Tuesday, February 14, 2012

T-storms Take 3: Seeking Sustainable Solutions

Our first full summer with Bella brought with it the realization that Bella has a (not entirely irrational) fear of thunderstorms. Initial attempts to address that fear in consultation with our vets were not a total bust but also didn't present a viable, long-term solution for us. At least we would be able to use the Daizepam (valium) while we continued to seek out more sustainable solutions. Solutions that didn't include turning our dog into a poster child for the zombie apocalypse.

For those who are worrying, thank you. We do believe we have found a solution that works for Bella (that I'm sure will be quite thoroughly tested next season). In the meantime, I wanted to write this series explaining the various options available and our experience with them in hopes that some folks going through the same thing might find it helpful. Perhaps a little bit, maybe?

This installment is going to focus on the non-prescription medications and natural remedies we tried. Next week I will finally get to the topic you've all been waiting for: the Thundershirt and the Storm Defender Cape as well as a few miscellaneous notes on desensitization, exercise, diet and music.

So our search for a gentler, kinder means of helping Bella cope returned the following results:

  • Melatonin

    Melatonin is a hormone intimately connected to the regulation of sleeping/waking cycles in both humans and animals. I have to admit, this worked very well actually, the first time we used it and is something we will use going forward during less intense storms.
    Pros: Works very fast, made Bella drowsy and calm without turning her into the walking dead.

    Cons: Can't be used long-term, can have mild side effects like diarrhea, nausea and vomiting. Because Melatonin signals the brain that it's time to sleep, it's not really effective during the day. And the wrong dosage can actually increase anxiety and restlessness. Can cause dependency.

  • Benadryl

    Primarily an anti-histamine, Benadryl can also act as a potent sedative. Another tool in our war chest, we continue to keep it on hand for use during somewhat more severe storms when the Melatonin wouldn't be quite enough. (Also handy for run-ins with bees!) It is important to note that only the pure form containing Diphenhydramine as the single active ingredient (sans any additional decongestant or cold/sinus ingredients) should be used.
    Pros: Fast acting, helped her sleep without the horrible "morning after" side effects.

    Cons: We didn't experience too many cons but this is a drug and as such, there are always potential risks. It can interact badly with other medications so talk to your vet before giving it to your dog if they are on ANY medication.

  • Herbal/natural remedies including: Dr Foster and Smith's Ultra-calm (tabs and treats), Vita-Treat Pet Calm, Wagatha's Organic Dog Biscuits "Bedtime Biscuit", Bach flower essences (Rescue Remedy)

    These various "natural" remedies are made of ingredients such as valerian root, passion flower, chamomile, black cohosh, ginger, etc...

    The Ultra-Calm was rather effective and can be given daily - a definite plus but is "not for continuous use. Give for 7 -14 days at a time." Comes in a supposedly "yummy" dog treat formula but Bella wouldn't touch them. We got the pills down by sheer force of will (and peanut butter).

    None of the other products had much of an effect one way or the other so I have to give some cred to Dr F&S's claim that their unique inclusion of "milk protein hydrolysate" might have made a difference in the tablet's efficacy.

  • Dog Appeasing Pheromones (D.A.P.): Collar, spray and diffuser

    D.A.P. is said to mimic the pheromones produced by a mother dog to calm and reassure her puppies. Perhaps Bella was separated from her mom too young for this to produce the intended affect but we found it, in all its forms, less than effective. At least it didn't provoke any negative effects so that's a plus.

So, did we miss anything (other than the Thundershirt ;)? Have you tried these or other products like them? Did any of it help or are you still hiding with your scared-y pup, too? Let me know in the comments and in the meantime, we'll meet you in the basement.

And just in case it's necessary, here's the disclaimer: I am not a vet. PLEASE talk to your vet before giving any medications or other drugs to your dog. Also, please note, I have a dog and have not spoken to a vet or researched the use of any of these products for other animals.


  1. Poor Bella (and her humans)!  A few random thoughts.  

    The greyhound folk are big on melatonin because it helps with hair growth (or, repairs butt baldness) :-).  I'll check with them on dosage, long term use (which I think they do -- not good) and if they notice a calming effect.

    Our second dog Zak (yes, the saint borzoi >sigh<) had the opposite reaction to Benedryl -- up for about 2 days.  I think that's unusual though.  And I've probably already told you about it.  Twice.

    And, because I'm starting to be interested more in flower essences -- if you get a chance, head over to greenhopeessences.com and read about their Animal Wellness anxiety mix.  Sheryl Benson uses a lot of their essences.  They're really reasonably priced, and I'm thinking of getting a few more for my massage clients --  so I could throw in some anxiety remedy....

  2. Poor Bella! 
    Dachshund Nola

  3. We used DAP to great effect for separation anxiety- but we had one of the air freshener versions and left it plugged in in the garage at all times, not just when the dogs were in there. And that was the recommendation at the time. I can't imagine just a little spritz from a spray bottle working.

  4. That's such a hard one..I know how scared Bella must be. I hope you find some relief!

  5. At least you've got some backup things for Bella here.  It looks like some of these were partially successful.  I'd love to get my hands on some Melatonin for Beryl's bald bum!!  Can't buy it over the counter here in New Zealand.  I probably could get some online but it might not get through customs.  

    Still waiting for the last installment;)  I'm dying to know what you had the most success with.  

    Did Bella have a great birthday?

  6. Poor Bella! We used to spend stormy nights or days in our basement with our late basset Barney with everything we could think of turned on to try and drown out the thunder!

  7. Bella, be strong!! Thinking of you!

  8. This is a great idea to share your experiences with others. I feel lucky that I've never had a storm-reactive dog. But I understand it's quite a challenge.

    I attended a workshop by a dog behaviorist who spent a bit of time on this issue. Apparently some dogs climb into the bath tub when a storm is coming. It's believed the porcelain helps to counteract some of the charge in the air when a storm is coming. So the behaviorist suggested the bathroom might be the most comforting setting when a storm is coming.

    Of course, then you wouldn't be able to watch tv together during a storm. You don't have a tv in your bathroom, do you?

  9. Hey Bella,

    Sending you hugs, hope you don't have too many storms buddy, I'm lucky cos we really don't get many here - in fact this winter we've hardly even had any rain!!

    Big wags,

    Your pal Snoopy :) 

  10. Interesting that melatonin works so quickly  . . I've taken it (as a sleep aid) without much relief and always felt like I had a hangover the next morning! We used the vita-treats and they didn't help and I think Cali is immune to Benedryl (after years of taking it for allergies!)! I'm happy to hear that you have found something that works! I'm looking forward to hearing about it!

  11. We use melatonin for Eleanor's baldness too. Weird how it works.

  12. Hi Cindy,  The first night we used Melatonin, I wrote Debbie Jacobs on Twitter and basically proclaimed her my god for turning us on to it. :] Strangely it has not had the same effect since but having her fall asleep DURING a thunderstorm was just an amazing thing.   

    Believe it or not, we've seen the two different reactions to Benadryl in Bella.  I think she responds better to it at night than during the day which is frustrating because it leaves us searching for a daytime option...  

  13. Yeah, she's pretty pathetic during storms (and during snow blowing) but we're trying very hard to make it easier on her.  We're getting there. :)

  14. I'm pretty sure the "diffuser" is the "air freshener".  I think a lot of folks have great success with it.  Even the collar, which is ALWAYS there for the dog works for certain dogs. Re: the spray, you spray it on the dog's bed etc so it's right there for them in the places that matter.
    I think the reason it doesn't work for Bella is that it's supposed to represent a time of peace and security (i.e. - nursing) but if Bella's mom was as much a street dog as Bella, nursing wouldn't have been a particularly peaceful time in her life...  It's great to hear it works for your dogs though.  It's a pretty reasonable option for a lot of people.  Thanks for sharing that insight!

  15. We think we have found a combination that works for her.  It'll definitely be tested this coming season but at least we feel we have options now. :)

  16. Exactly, Sue - we have options.  And different choices we can make based on different circumstances.  It's still a process but at least we're not in that dead panic all the time now. :)

    Bella had a pretty nice birthday - although I think she's not feeling too great and has been acting up as a result. Ah well, you know, it would be our life without a little commotion in it. ;)

    You really can't buy melatonin over the counter?  Geez, you can buy it like candy around here.  I'm going to have to look in to why the big difference... It's raised my curiosity. 

  17. LOL - that's actually been a new problem for us. We had some work done in the basement and the storm noises aren't being drowned out like they used to be. Arg - it's always something isn't it?  :)

  18. Thanks Christine.  It's winter so - fewer storms. Thankfully. :)  But April is coming quickly. :)

  19. LOL - we barely have a tv in the basement.

    You've hit on the key of what we were missing with Bella - the electricity in the air - which is part of our final solution (oh dear, I don't like that phraseology.) Tune in next week when... 

  20. I honestly never knew there were parts of the country that didn't get storms the way we do.  That's what I get for living my whole life in New England.  From what I've heard the Washington/Oregon area might not get lots of storms and we're giving serious consideration to moving there. ;)

  21. Ah - yeah, never thought about how Benadryl might not be an effective option for dogs already taking it for real allergies.  Thanks for that bit of info - it makes sense.

    I get bouts of insomnia - really (really, really, really) bad bouts - and have had my share of experience with melatonin much to the same effect you saw but, for whatever reason, the first time we gave it to Bella was a freakin' miracle - she didn't just fall asleep during a thunderstorm, she did so at the foot of our bed (unheard of!)  We have not had that same level of success since but we've had some so we'll continue to use it as we can...  I thought we had found the be-all/end-all that first night though.  Too bad it wasn't all that...

  22. I will never proclaim to understand how something that calms fears also heals baldness - I'm just glad that there are some folks out there figuring this out for us. :)  

  23. we tried almost all of those, too, for crazytown over here. the DAP worked well for us--so well that we no longer need it. we also found that the herbal/natural calming treats didn't really do much. however, the Composure treats that we use for calming work amazingly well. desmond doesn't have fear issues, though, so i'm not sure if that makes a difference. have you ever tried Composure?

  24. Composure is one we haven't tried.  Since Bella is on other prescribed medications right now, I'm leery of giving her anything without consulting her behaviorist first but will bring it up with him to discuss interactions.  Thanks for the rec.

    I'm so glad to hear a report that the DAP worked (for you as well as shanendoah above).  I don't think Bella's time with mommy was as relaxing as it would need to be for the DAP pheromones to be associated with happier times.  (Pretty sure she was born of a stray so mom would have been under quite a bit of duress.  Not the the happy memories nursing is generally made of.)  That's the only thing I can think of but who knows...