Advanced Strategies for Noise Phobia

Presenter: Dr Sagi Denenberg DVM DACVB Dip.ECAWBM MACVSc (Behaviour) MRCVS, Veterinary Behaviour Specialist, Langford Veterinary Services

Last week’s webinar discussing noise phobias was an excellent addition to Valerie Jonckheer-Sheehy’s webinar aired earlier this year. Dr Sagi Denenberg led last week’s veterinary webinar and not only reinforced the advice already delivered so effectively by Valerie, he also added further detail to noise phobia strategies including the use of appropriate medication.

Dr Denenberg advised that prevention is better than cure and offered guidance on how to prevent noise phobias by correctly exposing young animals (less than 6 months) to a variety of noises. He advises exposing young dogs to a very low volume of certain noises which allows them to be habituated whilst offering them the positive experience of a reward such as a food treat in a kong. Exposing very young pups in the presence of their dam can also be very effective as pups will be gaining positive reassurance from the presence and security of their mother. 

Strategies involving the use of desensitisation and counter conditioning were discussed in depth and Dr Denenberg once again reinforced the importance of performing these strategies in baby steps which could potentially take several months. It was advised that only one trigger should be desensitised at one time and an animal should be exposed to this trigger only at the level of noise which the patient can tolerate. This noise can then be advanced very slowly and should only be advanced if the dog remains calm and responsive. Counter conditioning involves conditioning the dog to associate a trigger with a positive outcome and was discussed further within this webinar. 

Medication can of course be used alongside these strategies and the drugs used can be split into two categories, those used for ongoing maintenance and those used as a situational as needed medication. This ‘as needed’ medication would be used if there is no time to implement a desensitisation and counter conditioning strategy prior to a trigger event and can be used alongside other maintenance medications.

Benzodiazepines are the most widely used situational medication and include alprazolam, clonazepam (longer acting 4-6hrs) and the shorter acting lorazepam. Medication used for maintenance dosing include the tricyclic antidepressants and the more widely used selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) which includes fluoxetine, one of the cheapest and most commonly used medications for this purpose. Maintenance medication proves useful when it is not possible to have full control over a trigger which could occur at any point in time unlike fireworks, for example, which are usually present at specific times of year. 

Dr Denenberg delivered a deluge of information not only on advanced strategies for noise phobia but also on a number of drugs available for treatment of our noise phobic patients. This webinar organised by ‘The Webinar Vet’ will act as an excellent reference point for any of those difficult noise phobic patients, and as most of these cases are rarely simple, it is likely to prove itself very useful.

The Stethoscope (MRCVS)

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