Pets and Storms
Many pet guardians witness the terror that storms can strike in their pets. “Thunder phobia” most commonly develops in dogs between ages two and four years of age. This fear can manifest as a variety of challenging behaviors for dogs especially: hiding, whining, scratching, slobbering, or tearing down door frames in a state of panic—and it can get worse with age. It is important to remember is that dogs and cats suffering from thunderstorm fear is not misbehaving – They’re displaying symptoms of anxiety.
To help your dog cope with stormy weather here are some tips:
Vets and animal specialists aren’t certain exactly what part of a storm causes dogs the most discomfort: noise, flashing lights, or something else entirely. Some dogs may be worriers in general and panic at any change, while others may be overly sensitive to sound. Dogs also possess special sensitivities that make storms even more terrifying: dogs can sense the change in air pressure, and may hear low-frequency rumblings that humans can’t detect. Some vets also believe dogs experience shocks from the buildup of static electricity that accompanies thunderstorms.
• If there are windows in the room, close the blinds or curtains, or cover the windows so the dog can’t see outside.
• Provide a safe indoor area, like a crate. A plastic crate is preferable, but if you have a wire crate, you can cover it with a sheet to create the feeling of a haven. Leave the door open so the dog does not feel trapped.
• FYI: Hiding (as in a cave) is a natural psychological defense for dogs. Getting them used to a crate as pups has a tremendous influence on how comfortable they are when things scare them. Having a go-to place for relaxing or hiding away is an excellent approach, no matter what the fear.
• Play calming music to drown out the thunder claps.
• Stay with the dog.
• Try to distract your dog with treats and familiar games.
• If your dog seems most upset by sound, you can try desensitization. Practice playing a CD of “thunderstorm sounds” quietly to your dog, and give the dog treats or play a fun game with him while the sound is on. Gradually, over weeks, increase the volume. Stop the play or treats when the sounds are turned off. The goal is to help your dog relate the sound of thunderstorms with happy times.
• Use calming massage to reassure the dog.
Your cat during a thunderstorm:
• Your cat may just go hide and ride out the storm but if their behavior worsens this may need to be addressed as well. Observe where your cat goes to “hide out” when she feels the need, and if possible, turn the area into a cozy little safe spot for her. For example, if she heads for a corner of your bedroom closet, considering placing a cat bed on one of those plastic storage tubs most of us have. This will turn her closet hideout into a warm, slightly elevated safe spot.
• Note: When cats are stressed it is best to leave them be. When they have found a safe spot just leave them but check on them to make sure they are not exhibiting any radical changes physically as these would be signs of severe stress.
In severe cases, your veterinarian may recommend a low dose of an anti-anxiety medication for you cat or dog.
Most importantly, practice positive reinforcement with your dog and cat. Do not scold or punish her for her displays of anxiety, but remember that her behavior is not about disobedience, but about high levels of fear. And that old saw about not comforting your pet because it “reinforces” the fear? Not true at all. Do anything you can to help your pet feel better; teaching her new, pleasant associations is the best way to reduce fearful behavior.
One more tip:
Counter the effects of electromagnetism…Though it may sound like voodoo, your dog or cat can also become sensitive to the electromagnetic radiation caused by lightning strikes. One great way to shield your pet from these potentially fear-provoking waves is to cover her crate with a double layer of heavy-duty aluminum foil. If your pet hides under the bed, consider slipping a layer of aluminum foil between the box-spring and mattress.
We hope these tips help you and your pets weather the season’s storms.
Other calming equipment/therapies or medicinal/herbal remedies that you may consider:
• D.A.P. diffuser for dogs and
• Feliway for Cats
• Calm Shen
• Hyland’s Calms Forte
• Spirit Essence Storm Soother