Follow-Up to Thunderstorm and July 4th Dog Noise Phobia Post

Follow up by POPULAR DEMAND - Thunderstorm/sound anxiety in dogs (my goodness!)

Wow. I was away from the computer for a few days and had a SLEW of queries about my last post about sound phobic dogs - I am sorry that I did not get to the questions in a more timely manner!

Sound sensitivity in dogs, especially as they age, can be a very difficult issue.  As I already mentioned, the tympanic membrane (inner ear drum) is very sensitive to barometric pressure changes such as occur during thunderstorms and as such, very little is available to help alleviate a dog's discomfort with storms.

One of my most interesting work events was to be on the cusp of the advent of the Internet.  Suddenly, a whole world full of canine behaviorists were able to communicate, and Spring rolled around, and we all started talking about our "Thunderstorm Dogs".

Dr. Nicolas Dodman, a British veterinary behaviorist heading Tufts' University Veterinary Behavior College, started noticing a common thread of "us" talking about all our dogs wedging themselves behind toilets, in bathtubs, and in laundry rooms.  He wondered about it, and walked himself over to the physics lab to conduct electrical studies on thunder and lightening storms.

As it turned out, dogs have discovered that if they get on tile or linoleum surfaces, it breaks the electro-static charge and stops them from getting shocked.

But they still suffer from fear of the BIG BANG BOOM and from the lightening strikes.

So. Basically, you need to mimic everything that you can about a thunderstorm, starting with its lowest possible value.  By that, I mean - go to a nature store or to www.dogwise.com and buy a thunderstorm DVD.  Put it on the LOWEST volume for MERE SECONDS and pair with the MOST WONDERFUL THINGS IN LIFE that your dog defines.  Realize that stress over-rides appetite, so if your dog is refusing Fillet of Bunny Buns, that means that the stress of the thunderstorm noise is TOO MUCH or TOO LONG.  So decrease it.  Does your dog go crazy for tennis balls?  That is the ONLY time that your dog should play with a tennis ball - when you are playing your thunderstorm tape.

To go to the most extremes, you can put a pie plate in the shower (emulates rain pounding off the roof) and get a strobe light (emulates lightning) and work really, really hard at desensitizing.  But given the physical pain, this is often a labour of love that produces little results.

Another very popular and successful technique is to teach the dog a rock solid comfort zone.  This is done in the absence of a storm and involves a VERY comfy bed and some REALLY yummy treats/fun things to do/chew.  Teach your dog that this spot is its "safety" zone and that only good things happen there.  Then, when the Big Bad Thunder Storm rolls in, he or she can retreat to a pre-prepared "safety zone" and try to relax in comfort.

The anti-anxiety drug Acepromazine is often given for thunderstorm anxiety, however, adrenaline over-rides its effect and dogs will pant their way through the storm only to be completely gorked afterwards.  It is also hard to anticipate the exact arrival of the storm, so difficult to dose accordingly.  Other anti-anxiety drugs need to be given on a regular basis, often for months at a time, and are counter-indicated for such a sporadic/seasonal problem.

As usual, please give me a call if I can help you - my contact information is always included.




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Dorene Olson July 06, 2012 at 12:41 AM
Mary Ann: Your comments are very spot on. A "thundershirt" can be purchased, a t-shirt or towel is less effective than the use of ace-bandages, wrapped according to the dog's stress level. Acepromazine does just make the dog physically unable to respond to stress but does nothing to alleviate mental anxiety, and it can be argued that because of the physical immobilization that mental stress is greater. Rescue Remedy is a wonderful Back Flower essense, but I have had far greater success wtih L-Theanine, a naturally occuring amino acid in the same family of L-Tryptophan. It comes in 100, 200, and 400 mg capsules and is what I call a "dose to effect" remedy, meaning that I will give it until the calming effect is garnered. Like Vitamin C, it is hard to overdose even if traditional medication is also being administered, excess is simply excreted by the kidneys. You can find this in human health food stores or Whole Foods, I get mine online at www.painstresscenter.com. I have trouble finding anything greater than the 100 mg dose locally, and I have large breed dogs. Thank you for your thougthts and advice, Dorene
Robin Tidwell July 06, 2012 at 02:10 AM
It's actually "a" Thundershirt, patented; they work very well for most dogs, we've used one for about a year or so on our Sheltie mix. The best part is that the more you use it, the less you have to - in other words, they become desensitized to those noise to a great degree.
Susan July 06, 2012 at 02:55 AM
I have a"Thundershirt" for my dog, she is more terrified by the shirt than the storms. Stands still and looks at me as though I am killing her.
Josh Johnson July 11, 2013 at 07:20 AM
I have tried the Thundershirt...no success. Since my Golden Retriever use to be kenneled and tends to hide in the basement, I moved his kennel there....that resulted in him trying to break out of the kennel and having a 5k surgery (9 teeth extracted, 7 nails broken). Now he is on alprazolam during storms and still is scared and worse yet, chews up anything in site including lamps, wood, etc. I don't know what to do...he is 9.5 years old and seems to be getting worse after each storm. The last storm I had him on alprazolam and put his "cone of shame" on him...he still destroyed my wooden chest of drawers and several other wood pieces.
Robin Tidwell July 11, 2013 at 07:48 AM
Prozac? I had a friend whose cat was on it. My dog is not fond of the Thundershirt either, but he's much better with than without. He's never been TOO destructive, scratching doors mostly, but now we have a puppy who isn't bothered by anything, and she follows him around and snuggles with him. Seems to help!


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