Canine Noise Anxiety
By Wynter Kroger
While many humans are affected by irrational fears such as spiders, heights, or public speaking, it may be hard to consider that our beloved pets may also have their own set of anxieties that can cause daily disruption to their lives, and thus in turn, cause destruction or trauma to themselves. This is often very upsetting and frustrating to owners because of the emotional toll that they see their pets experiencing, and the financial hardships that often come with treating a pet with this disorder. Canine noise anxiety is not a disorder that can often be easily treated, and there are many different things such as thunderstorms, fireworks, or even vacuuming that can set a pet off on a path of self-destruction. This article is meant to highlight the clinical signs associated with canine noise anxiety, and the different treatment options that are available to reduce the likelihood of a pet ending up in a shelter due to behavioral disorders.
A distress response to noises can come in different levels of severity, ranging from excessive barking to self-trauma in an effort to escape to an area the animal considers safe. According to Sherman, 40-50% of owners report that their dogs experience “fear” of certain noises, which undoubtedly shows this to be a potential hazard to a dog’s life. Another factor to take into account when reviewing this information is the onset of noise aversion and whether it is an acute aversion or gradual to chronic. The purpose of making this distinction is important when considering the clinical signs and preparation for the aversive behaviors, whether it is barking, panting, or destructive behaviors. Clinical signs associated with acute noise anxiety include, but are not limited to, hiding, cowering, jumpiness, or excessive efforts to get away from the noise stimulus; while clinical signs associated with more chronic noise anxiety include, but are not limited to, panting, pacing, restlessness, hypervigilance, inappetence, trembling, and frequent elimination (Overall, Dunham, and Frank 2001). Clinical signs such as these are good to notice if an individual fears their pet may have a noise anxiety because only up to 10% of cases are accurately diagnosed (Sherman and Mills 2008).
Another question pet owners frequently want to know is why or how their pet has become affected with noise anxiety. According to Sherman, if a dog had been exposed during the first 6 months of its life to noises like fireworks, vacuuming, or loud voices, they are less likely to experience noise anxiety compared to dogs that were not exposed to these noises. In addition to this, dogs that were not exposed to noises known to cause anxiety were more likely to show aggressive tendencies and avoidance behaviors such as hiding or cowering (Sherman and Mills 2008). Another study researched the interactions between cortisol amounts and simulation of thunderstorms on 19 dogs. Cortisol is a known stress hormone that will increase during stressful events, and in this study, dogs had a 207% increase in cortisol levels that did not go down by 40 minutes after the simulation ended. These dogs all exhibited clinical signs of anxiety such as pacing, whining, or hiding. These results suggest that dogs that have noise anxiety do actually have an internal stress response associated with aversive behaviors, and like humans, it can be irrational in its response (Dreschel and Granger 2005).
While it can be very hard to treat dogs with behavioral disorders like noise anxiety, there are multiple treatment regimens that have been shown to have positive changes with regards to behavior modification. The first step for behavior modification is seeing a local veterinarian to explain the changes in behavior that the pet is showing during certain events. From here, it may be determined that an individual’s pet may improve with drug therapy, just behavior modifications on the owner’s part, or a combination of the two therapies. One drug regimen combines fluoxetine and diazepam to reduce anxiolytic behaviors in dogs with noise anxiety. Fluoxetine is a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor that has been historically used to treat OCD and panic disorders, while diazepam is a GABA-agonist that treats anxiety. Ibanze et al. (2009) reported a 76% change in behavior, varying from completely to mildly resolved clinical signs, when combined with drug and behavior therapy. In another drug regimen, Cromwell-Davis et al. (2003) reported that using a combined drug therapy of clomipramine (tricyclic anti-depressant) and alprazolam (GABA-agonist) with behavior conditioning, resolved clinical signs in 30 out of 32 dogs treated for storm phobia. Again, these dogs had varying levels of resolved clinical signs ranging from mildly to completely resolved. In both of these studies, both drug therapy and behavior modification therapy were used to reduce the clinical signs associated with noise anxiety.
Overall, the goal of therapy, whether it be drug, behavior modification, or combination therapy, is to reduce self-trauma to the pet, damage to the home, and overall abandonment of the pet due to inability to control the problem. By consulting with a veterinarian about a behavioral problem such as noise anxiety, owners can increase awareness and find better methods for reducing clinical signs.