Sound phobias are a relatively common problem in pet animals. Pets can show a fear response to many loud noises most noticeably fireworks, thunder and traffic. In some cases if the pet suffers repeated exposure to these noises and is unable to express coping behaviour the problem can worsen over time.
Behavioural therapy can be used which may even lead to a permanent "cure" of the phobia.
There is a new product available that can really helpful for stressed dogs. It uses synthetic Dog Appeasing Pheromone which mimics a natural scent (a pheromone) that makes your pet dog feel relaxed. It is available as a plug-in diffuser that continually releases the chemical over the day.
Ideally the DAP diffuser should be used 24 hours a day from 2 weeks before the fireworks start and continued for 2 weeks afterwards. It should be placed close to the area the dog chooses to hide in.
Feliway® is an equivalent product for cats.
For phobic animals that fail to respond to simple action, medication is available and can work really well indeed. We use anxiolytics which stop the adrenaline surge that creates the feelings of panic that would otherwise reinforce the phobia. Consider the analogy of fear-of-flying in people – the same chemical pathways trigger the same behavioural anxiety. The product we use is very safe and can be very effective indeed, but you will need to start it a few weeks before the anticipated. Make an appointment to discuss the pros and cons of the treatment before any medication can be dispensed.
The aim of behavioural therapy is to decrease the pets' phobic reactions to the stimulus (desensitisation) and then induce a positive association with the stimulus to prevent relapse in the long term (counter conditioning). This therapy can not be carried out when there is a chance that the animal might be exposed to the noise stimulus as this is likely to reverse any positive effects that the therapy might have achieved up until that point. In practical terms this means that behavioural therapy for fireworks should start as soon as possible after November 5th in order to give an eight week window of training before fireworks around New Years Eve, likewise therapy for thunder phobia should be carried out in the months before the main thunder storm season (summer).
Behavioural therapy involves the use of a CD of the sounds that pets find most alarming. This is played at very low levels whilst the pet and owners continue to behave as if nothing unusual is happening. Over a period of time the volume is gradually increased up to a maximum, and the pet at this stage should not be reacting.