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Thunderstorms and Fireworks: Summertime Stress for Dogs

Summer is not a relaxing time for many dogs who suffer from noise phobia.   It is heartbreaking to watch your normally content pup overwhelmed with fear during an unexpected storm or your neighbor’s fireworks display:  panting, shaking, whining, pacing, and hiding in the bathtub.   Noise phobia is one of the most common canine behavioral concerns, and it can occur in any breed at any age.   A phobia goes above and beyond a normal fear response – it is an extreme, profound reaction which is not appropriate for the situation, with significant physical symptoms. The overwhelming fear can come on suddenly and often lasts beyond the end of the triggering event. The cause of noise phobia in dogs is unknown.  Some dogs start having noise phobia after a scary triggering situation, but many seem to be born with a genetic tendency toward these severe reactions to sounds. During thunderstorms, dogs may be reacting to changing barometric pressure and static electricity as well as the thunder and lightning, which may be why dogs seem to know a storm is coming even before we do.

Here are some ways you can help your pup deal with noise phobia:

*Don’t take your pup to parades and fireworks displays, and don’t leave him outside or in a car during a thunderstorm.

*Keep yourself calm and try not to overreact to your dog’s fear. Dogs are very good at reading our body language and emotions.  Stay nearby but don’t go overboard trying to soothe him; you might actually be rewarding him for the anxious behavior.

*Provide a ″safe space″ where he can go when he’s scared. Many dogs try to hide in a bathroom.  A small closet with no windows or a finished basement is also ideal to minimize sounds and visual cues. A crate can be comforting for some dogs, but can also cause increased anxiety if the dog is in escape mode.

*Mask sounds by playing soothing music or use a large fan to help drown out the noises. Try putting cotton balls in your dog’s ears.

*A snug body wrap such as a ThunderShirt can provide significant calming effect.  Pheromone collars and sprays also work well, especially in combination with other calming strategies. Nutritional supplements containing calming herbs and L- theonine can help with mild symptoms.

Ask your Veterinarian about prescribing a safe and effective medication for noise phobia.  Ideally medication should be given prior to the start of the frightening event, but giving it at the onset of fearful behavior will also help.  Severely fearful dogs may benefit from taking daily anxiety medication for the duration of the thunderstorm and fireworks season, and can still take additional short term medication for each scary event.  A veterinarian or veterinary behavior specialist can also guide you through the process of desensitizing your dog to sounds by exposing him to low level recordings over time, but this strategy is not always successful because of the numerous senses that are triggered during a storm. Treating noise phobia early can help prevent the dog’s level of anxiety from getting worse with time.

With a little preparation, you can help your dog enjoy his summer as much as you do!