18 June 2018

Fear of the noises in dogs and cats

It is common to find dogs and cats that show a noticeable fear of certain situations.

The sound sensitivity or the fear of loud noises, such as thunders during thunderstorms or firecrackers and fireworks during a party, is a common issue among our pets. Actually, thanks to the research  carried out by doctor Katriina Tiira et al, it has been concluded that those animals that repond with fear to a loud noise have a 40-100% chance of presenting a similar behavior to other stimuli (such as strange people, unknown places or separation anxiety).

It is already known that animals that live scared and in constant fear have a shorter life expectancy and phobias (which are intense and disproportionate responses of fear unrelated to the degree of the triggering stimulus) once established, if they are not treated, they get worse with age. That is why, from Dingonatura, we want to lend you a hand so you can be better prepared for fireworks and all the elements from other parties held in different parts of Spain.
But before reading our tips, we will clarify a series of questions associated with phobias and fears in our pets that may be of help:

1) I do not know if my dog / cat is just nervous or has a phobia?: A nervous and jumpy temperament does not mean that our friend has a phobia (although he would benefit from the help of a professional in ethology and animal behavior to calm down).

2) At what age do fears and phobias usually appear in animals?: These types of conditions are usually set between 10-36 months of age, although they can develop at any time. It is key, therefore, to get our puppies and kittens used to a myriad of sounds, people and environments in their third and fourth month of life, so they can feel calm before strong stimuli such as fireworks, firecrackers or thunder (always gently, gradually and without over-stimulation, because we could traumatize them and provoke the fear ourselves).

3) Are there races more predisposed to this type of fear?: There is a certain racial predisposition and heritability, as Linn Storengen’s research proved from the Norwegian University of Science (NMBU), which states that certain fearful behaviors can be seen more frequently in Border Collies, German Shepherds, Australian Shepherds, Shetlands… although the environment (in this case, us) is crucial to develop panic to loud noises.

4) What about cats?: Cats, Having a much more developed hearing ability, they tend to startle easily with any noise, but that does not mean they have developed a phobia. It is important to observe their behavior faced with these stimuli and analyze to what extent they are affected.

5) How can I know if my dog / cat has a phobia?: Moments before the triggering event (such as the storm or an engine passing by) they may be nervous and present trembling, loud vocalizations, escaping responses, hiding, immobility and lack of reaction, involuntary urination or defecation, excessive salivation and panting, agressiveness and even self-harm.

It is important to mention that fear may indicate an underlying health problem, so you should always consult with the veterinarian if you observe this type of behavior. Some of the causes that could be causing this response in our pets are:

Thyroid problems, brain problems, viral infections, pain situations, cognitive deterioration associated with age, poisonings (for example, lead), skin problems, strange reactions to certain drugs or vaccines, heart problems…

Finally, we leave you with a series of tips that will help our friends feel more calm and safe, and cope better with these situations:

1) Do not leave your dog or cat outside if you know that a situation is approaching where they can be scared and run away (and hurt themselves in that flight). Try to have them in a safe space before the stimulus approaches.

2) Allow free and easy access to their favorite hiding places (prepare those places with a blanket that has your smell or their toys, plus some food and water).

3) It is not recommended to lock them up, since that sensation can generate more stress and, therefore, aggravate their escaping response. Just let them hide, if they wish, in an environment they feel is safe and sheltered.

4) Lower blinds and close windows in order to minimize the intensity of the stimulus (this way they will hear, in an attenuated way, the fireworks or the thunder and they will not be able to see the light of the fireworks or the lightnings of the storms).

5) If you know that one of their moments of panic is approaching, like the Night of San Juan, take them out to play and run for a while (a while before), because exercise and fun secrete endorphins that have a powerful calming effect.

6) It is not advisable to comfort them or pamper them too much in those cases, since we may be encouraging behavior that we do not want. It is better to be close to them, simply with our presence, as if nothing dangerous were happening. At the most, we can try to play with them if we see that they are not terrified, to distract their attention and offer them some treat (such as Moments), as long as their response is being positive.

7) You can play background music for a while before the stimulus starts, something that calms them down. The beneficial power of certain sounds over animals is already known, and there are many alternatives available on the internet based on psychoacoustics, such as the one offered by the pianist Lisa Spector or the piece created by a musician called Gnash , inspired by the problems his rescue dog and other shelter dogs had.

8) There are several tools on the market that can help us in these cases: tranquilizer pheromones, insulating headphones, natural remedies such as Bach flowers, bandages and anti-anxiety shirts.

9) You can also consult pages explaining how to perform massages and manual therapies that help them calm down when they are scared.

10) Remember that these responses of fear and terror can indicate something else and usually get worse if they are not treated, so it is crucial that you go to a professional who will help you improve the quality of life of your pet and assess whether medication is necessary. Desensitization techniques are a tool that can be used on certain occasions, but it is always recommended that they be supervised by an animal behavior expert.

At Dingonatura we are aware of the importance of our furry friends and that their global well-being involves emotional health, apart from a good nutrition and an active life. Therefore, we like to remember the vital importance of these three pillars and contribute, as far as we can, to make them become a reality.