Noise Phobias in Dogs

Summertime is a great time of year for pets unless they are fearful of thunderstorms and fireworks. Many dogs in our practice panic when these loud noises are heard. They can keep the entire household up at night because of it. The challenges are real. As veterinarians we understand the frustrations for both the client and the pet. There are various options to consider when addressing these issues. I decided since we are heading towards the Fourth of July and all the loud celebrations that go along with it, a blog about noise phobias would be in order.

I just wish the suggestions and solutions to address these pet behaviors would be easy. We have more options today than we did years ago when Dr. Jim and I started practicing veterinary medicine. Even with those options, no two dogs are alike when it comes to response to therapy. There are multiple variables that impact behavioral therapies in general. Therefore, I want to stress right now that the likelihood of complete control with noise phobia treatments is zero. We can improve the behaviors and reduce the undesirable side effects. However, these pets will always be afraid, and our medications are designed just to reduce panic and its side effects.

I want to encourage people to get puppies during the seasons where storms and fireworks are plentiful. If puppies are exposed to these noises when they are younger, they traditionally will not have fears. When puppies are born in winter months with no storms to experience until they are older, this can create fear and panic. If you have a puppy or dog showing storm anxiety, do not cuddle them and offer an over-abundance of sympathy. You are just rewarding the anxious behaviors. Attempt to continue to do life as usual during the storm. This will help them learn to accept these noises as a normal part of life. If it helps, turn on lights and turn up the music or TV or a fan. Go to the basement to avoid the visual lightening effects that can add to their fears. Thunder shirts have had benefits for dogs that already have issues with noise phobias. They act as a tight comforting hug (pressure) on the torso of the dog. They are used for separation anxieties as well. These shirts are available online and are ordered according to the size of your dog. They are great for protecting surgery sites on the dog’s torso as well.

If your dog is exhibiting any of the following symptoms: keeping you awake at night, pacing the floor, drooling excessively, shaking uncontrollably, hiding, destroying your home, etc., please reach out to your veterinarian for options. The medications that are available now to prescribe are numerous. Many are human medications that have been successfully used in our dogs for anxieties of different natures. We require doing blood work and an exam prior to starting the medications to ensure that there are no underlying problems. When we begin the medications, we are doing so on a trial basis. The drug and dosages may need adjustments before we hit the sweet spot for control of symptoms. Again, owners must understand that their expectations should be improvement of symptoms, and not a complete cure.

If your pet has a history of noise phobias, please do not contact your veterinarian the day before the fireworks or storm. These work ups take time to determine the best course of action for your dog. The dosages take time to find the best levels to reduce symptoms but allow your dog to continue to function normally during a storm or fireworks. We do not have any miracles to offer on those emergency phone calls when the family and dog are all in a panic. These phobias do intensify over time so if last year was not bad, this year could be much worse. Have that conversation with your veterinarian before storms and fireworks season arrives.

Did you get a new puppy this year? This is the perfect time to introduce them to these storms and fireworks. Plan to attend events in the area where you can be prepared to offer them a meal, a treat, interactions with friends and family which distracts them from the loud sounds. If thunderstorms and rain showers are predicted, get out your rain gear and go for a walk with them in the rain. Sit out on the porch and listen to the rain while offering them their food or treats. Keep them from thinking anything scary about weather changes. In their mind, it is a time when they get food or yummy treats. Do you want to hunt with your puppy? Prepare to go trap shooting or to a shooting range with your young puppy to introduce them to these sounds at a young age. Maybe the first few trips are just to be in the area of the shooting range and with time you introduce them to shooting the gun around them. If you are seeing a fear reaction to these loud noises in your puppy, please seek professional help from your veterinarian, breeder, or pet behavioralist. Hoping they will grow out of it is not a good plan.

The staff of Winterset Veterinary Center hope you have a wonderful summer and especially enjoy the Fourth of July. We must be thankful for the freedoms we have here in America. These freedoms have come with great sacrifices over the years. It is important to remember those sacrifices and BE SAFE as you gather with family and friends to celebrate this year.

Why is my cat still hacking?

July 2017, I discussed the topic of hacking cats and wrote more about hair issues and only briefly mentioned other causes. That blog has the 4th highest views on our entire website. People do not like hacking when it comes to their cats! It is messy and ruins fabric and carpets which can make having a cat less desirable. Follow this link to see how to handle hairball issues in your cat. If you have already made changes and are still dealing with a hacking cat, read on.

What other reasons cause cats to hack? This list is extensive and difficult to determine sometimes. One thing that owners can do after addressing a hairball issue is look at what the cat is eating.  If the cat is not dropping weight and acts completely normal but is vomiting up bile and/or hair on occasion, consider removing all treats, people food, and canned food first. Go for 2-3 weeks with only dry food and see if any vomiting occurs. If no vomiting, then you can feel confident the dry diet is not responsible.

The way to determine if it was one of those other 3 things is to add each one in separately and go for 2-3 weeks independently and see if any reactions occur.  For cats that act completely normal and are not dropping weight this method is okay while trying to figure out the puzzle. People food can always be a culprit especially if owners do not offer this to their cats regularly. Cats can be sneaky and mischievous and find people food on their own.  Once consumed it causes a digestive issue usually 2-3 days after the intake. It is not an immediate response like most people think.  It is important to watch friends, family, and young children who offer people food without your awareness. 

If doing these two things independently at home and your cat “is still hacking”, I would encourage you to seek veterinary care.  Cats can have other digestive or respiratory issues that can trigger hacking as well. We can have inflammation of the digestive tract that triggers vomiting of bile. We can have respiratory tract concerns that can trigger vomiting of a white foamy substance. Heart issues can cause cats to cough but after the cough some will spit up phlegm that is not yellow in color. This can be coming from the respiratory system. There are lung worms that can be present in a cat’s respiratory system. This is most common in outdoor or stray cats that have been introduced into your home.

Taking video of your cat during the episode can be helpful for your veterinarian to view.  These videos can help solve the puzzle. Paying attention to when they occur.  Does it happen with activity, after eating or drinking, after sleeping or resting, etc. What does it look like? Again, a photo can be helpful. We do not need to have you bring it in on a paper towel.  It is important to know what their stool looks like and the volume of stool. This is easy with one cat but can be complicated with a multi-cat household. Many times, an answer for hacking is not a quick and easy diagnosis. Getting frustrated with your cat or veterinarian is not going to fix the problem either. Switching from one cat food to another cat food or veterinarian to veterinarian is also a bad idea. This can prolong the situation and make it more challenging to control.

With many conditions in our furry friends, sometimes a cure is not meant to be but managing a condition with diet, supplements, medications, feeding routines can be achieved. One of my favorite diets to manage hacking of bile in cats is Royal Canin’s Hydrolyzed Protein dry cat food. This diet has allowed many cats to continue living in their homes and reduced the frequency, if not eliminating it completely, of hacking (vomiting) up bile. They cannot get any other foods or treats or people foods to be successful. It is a prescription diet and must be prescribed by your veterinarian.   If you are seeing more white frothy phlegm than bile in what is hacked up, this usually points to a heart or respiratory issue. It is important to seek veterinary care early since a delayed diagnosis can have long term complications.  Some of these episodes can occur seasonally and may be a form of asthma in cats. There is no one treatment fixes all “hacking cats”!  Just remember to be patient with your cat and your veterinarian as they help you work through all the causes of “hacking cats”.

Dog Bite Prevention Month

April 9-15th in 2023 is National Dog Bite Prevention week. The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) cosponsors this event annually the 2nd full week of April. This week attempts to raise awareness on the high numbers of dog bites each year. In 2020, insurance companies paid out $853.7 million for 16,991 dog bite claims. The dog bite numbers are increasing but more importantly the dollars paid out for each claim has risen significantly. With the interest in taking our dogs more places this statistic is sure to grow over time. This number does not represent dog to dog fights which also involves cost of care to pet owners.

In March 2019 I posted a blog talking about dog bite prevention week coming up in April. This link will take you to that blog which has some great information about how to approach dogs: Dog Bite Prevention

Many of the dog bite events involve children. Dr Sophia Yin has some great posters centered around this topic. I have posted two here with permission from CattleDog Publishing to show how we should approach kid and dog interactions. If we focus on education about how to prevent dog bites, we can spare children having a lifelong fear of dogs related to these traumatic events. It has been noted that dog bites to children are as often from pets in their own homes as it is a stranger’s dog. These 2 following posters are a great reminder of how kids should and should not interact with dogs. Share this information with your families. If you see a child doing something that could trigger a bite, speak with the parents or the child to educate them on more appropriate interactions. This needs to be everyone’s mission regardless of your relationship with the dog or the child.

For many years I was involved in the Madison County Health Safety & Wellness Fair. Many professionals visited schools in the county and spent time educating the middle school kids about multiple topics. There were doctors, dentists, chiropractors, police, fire, ambulance, etc. that presented to the students. My topic each year was Dog Bite Prevention. I spent 12 minutes covering general information about what to avoid and how to protect yourself in the event of an attack. I sent home information with each student and we spoke to 6-8 different groups in a matter of a few hours. When covid hit in 2020, the program was halted and has not been restarted. It is necessary to somehow spread the word about dog bite prevention. If you have children or grandchildren share this information with them. Do not ever think that any dog is above biting.  Many people whose dogs have attacked people have said, “I do not know what happened. They had never done this before.” It can happen to you so be prepared.

Early intervention is still key when trying to prevent aggression with your dog. Spay and neuter since dogs left intact are 3 times more likely to bite. Take puppies less than 4 months of age to classes. It has been proven that early socialization to lots of people, other dogs, and new experiences helps make your dog more comfortable as an adult when introduced to new situations. Going to dog classes gets you time with pet trainers to ask how to deal with behaviors that are considered normal in dog world but unacceptable when interacting with people. Learn how to play with your puppy and what is not advised to prevent behavior issues. Classes often train the humans as much as we hope to train our puppies. If you get a puppy do not wait to start training. A puppy goes from 0-16 years of age in the first 12 months. We all know how difficult it can be to retrain a teenager SO START YOUNG.

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