Sound sensitivities

Noise sensitivity is the exaggerated reaction to noises, generally loud and sudden noises such as thunder, fireworks, gunshots, etc. Sensitivity can be shown in the form of anxiety, fear or a phobic response. Fear can be difficult to gauge in animals and is based on observation of body postures and behavioural persistence. A fearful dog will show an increased heart rate, often pant, and possibly urinate and defaecate inappropriately.

Noise phobia means that the fear has become so extreme that the response is the same every time there is even the slightest hint of a problem, as in a panic attack, and may even occur in absence of the feared sound. Anxiety is the manifestation of fear signs in anticipation of the noise. Your dog may have learnt the events that predict the presence of the noise and react to these (ez. changes in the barometric pressure in the case of an approaching thunderstorm). On the other hand, your dog may feel constantly anxious when there is not way to predict the feared sound (ez. gunshots).

For the immediate period around likely exposure to fireworks, thunder or other noises that frighten him, try to keep your dog in the house. Many dogs will try to escape from the noise by running away and the last thing you want is a panic-stricken dog out on the streets. Keep your dog in a room with the curtains and blinds shut or choose a windowless room.

Some estimates suggest around 50% of dogs show some sort of sound sensitivity. This is perhaps because these signs impact on their own quality of life. Accordingly there is a need for the veterinary profession to be proactive in helping potential clients with animals with these problems. This is especially the case since there are so many unregulated products targeted at owners to help in the management of this problem, and the veterinary profession is in the ideal position to offer professional and impartial advice on this matter. To do this it is important to get a good picture of the presenting signs, their frequency and severity. This also provides the foundation for monitoring treatment. Further behaviour tests may also be warranted and a thorough clinical examination is essential to rule out occult pain that might exacerbate the problem: when nervous an animal may tense its muscles and so make itself more uncomfortable if it has joint problems

Perhaps one of the most common errors made is to offer (often inappropriate) medication as a short-term measure to manage the problem rather than encourage owners to make a firm commitment to managing the problem in the long term, since this is a serious welfare problem.

You can provide plenty of background noise to try and mask the external sounds. Noisy music or the television usually provides relatively good cover, if your pet will tolerate it. Compositions which have slow tempos and less complex arrangements (such as instrumental solos) often have a calming effect on animals. A music CD specifically designed for calming purposes is also available (Music to Calm your Canine Companion, Through a Dog’s Ear).

Never punish your pet for their behaviour when they are afraid. They will only learn to associate the punishment with the noise and become even more disturbed. Try not to make a big fuss of your pet when they appear nervous. Act normally and praise them if they do the same, or try to be jolly and playful and reward your dog once he joins you. Desensitization is the process of teaching your pet to be less sensitive to sudden loud noises. Counter-conditioning means swapping the fear response with a more positive feeling (ez. associated with play or eating). The basic principle of desensitization is to let your dog experience quiet noises in a situation where he does not feel afraid. Your dog is then rewarded for being relaxed and once they are used to this process the level of noise is gradually increased, but only to a level where they always feel confident. If your dog is ever afraid of the noise then the level should be reduced until they feel safe again.

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Rabbit Health and Welfare