Summer thunder storms can provide relief on a hot day, but they also strike terror into the hearts of many dogs. Now, a solution might be at hand. Veterinarian Peter Eeg tells Here & Now‘s Robin Young about a new drug and other tactics for calming your pooch.
Interview Highlights: Peter Eeg
On why dogs are scared of thunderstorms
“It’s a great question, and the broader aspect is what’s called noise aversion. And that has to do with the fact that various scary noises that can frighten small children, and even adults, can do the same to animals. One of the situations is a very simple, rudimentary reflex, and that’s called the fight-or-flight syndrome, and what happens is your noradrenaline levels build up and when they reach a certain threshold it says to your brain, ‘Look you either have to take care of this situation or get away from this situation.’ And that’s what creates the panic-like situation that occurs with some people in thunderstorm situations or other noise-associated situations, or in dogs especially.”
On how dogs become scared of thunderstorms
“Thunderstorms are a unique creature. There are pressure changes, there are very low frequency and high frequency sounds. There are very, very intense lights, and then the rain itself — many times it’s just the sound of rain and hail. All those relay into factors.
So a young dog will have been exposed to this or the mother of that dog will have already had a fearful event, and she will then confer to the young dog, ‘Look, when this happens you need to be fearful.’ And then they hear those sounds and they become fearful associated with those sounds. And sometimes what happens is dogs will generalize, they’ll hear the thunder and then they’ll hear a car backfire, and they’ll say ‘Well, the car backfire makes me just as scared as the thunder itself,’ and they’ll start to branch out in what they’re afraid of. So it can be a gateway to a lot of fears for dogs.”
On what’s different with Sileo
“Over 30 years in practice we have tried many, many things for dogs who have fear of noises, especially thunderstorms. We have recommend a number of different compounds, both naturally occurring compounds and chemical compounds. And they’ve had varying effects, but there’s been nothing that’s really helped stop the fear and the trepidation that occurs with thunderstorms especially, and other types of noise aversion in dogs.
My own dog, Ernie, who has since passed on, he was a perfect example. When the thunder would strike, you could just see that all reason went out of his little brain and he would just run in a straight line for hours, if possible, trying to get away from it. My own dog, Annabelle — who was one of the first dogs that got to experience this new compound, Sileo — she was the same way. She would try to crawl under me, on top of my head, get away from anything she could.
One of the beautiful things about this medication is that it relaxes them and it calms them without sedating them. It allows them to continue on in their normal fashion so they can still hear you, they can get up and walk with you, they can do other things. It just alleviates that terrible fear and terrible stress that occurs when they break over that threshold and start to become panicked by those thunderstorms. It’s one of those compounds… It’s a once-in-a-generation compound, I think. I have fought for 30 years trying to help my canine friends with these different types of fears associated with noise, and this compound really works. I’ve had it now for about two months, and it has just been released to the general veterinary community.”
On Sileo’s potential side effects
“That’s one of the most important things for your listeners to know is that this is a prescribed medication. You have to get it from your veterinarian. You have to bring your animal to your veterinarian. You have a conversation with them, an examination making sure that your pet is healthy.
This drug is in a class of drugs that blocks noradrenaline release, and so one of the other effects of this drug in higher concentrations is actually as a pre-anesthetic sedative. And ‘ve used this drug for many years in the surgical situation, sedating dogs and getting them comfortable before surgery and using it as pain medication during surgery. In its micro-dosing, it goes in between the gum and the cheek, and it’s released in that fashion, and in that fashion its effect is much more minimal and it affects the release of noradrenaline and by stopping that it stops that panic situation these dogs find themselves in.
One of the things to know about these compounds is they all have effects on the central nervous system, and so that’s why it’s important to talk with your veterinarian before you administer it. Don’t just get it from your neighbor and try it without doing it. Because if your dog has significant heart disease, or kidney disease or liver disease, you’ll want to know about that, because this drug may not be right for your pet.”
On what else you can do for your dog in a thunderstorm
“I can tell you the most important thing to do is not to cuddle them and coddle them and give them that, ‘Oh it’s OK, it’s OK.’ Because what you’re doing is you’re informing them that I am stressed and because I am stressed when this is going on, it’s okay for you to be more stressed. You want to go through your normal activity like nothing is going on, ‘Hey would you like a treat? Hey, why don’t we go sit down over here?’ That’s the most important thing you can do. Now you have a dog that’s developing these fears and these phobias, then there are some natural compounds that you could use, Composure, which is made of naturally occurring compounds, one of which is milk colostrum, calf colostrum, and they have naturally calming effects. The same compounds that are in turkey, that after you’ve had your turkey dinner and make you want to fall asleep in front of the football game. They have those compounds in them also.
Benadryl has some sedating effect, but much more minimal than people would think, and there are other compounds available also. I think that anytime you start to see your dog develop that situation talk with your veterinarian first. They will give you initial steps to take. One of things you talked about were thunder shirts. They wrap them around them, and they do is they remind the dog when he was a puppy and he was able to cuddle underneath his mom’s arm and feel safe.
The other thing you can do for your dogs is find a room in the house that doesn’t have an outdoor window, and has a door and can be dark and you can place them in that room while the storm is going on, so number one they can’t see the lightening, it’s hard to hear the thunder and they don’t perceive any other problems going on. So there are some other easy steps.”