As Independence Day approaches, Teddy becomes more anxious. Teddy is our 11-year-old golden retriever, and he still has not come to terms with the noises of the holiday in particular and summer in general. We can feel his distress. For no apparent reason he begins to breathe more heavily. He doesn’t remain in his guardian position near the front door of the house throughout the night but seeks to sleep in one of our bedrooms alongside the bed. During the night he will get up and push against the mattress, tossing his head as if seeking comfort in the form of a few reassuring pats. This happens repeatedly throughout the remaining hours of sleep.
Clearly that doesn’t go over too well with whichever one of us he has awakened. But just try shutting the bedroom door to keep him out, and he will go into another routine. He knocks with his paw, his nails tapping against the wood. When that gets no response, he throws his body against the door two or three times. If admission isn’t granted, he begins to cry, loudly and piteously.
At that point Teddy wins.
While we have been aware of his unease, it was not until we read an article about “noise anxiety” in dogs that we actually understood this behavior was part of a seasonal syndrome and not just the expected reaction to the firecrackers going off on July Fourth.
Think about it. With the advent of more beautiful weather, we humans get outside more and do things like mow the lawn, blow the leaves, drive back and forth frequently, and play outdoor games like baseball or even catch amid screams and laughter. Air conditioners switch on and off and summer storms with rolling thunder and crackling lightning come and go. With the far-more-acute hearing of dogs, is it any wonder that such bursts of sound can send them into panic? They can hear far beyond what we can hear, so the volume of what to us is a deafening storm must be like a rock concert on steroids to their ears. This excites their norepinephrine, the brain chemical that triggers a fear response, and they sometimes do frantic things to try and escape what they perceive to be great danger. They may become agitated hours before a storm arrives, and they may continue to shake for hours after the offending storm leaves. No wonder their nervous systems cannot easily calm back down. A few comforting pats in the night just doesn’t do it for them.
There is a new medicine, as reported by The New York Times, which is the first drug approved by the Food and Drug Administration to counter what is now officially termed “canine noise aversion.” It is called Sileo, distributed by Zoetis, and it works by inhibiting the effects of norepinephrine. I don’t know how you feel about administering medicine, but I prefer the loving, comforting approach so far.
There is one room in our house that is quieter than the rest because of its location, and I might take Teddy there and sit with him as I read, if all else fails. There is even a cot in that room. That seems to work — for him and for me. But depending on the severity of the dog’s discomfort, medicine may be required.
Meanwhile there is a movie coming called, “The Secret Life of Pets.” For those of us who enjoy animals and even tend to treat them like humans, the trailer looks amusing, so I recommend the film.