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Ask Dr. Michael Salkin Your Own Question
Dr. Michael Salkin
Dr. Michael Salkin, Veterinarian
Category: Dog
Satisfied Customers: 29784
Experience:  University of California at Davis graduate veterinarian with 45 years of experience
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MY 11 year old aussie gets hysterical during lightening and

Customer Question

MY 11 year old aussie gets hysterical during lightening and thunder. I gave her 20mg of Lexapro. She whimpers and walks in circles no way to calm her down.
Submitted: 1 year ago.
Category: Dog
Expert:  Dr. Michael Salkin replied 1 year ago.

Poor Angel! Many noise phobias can be managed successfully with behavioral modification. The prognosis varies greatly depending on the individual, the duration of the phobia, the ability to control strong stimuli during treatment, and the success in finding an effective, controllable artificial stimulus to use during exposure exercises.

Successful treatment of thunderstorm phobias using only behavioral modification can be very difficult because of the presence of multiple stimuli, difficulty producing an effective artificial storm for desensitization, and inability to control naturally occurring stimuli during therapy.

If you're home with Angel when a mild storm occurs, it may be helpful to distract her and then have a "thunderstorm party". When she begins to show mild anxiety, you should ignore her and make an unusual noise (squeaker, whistle, tap table top, crinkle paper, clicker, e.g.) so she orients to the new sound and stops acting anxious. After about 10 seconds or more, but before she begins acting anxious again, you should jump up, run to the kitchen, and grab a handful of meat or cheese treats. Next, you should run through the house acting very animated, saying happy things loudly in an upbeat tone and tossing food about for Angel to eat. Unless the storm becomes strong enough to make her fearful and take her focus away from you and the food, the "party" will serve as a counterconditioning session.

As for anxiolytic drugs...the benzodiazepines (alprazolam, chlorazepam, lorazepam, e.g.) and tricyclic antidepressants (e.g. clomipramine and amitriptyline) may be helpful for difficult cases. The benzodiazepines are the best choice to use on an as-needed basis, and alprazolam (Xanax) may prove to be the most potent for panic-type responses, although its duration of effect may only be a couple of hours. Tricyclic antidepressants may take several weeks or more to become effective and are probably best reserved for chronic problems. A dose of benzodiazepine may also be added to the tricyclics on an as-needed bases an hour or two before a storm is expected. Other options are the use of D.A.P. (Adaptil/Dog Appeasing Pheromone), buspirone, or a phenothiazine tranquilizer (Acepromazine) given 1-3 hours prior to an anticipated storm (which doesn't reduce anxiety but may be sufficiently sedating to avoid the problem entirely). As SSRI such as Lexapro isn't recommended for this phobia.

Nevermind others who think you look silly running around the house throwing food about. Tell them you don't care what you look like. It's for Angel's sake. Please respond with further questions or concerns if you wish.