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June 2010

The Need to Knows about Noise Phobias

It’s a warm summer night and you can hear the oohs and ahhs of the crowd. Beautiful colors light up the sky with a boom so loud it shakes your insides. Sound familiar? That’s right! Its 4th of July and the fireworks are amazing!

Wait. Where’s Fido? Why is he hiding? And trembling?

Does this sound like your pet’s reaction to fireworks, thunder, howling wind or other loud noises? If so, your faithful friend might be suffering from a noise phobia.

A phobia is a fear that is out of proportion to the actual danger of a situation. Noise phobias can develop through several means including direct association, lifestyle backgrounds and genetics. Noise phobias are often associated with separation anxiety.

Studies have found that certain dog breeds are more at risk of developing noise phobias. These include herding, sporting and hound breeds.

Pets may suffer from one or a multitude of symptoms. Common signs and symptoms of a noise phobia include:

  • Hiding
  • Elimination
  • Panting
  • Pacing
  • Drooling
  • Vocalizing
  • Dilated pupils
  • Trying to escape
  • Seeking the owner
  • Expressing anal glands
  • Trembling

Storm and noise phobias are an emergency, according to WVMA member veterinarian and clinical instructor at the University of Wisconsin School of Veterinary Medicine, Dr. Sandy Sawchuk.

Contrary to common belief, repeated exposure to noise phobia triggers (storms, thunder, fireworks, and gunshots) will only make phobias worse, she explains.


There is no guarantee that phobias can be cured or resolved completely, but most can be managed efficiently. Talk with your WVMA member veterinary about the best treatment for your pet.

The following may help your pet deal with loud noises.

Behavior modifications – Avoid rewarding or coddling your pet’s fearful behavior. Do not give punishment for this behavior; it will only increase anxiety levels.

Try counter conditioning by teaching animals to display acceptable behaviors as a response to a certain stimulus. The animal will associate a negative stimulus (storm) with a positive event (treat). For example, only give your pet their favorite treat, toy or game during or just prior to a storm. Pets will start associating a storm with receiving their favorite thing.

Another behavior modification is desensitization. During desensitization, the animal’s response is decreased while being exposed to increasing levels of the fear-producing noise. For example play a recording of a storm at a level that does not induce a fear response. Gradually increase the overtime and training sessions while the dog remains calm. If animal becomes fearful, decrease volume.

Each session should last about 20 minutes and pets may require 50 to 80 sessions. It is best to train in the storm off-season. Training should occur in various rooms and to make the “storm” seem real, dim the lights and add a strobe light.

Environmental changes – Changing the environment of the animal during the storm to a quieter, darker room with no windows can help diminish anxiety.

Create a safe-haven for your pet in an appropriately sized crate or in a small room like a bathroom. Crates can be covered with a blanket to increase the animal’s sense of security. Mask the storm noise with “white noise” like fans, air conditioner, TV or radio.

Pheromones – In addition to other treatment methods, offer your animal an appropriate pheromone through a pheromone releasing collar or diffuser.

Over the counter medication – Some over the counter medications have been successful with animals. These include melatonin and flower essences.

Prescription medication – Medications can be helpful alone or in combination with other treatments. Prescriptions of anti-anxiety and anti-depressants can help animals through their phobias, however dependency can develop. Some prescription medications are fast acting, while others need to be taken for a longer period of time to be effective.

For all animals, consult your WVMA member veterinarian for diagnosis and treatment of noise phobias. 

Annual Trip to the Fair – Think Safety

Revisiting your rural roots is a great educational adventure; just make sure you take time to prepare yourself and your family for interactions with animals.

Sometimes excitement can overshadow safety for both attendees and the animals.

Often, children don’t view livestock as “dangerous”. The size differences between children and livestock, animals’ and children’s unpredictability, and children’s lack of knowledge about these farm creatures can put them in harm’s way.  

Animals and humans view their surroundings very differently. Humans see in color, while livestock in shades of grey and livestock generally have poor depth perception. Most animals can see wide angles around them, but have a blind spot (area they cannot see) near the hindquarters. Horses also have a blind spot directly in front of them. When approaching or around livestock, be aware of these blind spots – movement in these areas should be avoided as it makes animals uneasy and nervous.

 Animals also have extremely sensitive hearing – loud and high-frequency sounds can hurt their ears.

“Sharp loud sounds can surprise and provoke the tamest of animals,” says Dr. Rebecca Mentink, large animal veterinarian at Waterloo Veterinary Clinic.

 Livestock with young generally exhibit strong maternal instincts and will protect and defend their young. Be alert around livestock.

 Cattle exhibited at fairs can weigh over 1,500 pounds and some large, equine breeds up to a ton (2,000 pounds). Make sure you keep yourself and your family at a safe distance – including strollers.

"Keep small children from walking under tall cattle or horses, and be careful to mind where your child's stroller is when around livestock." explains Dr. Mentink.

Even though an animal looks friendly, they need to be approached and treated with respect. Ask the owner for permission to approach or touch an animal.

"Livestock exhibitors enjoy the opportunity to show their animals and talk with fairgoers. With just a few simple precautions, you and your family can be sure to have a lot of fun at the fair!" she says.

 When around animals:

  • Ask for permission to approach or touch an animal
  • Be calm, move slowly
  • Avoid loud noises
  • Avoid hind legs
  • Approach large animals at the shoulder
  • Avoid animals with newborns
  • Avoid stallions, bulls, rams and boars

Keeping clean and healthy during your animal adventure

It is important to remember that animals sometimes carry germs that are harmful to humans, making them sick. To significantly reduce the transmission of these germs and zoonotic diseases (diseases that can be transferred from animals to humans), the Centers for Disease Control advise the following:


  • Find out where hand-washing stations are located.
  • Always wash your hands after petting animals or touching the animal enclosure, especially before eating and drinking.
  • Running water and soap are best. Use hand gels if running water and soap are not available

Food and drinks

  • Keep food and drinks out of animal areas.
  • Do not share your food with animals.
  • Do not eat or drink raw (unpasteurized) dairy products.


  • Children younger than 5 years old need supervision
  • Never allow children to put their hands or objects (For example: pacifiers) in their mouth while interacting with animals.
  • Hand washing should be supervised.

Now that you’ve covered safety on the way to the fair, you can enjoy this family friendly, annual animal adventure!


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