Q: Please help us handle our extremely frightened Labradoodle, Lacey. She gets self-destructive during thunderstorms, and we’re at wits’ end. Our veterinarian says that drugs don’t usually work and won’t prescribe them unless we see a specialist first, but I read there’s a new drug available just for calming dogs during storms. Where can I get some?
A: Storm phobia is a common problem among dogs here in South Florida. Hiding, seeking human company and shaking quietly are common early signs worthy of veterinary intervention. But unless dogs become seriously destructive, most veterinarians are uncomfortable prescribing “calming” drugs. Here’s why:
▪ Dogs can have adverse reactions to any drug, often more so to drugs that are designed to affect their behavior. In fact, some of these drugs can have an opposite effect to what we intend.
▪ These drugs often have a high human abuse potential. We have to be extremely careful every time we prescribe them.
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▪ Behavior modification through nondrug means has long been considered the gold standard for treatment of storm phobia. Since this is a progressive disorder, typically worsening with each successive storm season, early intervention and even prevention of storm phobia has long been considered the most humane approach.
Here are a few simple recommendations:
▪ Get your dog used to a crate early on in her life. Most dogs naturally gravitate to den-like shelters to ride out a storm.
▪ Get a Thundershirt-style anxiety wrap and use it during storms, whether shedisplays anxiety or not.
▪ Don’t reward anxious behavior by petting her each time she quivers during a storm. Paradoxically, this ramps some dogs up.
Unfortunately, most owners don’t know that even the earliest signs of storm phobia require intervention. Which is why owners often don’t seek help until they reach the end of their rope. At that end, they conclude, there will always be drugs to make things all better.
Luckily, we do have drugs that can help. Sadly, however, most severely affected dogs will not improve as owners expect them to once medication is employed. Not with drugs alone, anyway.
In fact, the drug you’re asking about, marketed by Zoetis as Sileo, is designed to be used in conjunction with a behavior modification program early on in the progression of the disease. Self-destructive dogs like Lacey should probably see a veterinary behaviorist.
Dr. Patty Khuly has a veterinary practice at Sunset Animal Clinic in South Miami. Her website is drpattykhuly.com. Send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.