Dogs, Fireworks, and Thunderstorms: a non-authoritative guide to saving your sanity

My nine year-old German shepherd, Eli, is afraid of thunder and fireworks.  This problem didn’t seem to manifest itself until she was around 6 years old, and it’s become worse with every passing year.  During one particularly bad storm season, we went through a phase where she was even afraid of the sound of raindrops, just by association.  During her phobic attacks, she paces, whines, tries to hide, climbs things she shouldn’t, pulls stuff off countertops, and clings to me so closely that I sometimes trip because she’s literally standing on my shoes.  She wants to be able to hide in a small area so I’ll often put her in the laundry room with the door closed, the exhaust fan on, and even a radio plugged in, but if she’s too worked up she’ll lose bladder control.  Even if the pile of clothes in the laundry room is dirty, you still don’t really want your dog peeing on it.  Sometimes she’ll calm down if I lie on the couch and get her to lie on top of me, but, she weighs 103 pounds and it’s not the best solution.

I’ve noticed that some people have found my blog with searches related to dogs and fear of loud noises, so I thought I’d write up this little post about how we’re working to solve the problem.  I know I’ve spent hours searching Google for things like “Xanax dosage for dogs” and all I find is spam, so I hope this entry will be easy to find and helpful to someone.  It’s almost the end of the 4th of July weekend (WOOT!), but there are plenty of thunderstorms in the future, and there’s always December 31st.

If you’ve got a dog who’s afraid of thunderstorms and/or fireworks, my first suggestion is that you try buying a few Farnam Comfort Zone with D.A.P. Plug-In for Dogs and placing them around your house (one is supposed to be able to treat a 600 sq. ft. area).  They won’t fix the problem, but they might help take some of the edge off the problem.  Since plugging them in a week ago, Eli has shown improved ability to tolerate daytime firecracker noise, so I’d say that’s about a 10% to 20% improvement.  I’ve linked to because their online price is great, but be forewarned that if you try to buy the plugins in the actual Petsmart retail store, you’ll pay almost $20 more!  Print out the webpage and take it into the store with you, and they’ll price-match.

As for meds, we had zero luck with the old standard, acepromazine.  Even at a high dose, ace just made Eli look stoned, with droopy, runny eyes, and a bit of drooling.  She was wobbly when she walked, but didn’t seem anything close to “calm”.  Luckily, we have a vet who’s willing to try different things, and she was very receptive to our requests to try Valium (diazepam) and finally Xanax (alprazolam).  The Valium was given at a dose of 10mg initially, and there was no reaction (although it did seem to stop Eli from losing control of her bladder).  We then consulted with the vet and upped the dose to 30mg, but again, the reaction was negligible.  I actually found that the optimal dose of diazepam for Eli was 20mg (every 8 hours), but we still weren’t getting full and complete abatement of her anxiety symptoms.  We then moved to Xanax, which was prescribed at the incredible dose of 8mg every 4 hours.  That just floored me, as the one time I was prescribed Xanax by a doctor I was given just .25mg, but it’s been pretty obvious that dogs and people react to benzos differently!  The 8mg of Xanax has been the most effective med yet, although Eli’s still in no state to be left home alone.  She still whines and paces, but doesn’t seem quite as “upset” as she used to.  She also recovers from her anxiety much more quickly after the big, bad noises have ceased.  Despite the fact dosing is every 4 hours, the alprazolam seems to have an effect for about 8 hours.  It makes her extremely wobbly on her feet, and she’s almost fallen down the stairs a couple of times, so I’d only recommend giving these meds to your dog if you can be around to supervise.  As today is the actual “4th of July”, I might try to up her dose to 10mg, as Plumb’s Veterinary Drug Handbook lists the suggested “storm phobia” dose as .2mg/kg up to .4mg/kg.  That’s another thing to remember—there’s a huge dosing range for these drugs, so if one dose doesn’t work, ask your vet if you can increase it.  Never be afraid to ask!

Long story short, if you’ve tried acepromazine for noise phobia and it doesn’t work, ask your vet to prescribe Valium or Xanax instead.  If one doesn’t work, try the other.  If your vet refuses to prescribe anything other than acepromazine, you might want to try to find another vet who’s more sympathetic.  There’s no reason for you or your dog to suffer through fireworks and thunderstorms, and no reason a vet can’t prescribe the proper medication.  Your vet probably won’t have diazepam or alprazolam in stock, and you’ll have to get a written prescription to fill at a local pharmacy.

I hope this is a bit helpful, and perhaps encouraging for someone who has a dog who suffers from fear of loud noises.  These meds may not allow you to leave your dog home alone, unsupervised, but they’ll make your time home together a bit more tolerable.  Don’t forget to do one “test run” before you actually need to medication your dog for a legitimate reason, as these meds sometimes have an opposite effect and can make your dog hyper instead of calming it down.  Alprazolam, for example, seems to remove all inhibitions from my Anatolian shepherd and he reverts to “naughty puppy stage”, so be forewarned.

Posted by Leigh-Ann on 07/04 at 03:58 PM

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  1. Our JRT had never been afraid of thunderstorms or fireworks until recently.  These past few nights were hard on her and she was exhibiting the same behaviour as Eli (climbing up on me, shaking, etc).

    What is interesting is that she did not have this problem until she turned six, as well.  I wonder what is up with suddenly developing the fear of loud noises at six years of age?

    Posted by Expat  on  07/05  at  09:20 AM
  2. I think I read (or was told by someone), that the new fear can be a result of changes in hearing.  I don’t know if that’s true, but it does make sense.  Maybe they start to hear lower-frequency sounds or something, so the “booms” are more obvious.

    Posted by Mudpuppy  on  07/05  at  03:18 PM
  3. You know, that would make a LOT of sense. 

    It used to be that when we came home, Rip would be at the door to meet us.  Now she sleeps through our homecoming and we have to go and find her.  That could definitely have something to do with her hearing as well.

    Posted by Expat  on  07/05  at  03:34 PM
  4. Wow, this is sooo helpful! Our German Sheperd, Border Collie, Mallamute mix is a 90 pound ball of anxiety when there are thunderstorms, loud booms etc. In the car, using the windshield wipers ellcits the same reaction. We’ve been using 1mg Xanax prn with minimal usefulness and recently added Anafrinil 100mg 1x per day. Anafrinil is a tri-cyclic antidepressant and I really do not feel good about using it but desperate times… Now I think that we shoud increase the Xanax instead. Our vet is clearly under-dosing.

    Posted by Joslin and Inga Stevens  on  06/01  at  08:15 AM
  5. Yeah, the Xanax dosage for dogs is enough to lay us humans out flat for a week.  Tell your vet to check the Plumb directory for the dosing range.  You might also consider Prozac if you’re not happy with the Anafrinil.  Obviously you won’t see immediate results, but it might be worth it in the long run as your problem is so incessant.

    Since I first wrote this entry, my dog has turned 11 and is mostly deaf, so she doesn’t react at all to fireworks, and is only minimally bothered by thunderstorms.  I’m sad that she’s deaf, but she seems a lot more content.

    Posted by Leigh-Ann  on  06/05  at  10:43 AM
  6. yeah my golden retriever, who is 7 years old and suffers from bone and joint problems, she will bark at the window if a storm is 24 hours away.Shw developed this fear when she was about 5 years old…Thunder and lightning storms and fireworks. She knows and can smell it. She gets very anxious and is also terrified of 4th of July, the sounds fighten her badly and I will be giving her xanax starting now. She already knows this is the 4th, she can smell the fireworks and is already anxious. I will be spending the 4th inside making sure she is O.K.

    Posted by goldy  on  07/04  at  02:21 PM
  7. I have a 95 lbs coonhound that I rescued when he was about 12 months. He always had separation anxiety and can never be confined(not sure what previous owners did to hime). More recently the storms/gunshots/and fireworks have made him unbearable. I have considered finding him a new home but afraid they won’t understand him and something worse will happen to him. He has a dlp collar for his separation anxiety and it works for a while but nothing helps over 4th or during hunting season. He just goes absolutelyn nuts. NEED HELP OR HOME

    Posted by Sheri  on  07/05  at  04:25 PM
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