The Noise Season
When Yoda, my first Saluki, was a puppy, I lived and worked at Guiding Eyes for the Blind. One day not long after Yoda arrived, I stood outside on the sidewalk with him on a leash, talking with the general manager. There was kennel construction going on beside us, and the work crew were installing the air conditioning and ventilation system. One of the workers let slip a huge sheet of metal, which fell from the roof and hit the ground with a thunderous bang.
Yoda jumped just a bit, turned toward the source to check it out, and went back to his sniffing.
The manager looked at the puppy and said, “Wow, perfect, sign him up!”
Guide dogs entering training are tested, with the use of a pistol firing blanks, for noise sensitivity. Yoda’s nonchalant response is exactly what trainers hope to see.
Not all dogs are so fortunate. And, although noise phobia is most often associated with our canine friends, many other animals can exhibit varying levels of sensitivity to loud sounds. I have met quite a few cats, and horses, for instance, who are anxious over thunderstorms. And, of course, holidays that involve fireworks are a nightmare for the owners of sound-sensitive animals. Summer time, in addition to the threats brought on by heat, can be very loud and unpleasant for a sensitive pet.
Fear of loud noise has long been considered a temperament issue. Everyone has heard tell of the hunting dog rejected and either adopted out, or put down, because he is discovered to be gun shy. It is true that many animals can be desensitized or trained to be somewhat less reactive, so temperament certainly plays a part.
However, there is a certain sector of noise-shy animals who are not experiencing fear for fear’s sake, but because they are in pain.
Have you ever had a bad ear ache—the kind where the pressure inside your ear makes it feel like your eardrum is liable to burst? It’s the kind of sharp, continual pain that can bring the toughest guy to tears. I have had more than one dog show me this kind of pain in response to (and sometimes well ahead of) storms. For some dogs, it’s a terrible pain, for others only minor. Not all dogs have shown me pain, of course, and only once or twice a cat with a similar problem. If you have a phobic pet, however, consider the possibility that what they are experiencing might be more than fear. For a small sector of the pet population, this pain can affect them long before a storm arrives, and for quite a while after it has passed. Fireworks, for these animals, are like a stab in the ear with each explosion.
Vets will now commonly prescribe calming medications for animals who have severe noise reactions. I would also encourage, in extreme cases, that you discuss with your veterinarian the question of whether your pet might also be experiencing pain in his ears, and whether pain medication might be helpful.
Another aspect of storm fear, according to some studies, is static electricity. Though this isn’t a factor in reactions to fireworks or gunfire, it can be part of why some pets are very sensitive to thunderstorms. The electric charge in the air, sometimes starting long before the storm actually arrives, can be uncomfortable for some animals. In fact, quite a few cats who exhibit anxiety during storms have shown me that this increased static is very unsettling.
There are quite a few tools and remedies on the market today which have varying levels of success in treating noise-fear in pets. Thundershirts are a wonderful product, and some owners swear by them. They don’t seem to help every animal (in fact, the ones who fail the Thundershirt test might be candidates for an interview with the vet about the possibility of pain), but they are definitely worth trying. There are companies that produce lines of herbal essences, such as Jackson Galaxy’s Spirit Essences, which can help noise sensitivity. As mentioned before, vets will often be willing to try medication for fearful pets, and there are also over-the-counter calming supplements available.
Many trainers report having some success with desensitization and counter-conditioning techniques. Thunderstorms, however, can be difficult to desensitize against, because there are so many factors involved besides the noise: static, light flashes, wind, rain, the smell of ozone, etc. With patience, positivity, and persistence, however, owners might help their pets find some relief with these training methods. Just don’t expect overnight miracles.
As with so many pet problems, helping an animal to overcome (or at least reduce) noise fears is a matter of investigative work, and then attempting to work gently with the clues your investigation reveals. There are often more factors than just the noise itself involved, and the best results will be seen if you are able to identify which of those factors are affecting your own pet.
Summer can be a wonderful season. Vacations, togetherness, lots of time to play. Long days and evenings of light, hikes in the cool woods, swims in the lake. The downside of summer—the unpleasant noises and storms—can mar the season for many of our pets.
I hope your summer has lots and lots of the good stuff, and very little of the not-so-good!
News and Updates:
Once again, the time has gotten away from me, life has simply gotten in the way, and I’m way behind on newsletter issues. In fact, I’m way behind on all of my writing, and beginning to go into some serious withdrawal! I thank you all for your patience, and hope July finds you and your beloved animal friends well.
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Blessings and Light,