Monthly Archives: June 2009

  • Before Drugging Your Dog, Try a Thundershirt - Dogs, Clomicalm, and Clomipramine

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    We’ve all seen the array of pharmaceutical commercials saturating primetime television, opening with idyllic, computer-rendered home or landscape scenes to evoke a calm that is quickly bracketed by an often exhausting list of possible side effects. In humans, the choice to take pharmaceuticals is still one that demands care and caution – but there is still that element of choice, which is absent, in this case, from your dog. You remain the sole arbiter of whether or not to drug your dog, and the information available, as well as the presence of government regulatory bodies may both fall terribly short when contrasted with human medicine. If you love your dog, it may be vitally important to educate yourself about anything you’re going to offer him or her.

    As with humans, there are a wide range of medical conditions a dog can suffer, ranging from the mild and annoying to the dangerous and urgent. If your dog’s health is seriously threatened, any option with the potential of remedy is to be sought out, even if there may be some undesirable side effects in tow; but if your dog is suffering from a condition that is real, but not immediately dangerous, make absolutely sure that the medicine doesn’t produce worse side effects than the actual problem you are trying to medicate!

    An example: Dog Noise Anxiety Disorder. It is now recognized by a large body of publications and a majority of veterinarians as being a legitimate condition affecting millions of dogs, but if you have a dog who goes crazy during thunderstorm season, you don’t need a vet’s diagnosis to know the dog is unhappy and considerably disturbed. Fireworks, vacuum cleaners, and even ambient construction noise can all lead to a sudden agitation of this condition, provoking in your puppy a wish to flee from the startling sound, and provoking in you a pity for your pet that will probably lead you to wonder what you can do.

    Do some research online or speak to certain vets and you’ll probably encounter suggestions to treat Dog Noise Anxiety Disorder with Clomicalm, along with other drugs touted as “Puppy Prozacs.” Clomicalm is a brand-name form of Clomipramine, which is a Tricyclic Antidepressant. Originally developed for human usage, Clomipramine is considered, according to Wikipedia, as being a “second-line treatment” due to its having more serious side effects than the SSRIs more commonly administrated as anti-depressants. The list of contraindictions for Clomipramine is intimidating enough for administration to humans, and the list of side-effects, doubly so:

    • central nervous system: Often, fatigue, dizziness, lightheadedness, headaches, confusion, agitation, insomnia, nightmares, increased anxiety, seizures (0.5% to 2%, see above), rarely hypomania or induction of schizophrenia (immediate termination of therapy required), and extrapyramidal side-effects (pseudoparkinsonism, dyskinesia, rarely tardive dyskinesia) are noted.
    • Anticholinergic side effects in different grades of severity are quite common: dry mouth, constipation, rarely ileus (paralysis of the large intestine, life-threatening), difficulties in urinating, sweating, precipitation of glaucoma (may lead to permanent eye-damage or even blindness, if untreated). The incidence of dental caries may be increased due to dry mouth.
    • antiadrenergic side effects occur very frequently due to strong central and peripheral blockage of alpha receptors: hypotension, postural collapse (when patient is rising too fast from lying or sitting position to standing), arrhythmias (sinus tachycardia, bradycardia, AV block, rarely other forms of cardiac problems). Preexisting heart insufficiency can be worsened.
    • Allergic/toxic: skin reactions and photosensitivity with increased frequency of sunburns are seen in a few percentage of cases. Rarely liver damage of the cholostatic type, hepatitis, and leukopenia or other forms of blood dyskrasia are seen, also severe acute allergy including difficulties in breathing, skin reaction, chest pain etc.
    • Other side effects may include heartburn, weight gain, but also nausea and bruxism - teeth-grinding while asleep - (the latter due to the strong inhibition of reuptake of serotonin). article

    It’s frightening enough to risk these side effects for yourself, when doctors have pages and pages of studies for exactly what dosage to take and what to watch out for when you take it – but for your dog, the dose may be not nearly so precise, and more pressingly, unless your dog is from a Pixar movie, you cannot ask it about its internal state. A condition that causes deep internal distress or pain to your dog may only be manifest as a slight fatigue, or even not at all. Your dog doesn’t know to report symptoms or changes in its experience – and so Clomipramine may be ten times the gamble in a dog as it would be for a human, where it’s already considered a last option to treat humans.

    Another notable difference is that in humans, where it’s already only resorted to if other drugs fail, Clomipramine is used to treat conditions that may be disabling and immediately life-threatening. Although dogs with noise anxiety can be dangerous to themselves in storm situations, there is no way this danger is comparable to deep depression in humans – and so, for treating dogs, these side effects are not in parity with the problem.

    If you’re searching the internet for information on helping your dog’s anxiety through storm season, make sure and search past those drug-company websites and go a few pages further to find actual pet-owner experiences. This is a good rule of thumb for any treatment you’re uncertain of, and in the case of Clomipramine, take note of all the dog owners who report that loss of personality, loss of energy, of liveliness - then, ask yourself if there isn’t a better remedy to your dog’s anxiety than one that risks liver damage, nervous system problems, and the alteration of all that which you love about your dog.

  • Pressure Wraps for Dogs

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    What are pressure wraps?

    Many dogs suffer from behavioral issues and mental conditions that arise from fear and anxiety. The pressure wrap is an approach used to modify the behavior of dogs using a technique called “Controlled Pressure” to help calm the sensory receptors. When used properly it has been shown to end fear of loud noises, thunderstorm fear , dog aggression, shyness, nervousness, releasing stress & tension, end jumping, car sickness, unnecessary barking, , sensitivity to touch, sensitive to sound, aloofness, emotional upset, hyperactivity, grooming issues and other anxieties. It is a non-drug treatment for dog anxiety and just like slipping on a shirt. Dogs that display symptoms of anxiety can now be calmed by wearing these pressure wraps.

    Why are dogs afraid of thunderstorms?

    Fear of thunderstorms is common in dogs, and tends to get worse as they age. It is partly genetic. Too many dogs are left outdoors during storms, sometimes with no shelter at all. Anyone would be scared with good reason. Thunderstorms and the accompanying electrical energy disturbs dogs on a level most of us do not understand. The loud noise is scary to some dogs, and the dog can hear it at a much greater distance than humans can. The dog has early audio warning of an approaching storm, and most storm-phobic dogs eventually start reacting long before the sounds are loud. The smell of the air changes when a storm approaches, and of course the keen nose of a dog detects this early. The air pressure changes, too, and a dog's ears are more sensitive to pressure changes than most people. In some cases, it might hurt.

    Phobias generally become worse, not better, with repeated exposures. Dogs with mild noise phobia may look anxious during thunderstorms, tremble, hide under the bed or in the bathtub, and be afraid to go out of doors for hours after the storm has passed.

    How it works?

    The wrap applies slight pressure or maintained pressure across a wide area of the body, stimulating the body's receptors to help in transmitting different sensations to different parts of the brain. When the animal receives this new information, it's awareness & focus can change, resulting in the animal "letting go" of the old sensation and modifying its behavior.

    The Body wrap does the following for most dogs suffering from noise anxiety:

    1. The physical sensation of wearing the wrap distracts the dog from focusing on her fears, and
    2. Being wrapped gives the dog a feeling of safety and comfort.

    Soon after putting on the wrap, your dog will likely settle down and relax. Many dogs will lie down and weather the storms with little to no further symptoms of noise anxiety.

    From a more scientific perspective, according to neurobiologists, many types of traumas can cause nerve damage, leading to dogs having exaggerated responses to stimuli such as loud noises. Applying constantly maintained pressure with the body wrap provides an unchanging, quieting stimulus that allows the dog to relax.

    Temple Grandin and Tellington Touch:

    Two resources have researched the issue on how pressure soothes.The first source is TTouch practitioners. TTouch was developed by Linda Tellington-Jones to help train horses and relax the horse's mind and body. It was eventually adapted for other animals too. It uses a system of specific touches, and stretches to relax the animal, and increase body awareness. Getting in TTouch with Your Dog by Linda Tellington-Jones illustrates many techniques for wrapping an ace bandage around a dog to enhance “your dog's sense of his own body and makes him more confident in his movements and behavior.” One of the tools used to continue TTouch benefits for a longer time is a body wrap.

    The second resource is the famous autism researcher Temple Grandin who was herself an autistic child. Inspired by how cattle calmed down while being gently squeezed in a chute she developed a “hug machine”. As stated by Temple Grandin "after seeing cattle being put into a squeeze chute that held them still so they could get their shots. When I saw how calm the cattle got from the pressure on their bodies, I built my own squeeze machine, and it calmed my anxiety the same way." The hug machine helped maintain constant pressure and proved to be effective in soothing the anxiety of autistic people. On the same lines a pressure wrap is a way to give the maintained pressure and contact that the dog craves for in times of anxiety.

  • Dog Noise Anxiety (part 2 of 2)

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    Change the Dog’s Environment. These are the “common sense” simple things to try if feasible for your circumstances. Try creating a safe haven for your dog (such as a blanket-covered crate) or finding a location that will reduce the noise level. Try turning on music or the television to help mask the sound of the problem noise. If you know an event is coming (e.g. thunderstorm or fireworks), try giving your dog a lot of exercise beforehand. None of the above typically shows dramatic results, but they can help to reduce symptoms.

    Pressure Wraps. This is a surprisingly simple and effective treatment for many dogs. But unfortunately, most veterinarians have never even heard of it as a treatment for noise anxiety. A “pressure wrap” is anything that wraps around the dog’s torso and chest to provide a constant, gentle pressure. Why does it work? No one knows for sure but it’s likely a combination of making the dog feel comforted and secure plus distracting the dog from concentrating on whatever it fears. You can try to make one yourself out of an appropriately sized t-shirt, but it can be difficult to put on and to get the desired fit. I like a product called Thundershirt ( It’s very easy to put on, is well made, and is the least expensive commercial wrap available…just $36 the last time I looked. And Thundershirt offers a satisfaction guarantee..if it doesn’t work for you, you can return it for a full refund. Pressure wraps often show good results with the first usage, however some dogs require 2, 3 or more usages before you see reduced or eliminated symptoms. A pressure wrap is inexpensive, the least time consuming, and has no risk of negative side effects. So why not try it?

    Behavior Modification. sensitization is the most common behavior modification tried for noise anxiety. In a nutshell, in a controlled environment, you begin by exposing your dog to a low level of the noise that bothers her. As she gets accustomed to it, you increase the levels louder and louder over time until she learns to tolerate the real deal. It’s good in theory but has limitations in practice. It’s very time consuming…if it works at all for your dog, you will likely have to give periodic treatments weekly for the rest of the dog’s life. And many dogs are too smart to react to the “staged” noise; they can tell the difference between a CD playing a thunderstorm and the real thing. If you want to give it a try, several books are available on the subject.

    Medications.This is a very involved, complex area of treatment, so I won’t pretend to provide a thorough overview here. There are a variety of prescription medications that your veterinarian may suggest. Some are administered on a regular basis for the life of the dog (Paroxetine or Fluoxetine). Some are given only at the time of an anxiety event (valium). Sometimes a combination of drugs are used…a doggy noise cocktail. Any of these options tend to be relatively expensive. The vet visits alone can run hundreds of dollars over a dog’s life. And you still need to pay for the drugs! Plus all drugs pose the risk of unwanted physical side effects, sometimes severe. Make sure you ask your vet about any potential risks with the drug(s) you’re considering. Two serious issues I have with using a sedative like valium: 1. It can take hours for the drug to take full effect, so you have to anticipate the noise event for it to help. Not very easy for storms that hit in the night. 2. Your dog will remain groggy for hours after the storm has passed and be a danger to herself. If she tries to jump off a bed under the influence of valium, she may very well break a leg!

    In conclusion, you don’t have to let your dog just suffer through noise anxiety. There are treatments to try and some do not require a big commitment by you, either time or money. At a minimum, you should try mixing up the environment and using a pressure wrap. In combination, that may be all you need for your little “puppy” to weather the storms symptom free!

  • Dog Noise Anxiety(part 1 of 2)

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    It may be much more than “Just A Noise” to your dog!

    When young children hear a scary noise at night, they often run to their parents. The response is usually something like “Don’t worry. It was just thunder.” Or “It was just a noise. Nothing to be frightened of.” Unfortunately, for a dog that is afraid of noise, no amount of explaining or consoling will help. Noise Anxiety is a very real and very common problem for dogs across the country. The estimates vary widely, but somewhere between 5 million and 15 million dogs suffer from noise anxiety severe enough for their owners to seek help. That’s a lot of anxiety! Below is a brief overview of canine noise anxiety including symptoms, causes, and remedies. If your dog suffers from noise anxiety, there are choices available to help relieve her stress. Unfortunately, many veterinarians are not well versed on the different treatments out there and jump to prescribing medications. Make sure you do your research before settling on a plan. But believe me, your dog isn’t alone in her fear and you can help her!


    Noise anxiety can exhibit many symptoms and severity levels. On the less extreme end of the spectrum, a fear of thunder may just cause some shaking and clinging to her owner. On the other extreme, thunder may cause panicked running, destructive chewing, defecating indoors, or even jumping through a plate glass window! The table below lists many of the known symptoms. Review the list to see which symptoms your dog may exhibit. Some owners aren’t even aware that a negative behavior they are seeing is actually caused by noise anxiety. For example, does your dog get upset when you take photographs using a flash? That may be noise anxiety! The flash may remind your dog of lightning and she becomes frightened that a storm may be coming.

    Symptoms of Canine Noise Anxiety

    Shaking / Trembling



    Pacing / Panicked Running

    Whining / Barking

    Deficating / Urinating Indoors

    Destructive Chewing

    Clinging to people



    Not Eating

    Squeezing into a tight place


    Determining what caused your dog’s noise anxiety may be difficult to pinpoint, if not impossible. If you’re lucky, you may be able to trace the start of your dog’s anxiety to a traumatic incident such as being too close to a fireworks show or too close to a lightning strike and its subsequent thunder clap. But more than likely, it won’t be anything that obvious. Your dog may have a genetic predisposition for noise anxiety. Studies have shown that some breeds have a higher incidence of noise anxiety such as Collies, Golden Retrievers and German Shepherds. For some dogs, noise anxiety gradually appears and worsens as they age for no apparent reason. For other dogs, it appears as a puppy and stays with them.

    But one thing that most experts agree on… when it comes to noise anxiety, you never want to pet, coddle, or otherwise console the dog when she’s exhibiting symptoms. Your dog will most likely interpret your behavior as “You see! I do have something to be worried about!” It’s important for the people around the dog to behave normally during events that trigger the dog’s anxiety. In fact, a possible cause for noise anxiety in the first place is her owner’s nervousness or fear of some kind of noise. Most dogs are very sensitive to their owners’ moods. If her owner has a fear of thunder, she may give her owner the benefit of the doubt!

    What your dog is actually experiencing with noise anxiety could also be numerous things. For some, it may be just the noise that bothers her…a dog’s hearing is far more sensitive than a person’s and some loud noises may even cause physical discomfort . But for others, it may not even be the actual noise that frightens the dog. Dogs have highly developed senses of smell…they may smell a thunderstorm long before they hear any thunder. Dogs are more sensitive to barometric pressure changes than people…wide swings in pressure may even cause pain in some dogs. Dogs also may react to the buildup of static electricity in their fur when Thunderstorms approach.

    Whatever the case may be, there are treatments to consider for giving relief to your dog.

    Treatments for Noise Anxiety

    So what are you to do? Different treatments work for different dogs. There is no guarantee that any one alternative is best for your dog. Besides the effectiveness at reducing symptoms, there are other issues to consider when evaluating which treatment may be best for your dog. Some treatments can be very time consuming for the owner (for example, desensitizing). Some treatments can become very expensive and pose risks of side effects (for example, ongoing medications). I suggest that you review the options below. If you are just getting started with treating your dog’s noise anxiety, I recommend beginning with the least expensive and time consuming option (a wrap) and if that doesn’t produce the desired results, continue with the other options. It’s not unusual for a combination of treatments to ultimately be the most effective for a particular dog.

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