Being afraid of the noise of thunder, fireworks and the like, is common in dogs, but less so it cats.  It can become an entrenched pattern, and depending on the severity, can lead to the development of a noise phobia. Phobias are excessive and irrational fear reactions, which are excessive and persistent. If your pet reacts nervously to noise, keep an eye on them in order to avoid it becoming a major issue.


In the case of thunderstorms, pets may also be fearful of not only the noise, but also the associated events such as lightening, barometric pressure changes, and even the smell of storms. Research suggests that certain breeds are more at risk of developing noise phobias, and the sporting breeds such as Bassett Hounds, Beagles, Collies, and German Shepherds, may be more susceptible.


What’s the best approach by owners?

There is some debate amongst the behaviourists regarding the most appropriate response by owners to animals who are frightened of noise, but it’s is generally accepted that owners can influence their pet’s reaction. Making a fuss about them has the potential to reinforce that the sources of the noises are a big deal. Worse still, if an owner behaves nervously, pets can pick up on this cue that they are indeed something of which to be fearful.


Over-comforting an animal, could have the same unwanted affect, although it is completely appropriate to comfort a scared animal. The best approach is to use your judgement, behave as normally as possible around your pet while storms and fireworks are happening, and comfort your pet as necessary.


What are the signs of being scared of noise?There are a number of different signs of noise phobia which include:

  • Hiding (common for cats)
  • Trying to escape (digging, jumping over fences / through windows), running away
  • Trembling or shaking
  • Vocalising (barking or meowing)
  • Urinating and defecating
  • Chewing
  • Panting or drooling
  • Pacing or searching for the owner
  • Expressing anal glands
  • Dilated pupils, not eating, or ignoring commands


Do not punish your pet for demonstrating any of these, or other behaviours, when they’re scared. They can’t help it, and punishing them for it will only make things worse.


Reduce the impact as much as possible

During storms or fireworks, you may be able to allay some of your pet’s fear by providing them a place where they feel safe, such as a quiet room. If they want to hide under the bed, that’s fine... let them go where they feel safe, provided of course that it is.


Making a bed for them that contains your scent can provide comfort. One of your unwashed shirts can be the perfect bed linen for a scared pet. Rooms with fewer windows, or with window coverings closed, will help to reduce the impact of flashing lights from lightening and fireworks, and also help to muffle the noise.


Other things that may help

Increase vigorous exercise: Increasing exercise on a day when fear-producing noise is likely to occur, will help to tire the animal and may reduce the responsiveness to the noise. Exercise has the added benefit of increasing natural serotonin levels, which can help your pet to feel calmer.


Reduce or block the noise: A noise that your pet is familiar and comfortable with, such as an air conditioner, TV or radio, may help in blocking out some of the fear-producing noise.


Shelters in small spaces: Some pets feel more comfortable in a small space such as a carrier, crate, or in a small room like a bathroom. If using a crate or carrier, the animal must be familiar with it, and the door should be left open. A blanket over the top may help to make your pet feel safer. If sheltering in a bathroom, light and ventilation will be required, as well as fresh water.


Good health and nutrition: Health issues may contribute to pet’s general stress levels, and increase their anxiety. Pre-existing pain and discomfort is likely to add to an animal’s irritability. Diets with too much protein have also been linked to behavioural issues. If you’re thinking of changing your pet’s diet, consult your vet for advice.


Maintain a calm attitude: Pets are highly aware of the mental state of their owners, therefore it’s important that you project a sense of calmness. If you are nervous or worried, it will add to your pet's fear. Your pet will look to you for direction, therefore always maintain a positive and “in-control” attitude.


There are special techniques that can be used to help change an animal's response to noise. If your pet becomes a little jittery on the few occasions each year when fireworks and thunderstorms occur, then the approaches above will probably suffice, but if your pet’s response to noise is affecting his or her quality of life, then it might be time to seek expert assistance. Consult a vet experienced in animal behaviour problems, and/or an animal behaviourist if your pet is showing signs of noise phobia. They can help develop a treatment plan for your pet.


What if you’ve found a pet that’s run away or become lost?

Sudden, loud noises generate a nervous response, similar to the mechanism that exists in people, and is responsible for the “fight or flight” response to stressful, or threatening stimuli. This can cause dogs to escape when afraid of fireworks and thunder - they can find fireworks in particular, absolutely terrifying.


If you’ve found a lost animal, you should firstly check for identification. If the animal has a collar, check for a tag. If there’s no phone number but a name, search the lost animal registers online such as RSPCALost Dogs of Adelaide and Lost Pets of South Australia. Even if you don’t know the animal’s name, a description and/or photo may be posted online.


Microchips leads to reunions

If this proves unsuccessful, an animal shelter can check whether the animal has a microchip and scan it to obtain the chip’s details, which can be searched against a database to identify the animal and its owner. Contact your local council to find your nearest shelter and to obtain advice on what to do. RSPCA and AWL may be able to assist, but it’s best to check with them first for advice.


Taking animals to a vet for identification should be a last resort. The influx of lost animals into vets over Christmas / New Year, brought by well-meaning members of the community, creates pressure on vet hospital resources. At this time of the year, vets need capacity to help sick and injured animals, and dealing with strays significantly reduces the resources they have available to do this.


Call first for advice

If in doubt about what to do if you find a lost animal, or an injured one, it’s best to call for advice before taking one to your nearest vet. If it’s injured, a vet hospital can provide advice on first aid, and your options. There is also information available online at RSPCA and AWL. Remember that the primary objective will be to reunite the animal with its owner in the fastest and most efficient way that is safe for both you and them. The phone and web are probably going to be your best resources to facilitate this.