Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Thunderstorms: 2, Bella: 0

Last week I talked about how Bella's fear of storms and thunder was outside of my realm of expertise. It was panic, not just ordinary fear and it only subsided when I was able to make it appear to her that thunder had stopped. This little bit of trickery didn't really last long as the next thunderstorm that sent us scurrying to the basement was far more dramatic than the first and I couldn't quite drown out the noise.

First things first

Not really knowing what our options were at the time and being in the height of thunderstorm season here so limited in our time to explore them, our first recourse was our vet. They must have seen cases like this before, they must have ideas, experience, something that could help her.

I love our vets so please don't take this badly but they are pretty traditional types and that, along with not really having seen what Bella was going through and perhaps not understanding the depth of her fear, led them towards the traditional route of medicating her during the 'events'. Unfortunately, the first thing they prescribed for Bella's fear was Acepromazine. They gave us four pills. We have 3 left. Here's why:

I did some research at my go-to blog for all things scaredy-dog, and found this article about Acepromazine by Debbie Jacobs over at fearfuldogs.com. Reading this article now breaks my heart for what we put Bella through. Yes, once the medication kicked in, she seemed calm (downright vegetative, in fact) but her sensitivity to noise and storms afterwards ascended to new heights. Essentially, we took a dog that was afraid of something, did nothing to calm her fear and then paralyzed her ability to react to it. Nice. (I will get over my guilt someday...)

Round two

This is your dog on drugs...
(Not really, that wouldn't be nice.)
Armed with this information, we went back to the vet to discuss some of the recommendations in the article, primarily the use of Valium. On the bright side, our vets know us and know we're going to question them after we've had a chance to do our own research. We are, after all, ultimately the ones responsible for Bella's health and well-being. (This is why we do love our vets - they expect, and allow, us to challenge them.) We left that afternoon with an order for Diazepam.

And that did have the effect of helping Bella to rest if not actually sleep during the storms - if we got it into her in time. So while we were relatively pleased with the result, here's 'the rest of the story':

  • The drug must be taken 1 hour prior to an event. That's pretty tough around here where storms can move in over a matter of minutes, not to mention half of them happen when you're asleep.
  • It turned her into a zombie and she slept for hours afterwards.
  • As a result of her zombie-fication, we obviously couldn't use it on a daily basis over the course of the storm season.

And so it goes...

So Rounds 1 and 2 went to the thunderstorms and our search for something that could help Bella when she needed it to, continued. I can recommend folks talk to their vets about Diazepam if they live in areas where thunderstorms are fairly predictable and/or the storm season short-lived. Our season is essentially April - September so it's a bit long to leave a dog on hard-core tranqs for the entire thing.

And since it appeared this was going to be a long-term challenge, we began looking into less drastic means of helping Bella cope. In the next installment, I'll discuss our attempts to use natural supplements and scents to stem the fear.

To be continued

I know from last week's comments that lots of my readers are dealing with thunder/storm phobias. Have any of you used either of these drugs and, if so, what was your experience? Are you still using them? Did they help/hurt? I'd really love for this to be a discussion because, while things are better in some ways, we've still not found the complete solution. Ever learning...


  1. I wish you luck dealing with Bella, the poor baby. Medicating always sounds a little harsh, but I hope you find something that will soothe her without any bad side effects.   Would it be crazy to try and get her used to the noises by playing thunderstorm recordings?  Not sure how that would work.

  2. That is so interesting! I did not know that dogs could take Diazepam.

  3. Have you considered trying a Thundershirt?  No drugs involved.  http://www.thundershirt.com

  4. Ooh - hi Helen - thanks for that reminder (something for me to cover coming up). We did try desensitization and it actually worked for things like fireworks but has been rather less successful with storms.  (Apparently there are more forces at work during storms than just the noise.)

  5. Hi Bassetmomma,  

    We were actually familiar with Diazepam for dogs from when we used it for my Lab. He had epilepsy and, in his later years started having cluster seizures. It was prescribed to help get them under control in conjunction with the phenobarbital he was taking.  Seems it has many uses.

  6. Hi Yulaffin,

    Thanks for visiting. We have tried the Thundershirt (I'll be covering that in a future segment) and the Lab rescue I volunteer with uses them almost religiously but it didn't really work for Bella. (There's apparently more going on with Bella's reaction to the storms than just the noise phobia.)  

    We have had better success with the Storm Defender cape http://www.stormdefender.com/ but I'll get more into that later in the series.

  7. I did hear a lot of good things about the thundershirt too.  Everyone on here seems to rave about them!

  8. Hi Finn.  Boy, I'm going to have change up my scheduled post for next week to talk about that darn Thundershirt already, aren't I? LOL ;)

    I highly recommend the shirt - for certain dogs, in certain circumstances and with the right preparation. It even helps Bella for certain things - just not thunderstorms. (Go figure. ;)

  9. We gave our cats Acepromazine when we drove cross country - one of my cats could barely stand up, two of them seemed relaxed, and one was manic - it was horrible and we just toughed it out the rest of the trip and went drug free :) We were doing it to help them relax, but of course, we felt like terrible parents . . .

    I'm so sorry about Bella - would you consider moving to some place like Oregon? We rarely ever have thunderstorms! :) (just kidding!)

    We used a t-shirt on Cali (before the thundershirts were out) and it only seemed to help a little. I imagine that the vibrations from thunderstorms probably contribute to her fear. If only they could talk to us!!

  10. My blehniem cavalier gets anxiety when a storm is closing in or from fireworks but is settled when he is able to just go in his own quiet place which is his kennel he sleeps in.  Hope everything gets better for bella

  11. LOL - I would LOVE to move to Oregon. Unfortunately, I'm not sure the rest of my family would like to go with me nor would the beautiful gardens Jan and I have worked so hard to develop here. ;)

    Thanks for sharing your experience with Ace. I was mortified to read about it's effects AFTER having already given it to Bella.  

    (From what I've read, some of the other influencing factors with thunderstorms are things like static electricity in the air as well as changes in the barometric pressure.  It's much more complicated for some animals than just noise.)

  12. Hi Debbie, Have your tried the Thundershirt everyone here is talking about? http://www.thundershirt.com Sounds like your little one gets anxious but is coping. The swaddling nature of the shirt might be just enough to help take the edge off for him.

  13. Kootenai Summit PostJanuary 31, 2012 at 3:44 PM

    Oh dear!  It sounds like you are doing a lot of research!  I hope you figure it out and Bella is not afraid anymore!

  14. Well I was going to mention the Thunder Shirt, but looks like you already tried that!  There is one thing I will say about it though...during really bad storms where there is lots of lightening, we do have to put Bandit in a room where he cannot see the lights from the lightening. 

    I hope you find something that works for Bella soon!  


  15. We're working on it, Koot, we really are. :)

  16. LOL - it just goes to prove how well-versed in all things dog my readers are. :)  But you all are killing me - I'm trying to make a series out of this and everybody's jumping ahead to the punchline. ;)

    That bit about the lightening might be partly why the basement has always "worked" to a degree for Bella - no windows. It's definitely a consideration.

  17. Good luck with Bella! Have you tried videoing when Bella freaks during a storm so you can show your vet? Our perhaps have Bella wear a snug shirt? That helps me a lot
    Dachshund Nola

  18. We got Bongo an Anxiety Vest at the end of our last thunder season. It's similar to the Thundershirt. It seems to calm him down and he did manage to not destroy anything when he was home alone during one storm. I don't know how bad the storm was at the house - it was very loud where I was. The real test will be next summer when our thunderstorm season returns.

  19. We have no real experience of Valium other than many years ago when Mum was looking after a friend's dog. Dog bit a stranger that they walked past (she was on a lead -what a nightmare!) and vet prescribed valium to calm her. It knocked her out so effectively she fell down the stairs. No harm done, fortunately. Whole thing was eventually resolved by dog owner buying bitten woman a new coat... Mum says overall it might have been better if she'd taken the Valium! Deccy x

  20. Hi Leslie and Bella,

    I was also gonna suggest the Thundershirt as I've read lots of success with them, sorry it didn't work for you.......

    I haven't had this problem, so I'm stuck on ideas - I hope you work out a solution and in the meantime I'm sending you lots of fluffy hugs :)

    Your pal Snoopy :)

  21. Yeah I suppose thunderstorms are really more of a whole phenomenon as opposed to fireworks.  Bella can probably sense the change in the air itself, which would make it worse over fireworks because she can sense it coming.

  22. I was also going to suggest the Thundershirt.  Bella's lack of success wearing it is interesting.  Thankfully neither Frankie or Beryl have a huge reaction to thunder and fireworks and I feel so sorry for Bella and other dogs (and their owners) who do.  And I can imagine how you felt giving Bella the drugs and not enjoying their result.  

    I hope someone suggests something you haven't tried that works for Bella:)

  23. Haven't thought about videotaping her before - that's not a bad idea, at least then the vets would have some idea of what we're facing here...

    I'm glad the snug shirt works for so many dogs - what a revelation that has been. It helps Bella with some things but we found it wasn't the answer for thunderstorms.  It's still a marvelous discovery for fearful dogs.

  24. This past fall we did finally find a combination that seemed to help Bella, but like you, will have to wait until summer to see if it really works. We get the occasional thunderstorm in winter but this winter has been so mild, it's doubtful that will happen.  

    Do you know the brand of the vest you bought?  I'm wondering how similar (or dis-similar) to the Thundershirt it is. (There's a reason the Thundershirt didn't work for Bella very well and I'm curious if the anxiety vest you have has the same "design flaw".)

  25. LOL - I'm sorry but you know, I almost added the exact same line as your last to my post. roflmao - I'm beginning to think if these drugs won't help the dog, maybe they'd at least do me some good. ;)

    That's a terrible experience you have there - all the way around. Yikes.  When we first gave my Lab the Diazepam to help control his seizures, he developed what they called ataxia (stumbling, tripping, etc).  It went away after a week or so but it was rather unnerving.

  26. I'm so glad to hear that that you don't have to worry with this, Snoopy.  (I was beginning to think ALL dogs had to!)

    I should let everybody know that we may actually have found something that helps - a theory we'll test next summer - but one that might at least get us to where we can work with her to make the experience a little less extreme.

    But keep sending those hugs anyway - we love 'em! :)

  27. Oh that experience with the first drug - when I read about it, you don't ever want to feel like that. :(

    We knew we were adopting a scared-y dog when we brought Bella home from the shelter so whatever we're going through with her is to be expected.  Believe it or not, I actually wanted a 'special needs' dog (having had one before) so, while I realize this series sounds like I'm whining, I really don't mean for it to.  I'm hoping ultimately, that our experience can help someone else somewhere down the line avoid our mistakes and get to a solution faster. :)

  28. We never tried Ace for the thunderstorms, but we did use it as a travel drug at one point. It worked, but I hated how groggy Bella was after, so we don't use it anymore.

    We tried doggy Prozac when Bella had noise phobia from our horrible upstairs neighbors, but it just gave her stomach problems and didn't calm her down.

    I look forward to hearing what else you find out...

  29. i was just thinking about how desmond isn't all that concerned about thunderstorms, but he HATES fireworks or any loud noises like that (hammering, clapping, banging, swatting bugs on the wall). i wonder why he wouldn't be nuts about both. not that he LIKES thunderstorms, but he's less affected by them. he seems stressed but will stay with us during a storm. with random loud noises, he heads for the hills.

    in fact, i may look into getting those zombie drugs for 4th of july and the surrounding days, especially since we'll be on vacation at that time and desmond won't be in his own home. so, thank you for posting about them.

    on a side note, WHY do drugs that only inhibit a dog's ability to react to stress exist? why would anyone want to have their dog suffer like that? i mean, i completely understand giving them a try w/o realizing/knowing the facts about them (we are all entitled to make mistakes considering none of us are pros), but what about the people who continue to use them after? i mean, i like a calm quiet house, too, but not at the expense of my pet's mental well-being. so many people use these for separation anxiety, too, and that makes me want to hide under my desk and cry.

  30. Oh darn, I could have sworn I had already written a well thought reply here. I hate it when that happens.

    But the gist of it was: what we've found in researching both storms and Bella's reaction to them is that it is, as you say, a 'whole phenomenon' that's involved - from the static electricity building in the atmosphere, to the dropping barometric pressure. It's been a real learning experience. 

  31. That's interesting that Des has a stronger reaction to noise than storms.  Actually, Bella responds badly to both -- we just now have different approaches to dealing with each.  :\

    Hold that thought about the drugs for 4th of July - there are a bunch of options and I promise I'll finish this series before then. ;)  You might get even more ideas out of it. 

    I think the Acepromazine works fine for certain situations - more as a  'chill pill' than for anxiety.  In the article from fearfuldogs.com, Debbie mentions it being useful to calm the exuberant Lab before he goes to the vet...  Not addressing fear, just addressing the crazy Lab-iness that can make it difficult to sit and wait patiently in a room full of other dogs.  In that case, Ace is probably a wonder drug.  The fact that it's still prescribed by vets in fearful dogs is a grave concern to me, however.  I wish I knew how to fix that.  :(

  32. Poor Bella's sensitive tummy must make it hard for you to try things out on her.  Sorry to hear that.  

    I think Ace works fine for certain situations but it really did impact Bella much more substantially than even the Valium did.  I'm not surprised your Bella had a similar reaction.

    Bella takes a low-dose of Prosac twice daily now - not for t-storms specifically but it has helped her tremendously at least be able to exist comfortably in her own skin.  We're lucky to not have had problems with her tummy over it.  Thanks for the heads up on that though.