Understanding canine noise phobia

Many clients report fear-based behavioral problems in their dogs, including noise phobia. Understanding underlying reasons can help you determine treatment.

Approximately 90 percent of dog owners can describe at least one behavioral problem they would like to improve in their pet.1 Behavior problems can be a result of a dog responding to different triggers while home alone, and often there’s more than one trigger for any given patient. For instance, dogs with separation-related issues have been found to have noise phobia as well. Regardless of the trigger, 15 percent of veterinary patients are euthanized due to behaviour problems.1 Understanding the underlying reasons for canine noise phobia can help you assist your clients with structuring an appropriate treatment plan.

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Behavioral conditions are the #1 reason for euthanasia and relinquishment

Identifying triggers for anxiety

It is key for vets to complete a thorough medical history and physical examination as physical health influences behavioral health. Inquire about troubling behavior issues including territorial responses such as barking, growling, snarling or biting, and/or excessive restlessness.  Ask your client if there have been any recent significant life changes as well as the dog’s early history and environmental exposure. For best results, it is helpful to utilize a standard history form to give to clients prior to their vet appointment. Some common questions to include in the history form are the type of behavior the dog displays and the duration of the unwanted behavior, i.e. daily, for how many months, or for how many years.

Narrowing in on noise phobia triggers

To rule out other possible reasons for behavior problems, vets need to ask several questions that can include the following:

  • Does the dog show excessive reactions to unexpected noises and thunderstorms such as urination or defecation indoor, or the destruction or rearranging of household objects? If so, was it a day where storms were predicted and occurred or were there construction noises or other loud events near the home?
  • Does the dog bark during storms or noise-related anxiety episodes?
  • Has a fearful experience occurred when you were gone like a security system alarm sounding for extended periods, attempted break-ins, or fire alarms?

All of these questions with help isolate the triggers behind your patients’ behavioral problems.

Co-morbid diagnoses

Separation anxiety and noise/storm phobia are a very common co-morbid diagnosis. Forty-three percent of dogs in Storengen’s study of 215 dogs with separation anxiety also suffered from fear of noises.7 Flannigan and Dodman indicated in a study that fear of noises or noise phobia was present in conjunction with a separation anxiety diagnosis in almost half of studied dogs.8

Some research has found that behavioral responses to one loud noise are likely to generalise to others.4 However, responses to fireworks, gunshots and thunder did not commonly co-occur with separation-related behavior. In contrast, less salient noises such as traffic or the TV co-occur with separation anxiety, indicating that fear response to louder noises may relate to specific exposure and experiences.

Assisting with treatment

Research has shown that although owners are aware of their pet’s behavioral response when exposed to a loud noise, owners do not necessarily recognise this as being indicative of fear or anxiety.4 Furthermore, less than a third of owners seek professional guidance and treatment for their dog’s fear, showing that there is a need for veterinarians to increase treatment awareness among the general dog owning public. 4

Whenever owners mention noise or storm reactions in their dogs, vets should ask them to videotape the dog when it is home alone to ensure a full assessment. Once the diagnosis is verified and established, provide the owner with details of what the treatment plan would look like. Typical treatment plans include owner education, independence training, changing departure patterns, training departure exercises, and pheromones (if needed). Medication such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRI), have been shown to accelerate a dog’s response to behavior training, thereby reducing detrimental behaviors.

Many clients struggle with dealing with canine separation anxiety and noise phobia. Doing a thorough physical and behavioral assessment of patients will help vets determine the best form of treatment. Remember that early intervention is the best treatment option. This content came from a free, one-hour continuing education course on UniversityPRN.com entitled “Separation Anxiety: What’s New and What’s Different?” To participate in the entire CE course and learn more about separation anxiety, visit UniversityPRN.com.

References

  1. Landsberg G, Hunthausen W, Ackerman, L. Handbook of behavior problems of the dog and cat. 2003: 3.
  2. Stephen, J, Ledger, R. Relinquishing dog owners’ ability to predict behavioural problems in shelter dogs post adoption. Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 2006.
  3. Elanco Animal Health, unpublished data, 2006.
  4. Blackwell EJ, Bradshaw JWS, Casey RA. Fear responses to noises in domestic dogs: prevalence, risk factors and co-occurrence with other fear related behavior. Appl Anim Behav Sci. 2013; 145: 15-25.
  5. Overall K. The manual of Clinical Behavioral Medicine. 2013; 2.
  6. Sherman BL, Mills DS. Canine anxieties and phobias: an update on separation anxiety and noise aversions. Vet Clin North Am Small Anim Pract. 2008;38(5):1081–1106, vii.
  7. Storengen, Linn Mari, et al. “A descriptive study of 215 dogs diagnosed with separation anxiety.” Applied Animal Behaviour Science 159 (2014): 82-89
  8. Flannigan, G, Dodman, N. Risk factors and behaviors associated with separation anxiety in dogs. Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association. 2001; 219. 460-6. 10.2460/javma.2001.219.460.
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Dr. Horwitz received her DVM from Michigan State University College of Veterinary Medicine and is a diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists. She is a frequent lecturer in both North America and abroad on behavioral topics to veterinarians and pet owners and often featured on both television and radio and is a behavioral consultant on VIN. Her newest book Blackwell's Five-Minute Veterinary Consult Clinical Companion: Canine and Feline Behavior 2nd edition was published in January 2018. She is also the lead editor of Decoding your Dog, a book for pet owners authored by diplomates of the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists. She was president of the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists 2006-2008. In 2012 she received the Veterinarian of the Year by Ceva Animal Health and has been voted NAVC 2012 and NAVC 2014 Small Animal Speaker of the Year.
Rebecca Bloom
Rebecca Bloom is an Editorial & Multimedia Specialist at Redstone Media Group, publisher of Animal Wellness Magazine, Equine Wellness Magazine, IVC Journal and Canadian Dogs Annual. A graduate in Forensic Psychology as well as Community Development and Policy Studies, Rebecca’s career has spanned many organizations including as a university political science research assistant, a policy writer for Durham Regional Police, and a researcher in a clinical effective neuroscience laboratory. When not working, you can find Rebecca immersed in theatre and film culture, working on her photography or spending time with her partner and two spirited kittens.

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