It’s summer, and here in Mississippi it’s hot and muggy. That means thunderstorms almost every day, especially in the evening time. Dark clouds are forming out of nowhere, booming sounds in the distance, the first rain drops are falling.
My little dog can sense bad weather coming, as soon as the first rain clouds start to show up, she looks at the sky and gets seemingly nervous. She hears thunder rolling and it’s still far away, but she refuses to go outside, she puts her tail in between her legs and looks for a place to hide.
She is panicking when it comes to thunderstorms, but in general she dislikes very loud noises. She gets anxious when we turn on the vacuum cleaner and hides under the bed, or she runs off when my husband starts using his power tools.
Loud noises cause stress
Are dogs and cats really that noise sensitive?
As a matter of fact, our pets do not only have an extraordinary sense of smell, they also have a very fine hearing. Cats have a hearing range of 40 -64,000 Hz, dogs 40-60,000 (human range 20-20,000 Hz). That means they can detect very high-pitched sounds as well as sounds in the low frequency range and of course they can detect noise from a far distance before the human ear can hear it.
Due to their sensitive hearing cats and dogs may react differently to loud noises, and the sounds of fireworks, thunder and vacuum cleaners are mostly uncomfortable to them. Especially dogs like to act out their stress and anxiety and can become quite agitated when it comes to loud noises.
Cats can get anxious also but usually they don’t get as frantic and self-destructive as dogs. Cats jut like to hide somewhere.
I also want to mention that especially in older dogs noise sensitivity can be accompanied by musculoskeletal pain. I ran across an article on phys.org which points out that the cause for the physical pain that a dog might experience while hearing loud noises could be due to an underlying medical problem. The connection between noise and pain makes the dog even more anxious of explosive sounds.
Common drugs for anxiety in pets
For milder forms of dog anxiety an over the counter medication like Benadryl for dogs can be used. It causes drowsiness but it can help to calm your pet during a noisy event.
For more severe cases of noise phobia a veterinarian can prescribe certain sedatives or anti psychotic drugs like acepromazine in pill form that have to be administered before the thunderstorm or fireworks start. Some anti-anxiety drugs prescribed have to be taken for several weeks to be more effective and the animal has to be weaned off slowly.
Some medications work by altering serotonin levels (responsible for mood) in the brain, and in that case the pet owner has to be very careful not to give his dog certain types of food that contain l-tryptophan (in peanut butter, turkey meat) since this can cause serious side effects.
SILEO is a new pharmaceutical anti-anxiety drug for dogs that works by blocking the chemical norepinephrine in the brain. It is administered with a syringe into the dog’s cheeks, which is supposed to be easier than giving pills to a dog. Lot of veterinarians and pet owners like the drug because it seems to be very effective in cases of severe anxiety. I have read several testimonials from pet owners stating that after taking the drug their dog was visibly calm.
Even though SILEO seems to have only minor side effects and it its hailed by many pet owners, the drug is still somewhat controversial and there are certain risks that need to be addressed:
- The dog stays drowsy for several hours.
- There is always a risk of overdosing because most pet owners are inexperienced in administering drugs. If that happens, the animal’s blood pressure can drop and his breathing and heart rate may slow downing and possibly leading to cardiac arrest.
- The medicine’s instructions recommend that the person administering the drug should wear disposable gloves to prevent the drug from touching the skin. Does this precaution suggest that the drug may contains toxic ingredients not safe for humans and animals?
Calming your pet without drugs
For moderately stressed pets I would definitely try alternative methods first. One way is to use an “anxiety wrap” in form of a vest called thundershirt. It’s an anti-static vest that provides comfort to dogs during noisy events by applying pressure. By the way, thundershirts also work on anxious cats.
There is also a calming collar available which is less costly. It’s drug free and works by imitating calming pheromones that naturally occur between mother and puppy.
Electric dog diffusers (plug-in) use the same concept of releasing calming pheromones when your pet is in a stressful situation.
There are different types of nutritional supplements that work as anxiety relief and that you should try out without having to expose your pet to strong pharmaceutical drugs.
One supplement is Melatonin for dogs, a hormone that exists in human and animal bodies. People take Melatonin as a sleeping aid, but for dogs it has a stress-relieving and calming effect besides making them drowsy. It is always a good idea to check with the veterinarian which brand to use because some of them use the ingredient xylitol harmful to dogs.
Homeopathic remedies are always a good option to try when it comes to natural treatments. There is a variety of anxiety relief remedies on the market, mostly in form of drops that are added to your pet’s food or water.
A popular brand is Bach Rescue Remedy for noise sensitive pets (or pets who are anxious in general), works for cats and dogs and is also approved by veterinarians. Besides adding the medicine to your pet’s food it can be applied topically by rubbing it on your pet’s ears or paws. The great thing about homeopathic remedies is the fact that they don’t leave your pet loopy or drowsy.
Calming with essential oils
The aroma, that is the specific fragrance of each essential oil triggers certain feelings in the human and animal brain. This is why aromatherapy has been used for ages to help us relax and keep calm when we are stressed.
When using essential oils on pets always be aware that what works for humans does not necessarily work for your pets. They can be very therapeutic but only in small amounts. Remember that dogs have a strong sense of smell and when it comes to cats, some essential oils are harmful. If an animal cannot handle the aroma of a certain oil, don’t force it on him.
Aromatherapy for pets is available in various forms:
- In spray form: Spray bottles can be used when you mix your own oils and diluted with water. There are also dog and cat calming sprays (referred to as “calming mist”) on the market to choose from. When it comes to cat safety, consider getting a so called hydrosol spray, a non alcoholic steam distillate drawn from the aromatherapy still.
- As topicals: For example calming oils as roll-ons behind ears, paws, belly.
- Essential oil diffuser: If you have pets in the house, use a high quality one to regulate the amount of fragrance. If you have cats, be especially careful and make sure essential oils are heavily diluted.
If you choose to blend your own mixture of essential oils, make sure to only use high quality therapeutic grade oils, organic if possible. It is also recommended to use carrier oils like sweet almond or jojoba oil because you do not want to put undiluted essential oils on a pet’s skin. If you do dab them on your pet’s body, don’t apply them around the animal’s nose, ears and genitals.
The best essential oils for noise sensitive and anxious dogs:
Citrus oils (for mood improvement), Ylang Ylang for anxiety, lavender oil, neroli and melissa oil for calming.
Calming oils for anxious cats:
Lavender, rose oil, neroli, scented geranium oil.
Note: There are different opinions on the safety of lavender oil for cats, also see my article “How to repel fleas and ticks naturally”.
When choosing the right way to relax your pet in a stressful situation you have to determine if your cat or dog suffers from moderate anxiety or a severe phobia that’s very hard to manage. If your pet shows general signs of noise sensitivity I would try to soothe him with essential oils or homeopathic drops for pets, get a calming collar or a thunder vest. In case of extreme panicky behavior and after everything else fails to calm your pet, I would definitely consult a veterinarian and get help with conventional methods. After all, it’s a personal choice : Do I like to be knocked out with drugs and do the same to my pet?
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