There is no “magic cure” for noise phobia in cats, but there are easy ways to reduce your cat’s fear.

Do you enjoy the power and light show provided by an electrical storm or the simple joy of watching fireworks on a warm evening? Many of us do, however, for many cat owners the stress their pet suffers (and the damage their pets might do to themselves and their surroundings), is anything but enjoyable.

Thunder, firecrackers, gun shots and other loud sounds can leave cats frightened and wanting to flee to a safer place, causing them to take risks (such as escaping) and doing damage to doors, walls and furniture.

When I first brought her home from the shelter, my smallest cat, Thistle — she’s a Scottish Shorthair, was absolutely terrified of thunderstorms, but using the methods I’ve described below, she’s now much calmer and no longer risks hurting herself.

I don’t know for sure why Thistle was scared of storms (maybe some long last ancestral memory of the noise of English military drums?).Most experts say that while a fear of particular types of loud noises can sometimes be traced to a particular event in your cat’s life, in most cases, the fear may have developed without any specific traumatic experience associated with the sound being able to be identified.

The good news is that, like Thistle, most cats’ fear-related problems can be successfully resolved using the techniques described in this article. If left untreated, however, your cat’s fearful behavior will probably only get worse.

In this article, I’ll be discussing the various techniques available to help your cat, and assist you to find the right strategy to deal with the problem. And while it might not be the one for you and your cat, I’ll tell you the one that worked for Thistle.

Before I launch straight in to those techniques, it is important to first understand the underlying causes and symptoms of your pet’s fear.

What causes fear of thunderstorms and other noises in cats?

No one knows for sure why some pets become afraid of noises; it is a common problem in cats but this problem can also be found in dogs, horses, ferrets, and other pets. The fear can soon become a phobia, which veterinarians and pet experts define as “A persistent, excessive, and irrational fear response in a [cat or other animal”.

In the case of thunderstorms, pets may also be fearful of storm-associated events such as a change in barometric pressure, lightning, electrostatic disturbances, and even smells associated with the storms.

Noise phobias in cats however isn’t just limited to thunderstorms. Cats can also be scared of other loud noises such as firecrackers, gunshots, and even the sound of birds!

A recent study has found that cats who had separation anxiety were more likely to also have noise and thunderstorm phobias.

A noise phobia can sometimes be traced to a particular bad experience of a noise. However often, no triggering event can be identified. In almost all instances, the fear of noises and storms escalates, worsening with each exposure. Soon the pet may become fearful of similar sounds or events associated with the noise. For example, a cat afraid of thunder may also become afraid of heavy rain.

Your own attitude can also influence the severity of the fear. For instance, if owners themselves are nervous during storms, noise phobias in their pets may occur more often or become more severe. Similarly, if you attempt to comfort the animal, the animal may interpret it as confirming there really is something to be afraid of. The petting or comforting is really positive reinforcement of an undesirable behavior.

What are the signs of noise phobia in cats?

Different animals may display different signs of noise phobias. Signs to watch out for in cats include:

  • Hiding (which is the most common sign in cats)
  • Urinating
  • Defecating
  • Chewing
  • Pacing
  • Trying to escape (such as digging, jumping through windows or going through walls, running away)
  • Seeking the owner
  • Not eating
  • Trembling or shaking
  • Dilated pupils
  • Excessive vocalizing (meowing)

Does your cat exhibit any of the above behaviours during thunderstorms, fireworks or other loud noises? If so, the techniques outlined below will probably help.

How is cat noise phobia treated?

There is no “magic cure” for noise phobia in cats, but there are ways to reduce the fear.

First of all, it is important to refrain from giving rewards or punishment.

Petting, consoling, or even saying, “It’s OK,” may be interpreted by your pet as a reward for the fearful response. By comforting a cat during a storm, for example, it you are signalling to the pet that the storm really is something he should be afraid of.

Similarly, your pet should not be punished for showing fear, because, this will only increase his anxiety levels.

Treatment should always include changing the environment, and behavior modification (yours and your pets). Sometimes treatment needs to include medication under proper veterinary supervision.

Alternative therapies are also available and we will be discussing a few of these later in the article.

Medication

Veterinarians are often asked for medication to assist a noise phobic pet. Medication should only ever be given on the recommendation of a qualified veterinarian and is generally not considered the first option to be tried.

Medication may be given individually or in combination. In some instances, the medication may need to be administered during an entire thunderstorm season. Others may be given when a storm or noisy event (such as New Year’s or 4th of July fireworks) is expected.

One common treatment is to give amitriptyline during the storm season, and valium when a storm is predicted. The valium or other quick-acting medication needs to be given prior to the development of any behavioral or physical signs of anxiety. If there is a chance of a storm predicted for the afternoon, the pet should start receiving the valium or similar medication in the morning. Pets who also exhibit separation anxiety may need a different combination of medications.

Several combinations may need to be tried before the optimum regimen for a particular animal is determined. Many of the medications that would be used on a daily basis, e.g.; Amitriptyline, Prozac, and Buspirone, may take 3–4 weeks to see an effect.

Consult your vet for further details on the options available. Before doing so, however you may want to try the other “non-drug” techniques described in this article.

Natural Treatments and Alternative Therapies

Alternative therapies have also been used with some success. These include melatonin and flower essences.

Melatonin

There have been reports that melatonin can effectively treatment noise phobia. In some countries, such as the USA, melatonin is available from at pharmacies over-the-counter. In other countries, such as Australia, purchase of melatonin requires a prescription. I would only recommend using Melatonin for your cat on your veterinarian’s advice to ensure correct dosing and individual appropriateness.

Research conducted in the US has indicated a positive effect of melatonin on pets afraid of thunderstorms and other loud noises. It is however still considered by many to be an “alternative therapy”.

Flower Essences

Individual flower essences are used to address a wide range of discrete emotional balances and are considered effective by many people. Remedies are matched to the specific mental and emotional needs of your animal.

If you want to try this method, any of Remedy, Calming Essence or Five Flower Formula are good remedies to start with to see if it calms your cat during a storm. If it does not help, during the next storm you can try one of the single flower essences. Working with essences is very individualized. It often takes a few tries before you hit upon the best one or the best combination.

If a combines remedy doesn’t work, you can try a single remedy. Two often suggested are; Mimulus, which is said to work for “fear of known things” and Rock Rose, for terror and panic.

If you’re home when a storm is approaching, administer a dose before and during the storm. If you see that your animal is still agitated or depressed after the storm, give the remedy again. If you try the Mimulus, for example, and notice a slight improvement, for the next storm try Mimulus again along with Rescue Remedy or Calming Essence. If you don’t see results with these two remedies, you may wish to try Aspen or Star of Bethlehem.

Homeopathic Remedies

Supporters of homeopathic remedies consider the homeopathic remedy Phosphorous PHUS 30C to be a safe and quite effective for some cats. Phosphorous PHUS 30C is available in health food stores. This is a natural compound, which is used for fear of thunder or loud noises.

Drop 3 to 5 pellets down the back of the cat’s throat (do not touch the pellets with your hand) every fifteen minutes until you start to see results. Then stop. You can resume giving the pellets if the dog starts to get agitated again.

If Phosphorous does not seem to work, during the next storm you may wish to try Aconitum Napellus 30C. Administer it in the same manner.

Personally I’m not a fan of Homeopathic remedies but many people swear by them.

Music Therapy

Some people have suggested that music from string instruments and in particular harp music may assist cats with thunderstorm fears. There are reports that vibrations and blended tones have assisted cats, wolves, dogs, monkeys, goats, sheep, donkeys and even gorillas.

Proponents of this technique believe that vibrations of the strings send out overtones — some of which are inaudible to the human ear. It has been suggested, although it has not been scientifically proven, that the harmonic overtones work at a cellular level and reduce stress levels.

Scientific studies do indicate the benefits of music therapy for humans: slowing the heart rate, lowering blood pressure, speeding post-surgery recovery, elevating endorphin levels, bolstering immune function, decreasing stress related hormones.

It is said that cats must hear at least three minutes of music for it to take effect. Generally at this point, most cats will start to sit down. Within 10 to 20 minutes, most lie in a resting state with some sleeping soundly.

Harp music in particular live harp music has been shown to be very successful. A good friend of mine who just happens to paly the harp has found harp music really helps her dog during thunderstorms. Unfortunately not everyone has a harp at home but if you play a string instrument this one might be worth a try. Otherwise harp music is available online and at most music stores.

Counterconditioning and Desensitization

Two techniques which have been proven to be very useful in changing animals responses to noises are called Counterconditioning and Desensitization.

Using Counterconditioning, your pet is taught to display an acceptable behavior rather than an unacceptable one as a response to a certain stimulus. In this way, a negative stimulus can become associated with a positive event. For instance, the only time the pet gets his most favorite treat, game, or toy, is just prior to and during a thunderstorm. Cats who enjoy traveling may be taken for a car ride, or cats who love catnip, may be given their favorite catnip mouse.

After a time, the pet will start associating an oncoming storm with getting to have her favorite thing.

Using the Desensitization on the other hand, the animal’s response is decreased while she is exposed to increasing levels of the fear-producing stimulus. For noise phobias, the animal is taught to be calm when the noise level is low, and then the noise level is gradually increased.

These techniques have been shown to have great success in dogs and horses, but less so in cats. If you’re a cat owner, you probably already know why :)

Hug Therapy

“Body wrapping” seems to calm and focus some anxious and stressed cats. Neurobiologists believe that any type of trauma can damage nerve receptors, leading to exaggerated responses to stimuli. By applying constantly maintained pressure, the wrap provides an unchanging, quieting stimulus that causes the receptors to adapt and modify their thresholds in a cumulative manner.

Cat behaviorists have developed a variety of techniques for “wrapping” a dog ranging from T-shirts to elastic bandage wraps. One of the easiest wraps for a dog owner to try is the Thundershirt — a sturdy, stretchy vest that hugs the torso.

Thundershirts comes in a variety of sizes and colors and are available at many veterinarians, and veterinarian owned online stores.

Pheromone Diffusers

Many cat owners report success with plug in pheromone diffusers. The most popular brand is called Feliway. Feliway is a synthetic copy of the feline facial pheromone, used by cats to mark their territory as safe and secure. Feliway helps comfort and reassure cats while they cope with a challenging situation or a change in their environment.

Using a similar principle to air freshener and insect repellent type diffusers, Feliway disperses a synthetic analogue of feline facial pheromones, which scientific trials have proven as an effective control for a range of behaviour disorders displayed by cats, including fear responses to noise and urine spraying.

When plugged into the cat’s environment, the Feliway Diffuser disperses the calming pheromones for up to four weeks. As pheromones are species specific, Feliway is not harmful to humans or other animals.

I’ve personally used Feliway to great success with my Thistle and I would definitely recommend giving it a try in combination with one or more of the other techniques in this article.

Environmental Changes

By making changes to your cat’s physical environment during the storm or noise, anxiety levels can be reduced. Changing the environment may reduce the volume level of the sound or help make the pet less aware of it. This is the technique (combined with the pheromone defuser referred to above) that made such a dramatic change to Thistle’s life.

The changes you should consider include:

Increase vigorous exercise

Most cats should receive exercise daily, and more so on a day when the fear-producing noise is likely to occur. The exercise will help to tire the animal, both mentally and physically, and may make her less responsive to the noise. In addition, exercise has the effect of increasing natural serotonin levels, which can act as a sedative.

Before a storm, I give Thistle a real good work out, using her favourite toy — where I come from, its called a Cat Teaser — basically a stick with a strong on one end, and the other end of the string has a small bundle of feathers.

Reduce or block the noise level

“White noise,” such as running a fan or air conditioner may aid in blocking out some of the fear-producing noise. Playing a TV or radio can have a similar effect. Allowing the pet access to the basement or a room without outside walls or windows may decrease the noise level. Closing the windows and curtains can also help reduce the noise.

Create a safe haven

Many cats feel more comfortable in a small space such as a crate or a small room like a bathroom (run the fan and leave the lights on to create “white noise”). Some cats seek out the safety of the bathtub or shower during a storm. Some people have suggested that a pet may feel less static electricity if on tile or porcelain although I’m not sure if there is any science behind that. If your cat is comfortable in a crate, the crate can be covered with a blanket to add to the feeling of security. The door to the crate should be left open and the pet should not be confined to the crate, which could dramatically increase the stress level.

Project a calm attitude

Cats are very aware of the mental state of their owners. If you are worried or nervous, this will add to the pet’s fear. Your cat will look to you for direction, so keep an “upbeat” and “in charge” attitude. This was an important part of Thistle’s treatment. My daughter was getting very nervous about how Thistle would react to the storm, and it is now

Conclusion

Fear of thunderstorms and other forms of noise phobia are common problems in cats. Using one or more of the techniques outlined above will help ease the fear and hopefully it will be as easy for you as it was for Thistle and me.

(*Please note: I don’t receive any commission or remuneration for recommending any of the products or services in this post. )

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Steven writes humorous and helpful articles about pets, online retail and business. He isn’t afraid to share his mistakes and help others avoid the same.

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Steve Perry

Steve Perry

Steven writes humorous and helpful articles about pets, online retail and business. He isn’t afraid to share his mistakes and help others avoid the same.

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