Sound Sensitivity – Part Three

WatchingSo. I realized that I wrote a “Part One” and a “Part Two” but never revisited the topic for a “Part Three”! So here we are, back on the topic of sound sensitivities.

A quick update on Arlo:

He had been doing amazingly well in Toronto until one day we were standing in Dufferin Park and a bus backfired. That sent him spiralling back into the dark abyss and we were once again back at square one. Using a BAT-type method on the street as mentioned in Part Two was quite beneficial (the set ups never really worked out). He could hear a scary noise and recover fairly fast and wasn’t triggering off the near-imperceptible sounds as he was previously. He was not happy about walking on major streets near loud buses/trucks/etc. and had a lingering issue of superstitious fear manifesting in a preference for walking on the right side of the street and not wanting to walk on a couple specific streets in the neighbourhood. However, when not encountering his triggers – sound or superstitious – things were getting better. In-city parks were a little here and there, particularly if they were bordering on busy streets, but parks out of the downtown core were deemed “safe”.

Since moving to Guelph he’s been a different dog. He hasn’t been this happy in a long time! He’s playing with toys a little bit (crazy!), and is just generally more silly than he used to be. He hasn’t had any issues walking on the street or through in-town parks. Granted, it hasn’t been fireworks season since we moved in November. So I guess we’ll see how his opinion about night-time pees change when the warmer weather comes!

Now, here’s the bad news:

Elsie has always been sound sensitive to very specific noises – most notably, hiccups and that Facebook message noise. She is also storm-phobic and during storm season that anxiety generalizes to the dark (Yes. She is afraid of the dark.). There was a notable change in her expression and behaviour as soon as the lights went out. Give her a couple storm-free months and this anxiety subsides.

Unfortunately, there was a winter thunderstorm last month. And then there was a violent wind storm about a week later. These two events have completely wiped her out. She is triggering off of wind, occasional outdoor noises (luckily not too often) and many noises made by our unfortunately nocturnal neighbour. When she is triggered she has a fearful – rather than reactive – response. During the day, she’ll huddle near me, wide eyed and with dilated pupils, shaking and hypervigilant. She seems sure that the danger is coming from the door to the shared stairwell to the basement so she tends to keep an eye on that door and occasionally sneak up on it to investigate. At night, she’ll also pant heavily and pace in circles on the bed (on MY bed, and heads are not off bounds as things to step or sit on!). It’s not easy to get sleep! She’s also become increasingly anxious at my departure, one day I returned to a very slobbery coffee table and some days to a showcase of frantic jumping and screaming.

The most difficult part of a sound sensitivity is that it is near impossible to avoid putting the dog over threshold. This is also the most distressing part, both for me and Elsie. Since nothing is 100% effective or reliable, I’m again using a mish-mash of strategies. I’ll outline them here.

Anxiety Body Wrap I’m using the Thundershirt specifically. Similar in nature to a V-shute for pigs and cattle, a Squeeze Machine for autistic children (look up Temple Grandin for more info on that), or a swaddle for a baby, a Thundershirt works on the premis that constant, gentle lateral pressure causes an endorphine release that acts to calm a person or animal. I happened to be watching a seminar by Dr Nicholas Dodman today where he discussed an experiment run with Temple Grandin at Tufts. Briefly: pigs were placed in a V-chute and, if left for a few minutes, settled significantly. They were then given an endorphine-block and again placed in the V-chute, and they found that the chute didn’t have any of the positive effects it previously had.

Head Wrap A head wrap is specific to TTouch. Borrowed from the link there, “They are not used to hold an animal’s mouth shut but rather to bring ‘awareness’ to the area. Like all other TTouch wraps the Face Wrap is about giving ‘feedback’ to the area of the body which helps release tension. The result is usually a calmer, more focused, confident and grounded being.” Elsie seems settled some times and bothered other times, so I wil use this selectively depending on her reaction.

Lavender Spray I first tried a teeny dab of Lavender essential oil on her bandana and saw no difference. I then tried diluting it, just a couple drops, in a spray bottle and have had MUCH more success. I spray her living area, but also a light mist over her (she flicks her ears, but does not appear to find it particularly aversive). When it works, the effect is often immediate, though short lived. It’s a helpful to have as an option, despite that it’s not entirely reliable in its effect.

Dog Appeasing Pheromone I’ve been using DAP spray on a bandana, and it seems to be hit and miss. I’m going to purchase a collar since I’ve been using it frequently. (I had the spray on hand for occasional use)

Calming Supplements and Meds Currently, Elsie is on a combination of Lactium (alpha-casozepine) and L-Theanine. Previously I’ve tried L-Theanine alone with no effect (however, I now understand that the dosage could have been significantly higher than I was using), and this week, Lactium alone with no effect. Since this morning she has been on a combination of the two which is usually acknowledged as a complimentary pairing. I’ll see over the next several days if it makes a difference (i.e. if I get any sleep!) I’ve also used Melatonin at night, however the effects seem to be lacking despite some success last summer. It will help her fall asleep, but she could be awake and anxious within an hour.

My ongoing plans on this front, if the above is not helpful, is to get a liver/renal panel (need to recheck that ALT anyway!) and consider pharmaceutical options – particularly for storm season.

Through a Dog’s Ear Through a Dog’s Ear is classical music that is psychoacousitically designed to calm dogs. I am playing this for that benefit and also to mask the neighbour’s noises.

Thyroid Re-test I’ve sent a sample to Dr Jean Dodds in the past for a thyroid panel and it came back at safely within the normal range. I will add a thyroid panel to the above blood tests and again send that for interpretation at Hemolife Diagnostics by Dr Dodds. Thyroid can cause many changes in health and behaviour, including a general lack of resilience to stress.

Food Toys Finally, I am attempting to keep her busy with Kongs and her Nina Ottosson toy at times when she is beginning to worry. This is a nice, self-soothing activity and has the additional benefit of classical conditioning. Occasionally she’s not keen on eating, but if she has a bit of help getting into the activity she’ll take it from there.

So, from one dog to another, the sound sensitivities around here never seem to end. Arlo’s triggers were all outside of the house… Elsie’s are all inside. She feels unsafe in her own home, which is a terrible situation. I have some hope yet for the supplement combo she’s on now (despite that she’s been unsettled for the duration that I’ve been writing this), and if that doesn’t work I will be investigating pharmaceutical options to add to this mix. Wish us luck!

Update (Feb 21/13):

I just got home from the vet clinic where we discussed meds. I got her liver/kidney results (ALT showing higher than previously, and a value that was not previously elevated is now), and waiting a couple days for the thyroid panel which I’ll be sending to Dr Dodds when I get a hard copy.
Considering her liver, I’m going to try out one last non-pharma option before getting a script for fluoxetine. My vet gave me a mix of Chinese herbs that is beneficial to both the liver and reducing anxiety. If this doesn’t have an effect in the next couple weeks I’ll be picking up that script and monitoring her liver values in the coming months.

2 thoughts on “Sound Sensitivity – Part Three”

  1. Hello there. I know it’s been more than a year since this was written, but I’d like to know how things are now…
    One of my dogs is also experiencing some phobia related with my neighbours’ sounds (not the louder ones, but the sounds of their steps, opening/closing indoor doors/cabinets, moving furniture) which never affected him, but for some reason (that we still can’t understand) it’s causing him to be very anxious and panick attacks for the last months (leading him to desperately shiver, pant, pace and wanting to escape at any cost from our apartment, even trying to climb from windows and terrace)… We tried almost everything and it seems he doesn’t get any better with calming meds, thundershirt, DAP, essential oils through the house (lavender, chamomile, ylang ylang, valerian, etc), relaxing sounds/music… nothing. Thyroid is Ok. The only thing is his ALT levels, which have been higher… So I’d hope you could tell me the name of those chinese herbs that are beneficial to both the liver and reducing anxiety…
    Many thanks!

    1. Hi Tania,
      The herbs were “Shen Calm” (also called “Calm Shen”). They did help Elsie for a period, until the first storm. I did use Fluoxteine (no change in her liver enzymes) for about 5 months and we also broke the lease on that house to get her out of there. The fluoxetine helped a lot, however her ‘character’ was like a wet blanket and it didn’t come back until we moved. That was a result of the chronic stress, not the meds. I also started her on alprazolam for storm season, and that was the key to preventing her anxiety from generalizing once again. She’s still storm-phobic, but she’s otherwise perfectly happy since we moved over a year ago. I found the other calming aids to be MUCH more effective once she started on fluoxetine.

      Arlo’s sound sensitivities are more persistent and he’s still managed in many scenarios. Shen calm has been helpful for him, as well, though not as noticeable as Elsie (pre-storm season).

      From what you describe, it sounds like it would be a good idea to connect with a qualified trainer and speak with them in conjunction with your vet to see if a medication would be an appropriate option. If you’re not sure how to find a trainer in your area, take a look at the Pet Professional Guild, Karen Pryor Academy or the International Association of Animal Behaviour Consultants. Ask the trainers you contact about their behaviour experience (versus obedience training experience).

      Sound sensitivities can be super tricky, particularly when they begin to generalize and when the environment is nearly impossible to manage effectively. Good luck!

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