Animal health companies clamor to provide noise relief for dogs

Scared dog
Several companies, including Zoetis, have developed products to help fearful dogs.

Just in time for July 4th fireworks, Texas-based Animal Health Technologies (AHT) has launched a new wearable for dogs that’s designed to relieve the anxiety that loud noises often provoke. The product, called Calmz Anxiety Relief System, is a vest that stimulates calm-inducing acupressure points on a dog’s spine. It’s the latest in a string of noise-aversion products invented by everyone from small players to animal health giant Zoetis ($ZTS), which introduced a sedative called Sileo (dexmedetomidine) in late May.

But veterinarians and other animal experts are divided on the question of whether these products are really necessary. Peter H. Eeg, a veterinarian in Maryland who has prescribed Sileo, told the New York Times that the optimal solution to noise aversion is to desensitize dogs when they’re young by playing recordings of loud noises and positively reinforcing calmness, say with treats. Most pet owners, of course, don’t do that--and then they’re left with a very real problem that doesn’t just manifest on July 4th, Eeg said.

Take thunderstorms, for example. “There are significant pressure changes, frantic winds, massive electrical discharges, concussive sounds,” all of which are more disturbing to dogs because of their acute sense of hearing, Eeg told the Times. “Dogs can hear above and below our auditory range.”

Hence the booming market for products like Sileo. The drug, which comes as a gel that can be placed inside dogs’ cheeks, inhibits the brain chemical norepinephrine, which is often fingered as the cause of anxiety and fear responses. In the past, veterinarians may have prescribed drugs like Valium and the anti-depressant Prozac, but Sileo was the first drug approved by the FDA specifically to treat canine noise aversion.

The drug is likely to by in demand from dog owners like Rebecca Roach, who lives in Maryland with her skittish miniature Australian shepherd, Stella. During one thunderstorm, Stella was so afraid she jumped on Roach’s chest in the middle of the night. “My instinct was to comfort her, so I held her until the storm passed,” Roach told the Times. But that’s not necessarily the ideal solution, some dog behaviorists say, because fussing over a pet might reinforce the idea that the loud noise is something to be feared.

Still, noise aversion is not a problem that dog owners should take lightly, veterinarians say. July 5 is reported to be the busiest day for runaways at animal shelters, and veterinarians often get frantic calls from dog owners whose pets got stuck in hiding places, or worse, ran off into oncoming traffic to try to get away from the noise. “It’s very serious,” said Melissa Bain, an associate professor of clinical animal behavior at the University of California at Davis veterinary school, in an interview with the Times. “It’s a true panic disorder with a complete flight response.”

In two pivotal studies of Zoetis’ drug conducted on New Year’s Eve in Europe, 75% of dogs taking the drug responded positively to it, while there was only a 33% response in dogs taking a placebo, according to the company. Zoetis estimates that one-third of dog owners report that their pets are averse to loud noises.

As for AHT, its CEO, Buddy Snow, says he was inspired to create a non-drug solution to noise aversion by his black Labrador retriever, Miles. "After trying various options and seeing limited improvement, we decided to develop our own solution,” Snow said in a press release. The Calmz vest produces vibrations at “calming frequencies” that dogs can hear and feel, the company says. AHT is making the product available online and through veterinarians.

- here’s the New York Times story 
- read more at the Washington Post
- get the Animal Health Technologies press release here

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