the content of last week’s article to include pets’ reactions to great noises emanating from thunderstorms, bullets exiting guns, jackhammer decibels at construction sites, and other out-of- the way short-term loudness.
Generally speaking, all of the precautionary measures and antidotal interventions by the caregiver, which I had mentioned last week, would also be valid for placating dogs terrified by noises other than celebratory firecrackers and fireworks. However, there may be other anxiety therapies which are more specific to counter particular noises, for example thunder and lightning, gunshots, high winds/squalls/storms, scary (TV) sounds, hard-rock music, etc.
Let us try to document some tested and proven methods that may help:
Knowing (because the weather forecasters have given us the relevant advice pertaining to expected storms) that storms are imminent, we could also use some protective measures including those suggested last week against fireworks, namely:
(i) Find a safe, comfortable place in which to seclude your pet.
(ii) Try to be calm yourself. Nothing can excite an already anxious dog more than the caregiver being frantic and exhibiting great anxiety. Just try to be cool. In other words, do not encourage the fear.
(iii) Wrap your dog in a blanket or in one of your old shirts/blouses (you know, the ugly one that you received from a family friend/mother-in-law and which you hardly ever wear – only when the giver is coming over to visit). Actually, there are pieces of clothing for pets called “Thundershirts” which are on sale, and which can supposedly make the pet feel more secure. The manufacturers’ propaganda speak highly of the efficacy associated with their product. I don’t know if this Thundershirt works. I am “selling” the idea just as I bought it.
(iv) Play soothing classical music.
(v) TLC. Comfort your pet – physically, by petting and stroking and speaking gently. I am sure this works with scared kids too. Stay with your pet. If it is a kennel dog, you may wish to bring it inside the house for the period of the storm.
(vi) Take the dog for a long walk. A tired dog will sleep longer after exercise.
(vii) Feed the pet more than usual, prior to the advent of the storm. The theory behind this suggestion is that an animal with a full stomach will tend to sleep through the storm.
(viii) You might wish to engage your pet in games like “Go Fetch” or “tug-o-war” – all indoors. These represent distractions.
(ix) My dear stepmother was a firm believer that certain scents were God’s gift to sooth anxieties and stresses. Lavender was her favourite. She lived to be 99. Who am I to challenge her preferences? Our cat lived to be 22 and the parrot lived to be 30.
(x) You are not going to believe this, but I can understand the logic. There are companies that produce sound tracts of various noises, including those of thunder and lightning. Consequently, there has emerged the proposal that the caregiver can actually desensitize the pet to the sounds associated with thunderstorms. It is advised that the caregiver plays the CD at an extremely low volume while offering the pet treats and TLC. By slowly increasing the volume over a period of time (days, weeks – whatever is necessary), the animal would become desensitized to the explosive sounds of thunderstorms, and therefore become less scared when the real thunder and lightning erupt.
(xi) There is a relatively new field of animal psychiatry which teach veterinarians “pet-relaxation” courses. I would not debase any such techniques, because I have experienced the consequences of hyper-anxiety in animals (see “PET CARE” – November 8th, 2020). Quite the opposite, I would endorse any intervention which can pacify a dog with storm phobia. The problem is that I only know one dog psychiatrist – and she in in Trinidad. She has been an invited Guest Writer for the “Pet Care” column, and she has written quite successfully about “Potty Training” of dogs.
So, we have offered 11 possibilities to calm your animal during storms (thunder and lightning). Please understand that “one size does not fit all”. You may have to introduce several interventions to calm your dog. It’s a “trial and error” game. Patience and perseverance are the two key elements in the process to reduce anxieties in your pet.
In certain areas where armed criminals are part of the environment – not necessarily in Guyana, but surely in other Caribbean territories – dogs are confronted with terror produced by gunshots. Yet, it is exactly in these neighbourhoods where dogs are kept for protection. And they do suffer. At one short period in my professional life, I was part of a team whose job it was to desensitize police dogs relative to the explosions created by gunfire. This was and is a difficult undertaking. Some dogs will never accommodate themselves with gunfire. Yet, it is the vet’s (or the animal trainer’s) job to at least make dogs less fearful of explosions associated with guns and bullets. This is a quite specialized undertaking – including “Brain Training Games”.
CONSTRUCTION SITE NOISES
Again, some of the suggestions made above might be applicable to the pet living in an area where building construction/renovation is taking place. Since, in all likelihood, the jackhammer and drilling noises are only going to be temporary, it may be the best option to remove the pet from the incessant din during the course of the day; and bring it back during the night. Also, I should mention that some of the existing Humane Society groups here in Guyana do have facilities where your pet can find kind solace during the period of construction noise.
Finally, you may wish to discuss specific issues relating to noise stress and your pet with your veterinarian. You can converse about any unique circumstances and try to find the solution for your particular case.