take a chill pill: noise phobias and pharmaceuticals
It seems as though there’s a pill for just about every psychological problem that ails us humans. Increasingly, those drugs (or versions of them) are also being used to treat our four-legged family members – particularly those with noise phobias.
As many pet parents know, dogs and cats can develop intense fears of certain noises. Some you might expect, like fireworks, thunder, vacuum cleaners and gunshots, but others might be more mysterious – I once saw a dog who developed a fear of the sound of a toilet flushing!
Personally, I’m a huge fan of using medications to help with behavioral problems. For cats, especially, who tend to just run and hide from fearful noises, pharmacotherapy may be our only viable treatment option, especially in severe cases. However, I want to make it clear that most dogs and cats can’t be cured of their noise phobias with medication alone. A three-pronged approach consisting of medication and natural treatments, behavior modification and veterinary counseling are often required to successfully treat most patients.
Having said that, there are several drugs your veterinarian may prescribe for your phobic pet. For dogs, one commonly prescribed combination is a drug such as fluoxetine (Reconcile or Prozac), paroxetine (Paxil) or clomipramine (Clomicalm), combined with a benzodiazepine such as alprazolam (Xanax), clorazepate (Tranxene) or diazepam (Valium). The first set of drugs must be allowed to build up in a pet’s system for several days or weeks to take proper effect, while the second group, benzodiazepines, work quickly, so they can be given just before the impending fireworks display, or an hour before the thunderstorm hits. When used properly together, they can help pets to relax when fear would normally strike.
One thing to keep in mind is that benzodiazepines can reduce learning, so they’re not ideal for use during desensitization or counter-condition exercises when we’re attempting to “teach” new behaviors and coping skills.
Cats may benefit from some of the same medications as their canine cousins, such as fluoxetine, paroxetine, amitriptyline or clomipramine. However, the dosage will likely be very different – never, ever give medication to a pet without first consulting your veterinarian.
Of course, there are exceptions to every rule, and not all pets will respond to these treatments. More severe cases may require stronger medications that carry greater risks, such as acepromazine (Promace, Aceproject), a common tranquilizer and central nervous system depressant for pets. Don’t be discouraged if it takes some trial and error to find the right treatment plan – the costs will be covered by your Petplan policy, and it is worth staying the course until you find what will ultimately help relieve your pet’s anxiety.
If your pet suffers from noise phobia, talk to your veterinarian about your options for helping her find relief.