March 12, 2017

WVC 2017: Tips for Addressing Noise Phobias and Motion Sickness in Pets

At WVC 2017, Bernadine Cruz, DVM, discussed how motion sickness and noise phobias with pets are more common than many of us think.
By Karen Todd-Jenkins, VMD

Motion sickness and noise phobias are more common than many of us think, according to Bernadine Cruz, DVM, with Laguna Hills Animal Hospital in Laguna Hills, California. Helping pet owners discuss these problems was an important topic of discussion at a Zoetis-sponsored session at the Western Veterinary Conference in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Identifying affected pets is an important first step toward treatment, but Cruz noted that most clients don’t bring up these issues during a veterinary visit, and many blame themselves for the problem. Cruz said, “If I say I have a dog or cat that’s having a behavioral issue, it looks bad on me. I must be a bad owner.”

Some pet owners simply don’t recognize the problem, because pets demonstrate stress subtly. Even for pets that show signs of anxiety, pet owners can’t always decipher what their pet is telling them. They may misinterpret clinginess and other stress-associated behaviors as simply “normal” behaviors for their pets. Subtle changes like pupil dilation may be missed completely.

Pet owners also don’t always understand how daily activities can contribute to stress for their pets. For example, traveling in a car can be stressful—especially when the pet’s normal association with a car ride is something unpleasant, like a visit to the vet’s office or grooming salon.

Noise anxiety can even result from mundane activities like running a vacuum cleaner. Other common causes of noise anxiety in pets include fireworks, thunder, gunshots, road work, and shouting.

But how common are these issues for pets? Cruz maintains that 1 in 5 dogs in the US have motion sickness, but only an estimated 6% of clients tell their veterinarian about the problem, leaving the vast majority of pets untreated. Similarly, an estimated 40% of dogs with noise aversion don’t receive treatment. 
What Can You Do?
Cruz stresses that it’s up to veterinarians to help clients discuss these issues. According to Cruz, the human-animal bond has gotten attention in veterinary medicine lately, but the human-human bond is also important. “If the pet owner trusts you, [and] believes in you, they’re going to be more compliant and want to come to see you…Veterinary companion animal medicine involves taking care of both ends of the leash.”

Cruz commented that when this approach is taken, everybody wins. The animal wins because its needs are taken care of, the pet owner wins because the human-animal bond is strengthened, the veterinarian wins because client compliance improves, and the practice wins because of client visits and revenue.
Cruz gave a few useful tips for fostering this relationship:
  • Have a relationship-based approach toward client communication and patient care. Be sure to engage in “dialogue” with clients, instead of being the one doing all the talking.
  • Make sure the client’s concerns are addressed during the conversation so the client feels that he is part of the agenda.
  • Work to develop a rapport with the client and pet. This includes making the pet and owner both feel more comfortable, not shying away from physical contact, and making eye contact with the client. 
  • Try to catch behavioral issues early in the pet’s life. Medications such as maropitant for motion sickness and dexmedetomidine oromucoasl gel for noise aversion can help some pets, but delaying treatment can stress the human-animal bond. 

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