Sunday, August 26, 2012

A cure for Thunderstorm fears?

What a hopeful title - that there is a cure for the fear of Thunderstorms.  I have been doing a bit of online research into this, coupled with the knowledge that I already have, and have decided that... like any other fear, there is no cure for it. 

There was a lecture I attended that said that there are over 40 therapies for thunderstorm this got me thinking, as I didn't realise that there were so many... so I started the list... I do need help as I am no where near the 40.
  1. Crate training - safe space
  2. Noise proof room
  3. Flooding
  4. Desensitizing and Counter conditioning (should I cheat and make this two items).
  5. Thundershirts
  6. Thundercaps
  7. Homeopet Anxiety
  8. Rescue Remedy
  9. Sedatives such as acepromazine or valium
  10. Psychoactive medications such as Prozac
  11. Staying home and sitting with the dog/cat
  12. Vitamin B
  13. Tryptophan/vitamin supplements
  14. St Johns Wort
  15. Dog Appeasing Pheromone, (Adaptil) Cat Appeasing Pheromone (Feliway)
  16. ?
  17. ?

Now that is what I came up with in a few minutes.  I will add more when they come to me.  But the list being so exhaustive tells me one thing - it is a complicated problem which we still don't understand the right solution to.

And reading the comments of pet owners online about the problems they have with their pet, is they want something that is going to work the first time that they ever use it, perfectly.  That is, their expectation is that when they use something, their dog will be perfectly normally and act normally.

This brings on a funny story ... a few years ago, a client requested some sedatives for her dog on New Years Eve, as previously he goes crazy, he paces, whines, salivates etc... those who have anxious pets know what I mean.

  This year, she wanted something to settle him down.  So I dispensed medication for him. A few months later when I saw her I asked her how her pet went.  She complained that the medication didn't work at all for her pet.  I said "I am very sorry to hear that, what actually happened?"

Her reply was "Nothing.  He acted like he normally does." 

"Oh," I said. "So he was stressed despite the medication. That is most unusual, and I am really sorry that it didn't calm him down."

Her reply floored me. "No, he just acted normally. He played with his ball, ate his food, did all of the stuff he would normally do. But he wasn't sedated at all. He didn't lie down to sleep, until his usual bed time."

Well, in my opinion, the medication obviously achieved what I expected it to achieve - which was the dog was calm despite the fearful noises of fireworks around him.  The client however, was not happy about a calm dog, as she expected a sedated dog.

What people need to realise is that the fear that a pet experiences has developed over time, and there is nothing that is going to eliminate that fear in a single step.  But, what we can do is edge the pet closer to normality but making it seem that the "scary thing" is not so scary, each time they experience the "scary" event.

As an example - say the first few times you use something, such as Adaptil, during a scary event, your pet may not be outwardly calmer.  But inwardly, a memory is being laid that perhaps the fearful thing is not so fearful after all.  And each time one of those newer memories are being laid, the older more fearful memories become weaker.

This is desensitisation. I know, but not in the traditional sense. We traditionally used CD of noises, but we know that fails in some cases as pets generalise their fear to the smell and the feel of a thunderstorm, not just the noise.

 There is no quick fix, no magic potion, no pixie dust or magic wand I can wave to fix the fear that a pet feels with thunderstorms or fireworks.

But there are solutions, usually a combination of things, that need to be applied each time possible, to make your pet learn to cope. And they are in the list of 40 (if I can find that many) things that are listed above.

The only quick fix is euthenasia, and in many cases, this is the best solution for the absolutely fearful, anxious dog.