It's that time of year! While some of us are enjoying the light show and loud concert of a thunderstorm, many pets are afraid, showing it by hiding, shaking, pacing, eliminating in the house, or destroying things in the house. This problem can arise at any age, and without treatment, usually gets worse with time. There are many things we can do to help our pets deal with their fear and to ensure that everyone in the house is safe during a thunderstorm.
First, be sure that your pet is healthy. Some medical conditions, which may have other subtle symptoms, can cause pets to be more reactive to fear. These include thyroid and adrenal disease. A thorough physical examination and screening labwork can rule out a medical contribution to a new phobia. Other behavioral issues may also need attention such as separation anxiety.
Your reaction to thunderstorms will set the tone for how your pet views the noise and flashes of light that accompany a good storm. Stay calm, and when possible, distract your pet before it begins to react, with a fun training session or a game. If your pet needs to go outside to eliminate, put on your rain coat and go out with them. Show them you are not afraid! It is very important that you don't accidentally encourage your pet's fear. Extra attention, petting, and attempts to soothe your pet will reinforce the fear.
For pets who are crate trained and very comfortable in their crate, they can be crated. Cover the crate with a heavy blanket to reduce light and play a radio or television to provide constant noise. When storms can be anticipated on a weekday, pets are welcome at Carver Lake Veterinary Center for daycare. The change of scene and constant activity can reduce anxiety for many pets. This allows the veterinary staff to observe your pet during an initial trial with medication, if needed.
A collar or plug-in diffuser with a pheromone called Dog Appeasing Pheromone can soothe some dogs and take the edge off their reaction.
Anti-anxiety medication can help your pet learn new ways to deal with storms. Newer prescription medication blocks the panic without causing sedation. It is best to give the medication at least one hour before the storm. For some pets, who become fearful with changes in barometric pressure in advance of the storm, that means the medication is given well ahead of time. With less panic, pets can better observe your calm attitude and play games that encourage relaxation. Simple tricks like sit, down, stay with delicious treats give your pet a focus other than the storm.
In severe cases of storm phobia, you may need the help of a professional veterinary behaviorist. The Doctors at Carver Lake Veterinary Center can refer you and your pet to a specialist in our area.
Because storm phobias in pets can start at any age and usually get worse, let you veterinarian know as soon as you see signs of anxiety in your pet so that appropriate training and medication, when needed, can help you and your pet get through our upcoming storm season.