Noise Anxiety in Cats and Dogs
We often celebrate New Year’s Eve, the 4th of July, and other holidays by lighting fireworks with loud sounds and flashing lights. How can we celebrate with friends and family, but also keep our pets from being frightened at the same time? This article will help you prevent your pet from being scared of loud sounds and manage those troublesome noise phobias.
Dogs and cats often experience stress, fear, and anxiety from fireworks as well as thunderstorms and other loud noises. They may react to the loud sounds, whistling noises, or the flashing lights. Note that you should never take your pets along to a fireworks display.
Why is my dog or cat afraid of fireworks?
Your pet’s fear of fireworks may be due to a triggering event such as fireworks set off near your home, especially if your pet was outside. Some pets have experienced having a firecracker thrown at or near them, perhaps even causing injury or pain. While we may never know why, there are ways to manage and help decrease your pet’s fear and anxiety associated with fireworks, loud sounds, and flashing lights.
What can you do to help your pet on New Year's Eve, the 4th of July, or other celebrations involving fireworks?
Several methods are recommended to help manage your pets’ fears, including planning before the event, considering their surroundings, treating their anxiety, and connecting with you.
- Plan ahead - exercise your dog and make sure your cat is indoors before the fireworks start or before the storm hits. Keep your pets inside until the noise event is over. Close the curtains/blinds and doors to reduce noise and light. Play soft music, easy listening radio, or low volume TV.
- Let your worried dog walk around, whine, and hide. Once they settle into a safe, secure place, try not to disturb them. Do not scold your dog for being scared of fireworks or thunderstorms.
- Make a cozy, comfortable place/den in your home where your dog/cat can go to feel safe and secure 24/7. Set up the den in a quiet, low traffic area of your home. Encourage your pet to relax in this space as soon as you adopt them, adding their favorite blanket, clothing with your scent, and/or their toy(s). You can add a blanket over the top to make it more soundproof. Once they begin using their den, allow them to come and go as they please. Give them plenty of positive praise and attention.
- Your pet connects with you and often looks to you for reassurance. They can often tell if you’re nervous, happy, or sad by even slight changes in your body language. Your pet will react based on what they see you doing. Respond to their behavior by comforting them if you normally react this way. Your pet may become more scared if you react in a way they aren’t used to. For example, putting them in a room alone or hugging them close. Note that if you don’t normally have music/radio/TV, this could add to your pets’ anxiety. If you remain calm this helps your pet remain calm.
- For dogs who aren’t afraid of loud noises, you can help prevent fireworks/thunderstorm fear/anxiety by taking them out of town where there are fewer fireworks displays. Examples of quieter areas might include near airports, hotels, and bed and breakfasts located out of town that are pet friendly.
How can I tell if my pet has noise anxiety?
Dogs and cats with anxiety to loud noises may show the following signs during fireworks/thunderstorms or other loud noise events:
- Crying, barking, meowing
- Hiding or trying to dig/escape
- Panting excessively
- Not settling in their bed
- Holding their tail between their legs
- Separation-related behavioral problems: vocalizing, destructive behavior such as chewing furniture or digging at the carpet/floor
Treating Noise Anxiety in Dogs and Cats
Treatment takes time, training, and prevention. Plan ahead and begin training your pet several months before New Year’s Eve, the 4th of July, or other celebrations to give your pet time to learn. It’s not recommended to begin training right before noisy celebrations, as this might increase the risk of your pet becoming even more fearful. Support and training programs specific for your pet must be guided and set up by reliable sources such as a vet, professional dog trainer, or a certified animal behaviorist.
Puppies and kittens have a socialization growth period where they learn what is normal to expect from their surroundings. For kittens, this is between about 2-7 weeks of age. For puppies, it’s between about 3-12 weeks of age. Puppies and kittens who don’t experience loud noises in a safe environment during this growth period are often at greater risk of being scared of loud noises. Breeders need to make sure that puppies and kittens experience loud noises in controlled and safe environments before being adopted into their new home.
The best way to desensitize your pet to sounds that they may find scary (such as fireworks, household appliances, thunderstorms, etc.), is to slowly expose them to a variety of noises and slowly increase the volume with digital recordings of those same sounds. Monitor your pet for clues that they’re feeling anxious or scared. Training must be provided with help from reliable sources (mentioned above) to prevent your pet from feeling insecure and/or developing a worsening fear and anxiety to noise.
Dietary supplements, pheromones, and ThunderShirts
If your dog or cat is very stressed, these preparations are rarely sufficient to resolve the problem. However, they’re still usually recommended as part of the treatment.
Treatment of noise anxiety often involves other support such as dietary supplements, pheromones, and ThunderShirts. These work well when used along with training, prevention, and guidance.
- Calming supplements may help reduce anxiety levels. Most work within 24 hours (or less). However, they often work better if started before fireworks or storm season. Talk with your vet for specific recommendations before giving your pet any dietary supplements.
- Pheromones: a variety of products are available to help reduce anxiety, including plug-in diffusers and sprays. Adaptil contains Dog Appeasing Pheromone (DAP) which helps calm dogs through their sense of smell. Feliway works similarly for cats.
- ThunderShirts: the design of these vests applies a gentle, constant pressure that has a significant calming effect on most pets and may help soothe noise fears. Visit their website for more information.
Does my pet need prescription medications?
Your vet may recommend and prescribe medication along with training, prevention, and guidance to help manage your pets’ fear of noises. Your vet will examine your pet and get a thorough history to determine if prescription medications should be part of the plan. All medications have possible side effects, so it’s important to talk to your vet about possible risks to your pet.
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