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Managing Our Pet's Storm Anxiety and Terror

There’s evidence that dogs are more comfortable around something that ‘grounds’ them. Some dogs get in bathtubs. Others seek closets.

With the threat of bad weather looming, we must not forget how devastating storm anxiety can be for our pets. 

Dogs who react to storms may not be reacting to the noise: trigger stimuli could include other sounds (wind, rain), darkness, changes in light intensity, barometric pressure changes, ozone changes and changes in human behavior. Any of these can lead to panic. 

Dogs experiencing fearful noises (e.g. shipping on a plane) as youngsters may be at increased risk for later development of more profound noise or storm phobias.

So what to do? Medication is one strategy, and if you feel your pet would benefit, talk to your veterinarian. Avoid medications that are dissociative anesthetics, meaning that it scrambles perceptions. Ask yourself if a scrambling of perceptions will make an anxious or uncertain animal worse or better. Sedation can be a better choice.

What you should not do is pet the dog or cat and say that it is okay. The animal knows it's not okay and such contradictory signals, especially in profoundly obedient pets, increase anxiety.

Instead, just talk normally and press firmly, or lie next to them without petting. Such behavior provides closeness and allows the pet's muscles to relax without inadvertently rewarding any of the signs of anxiety. 

There’s some anecdotal evidence that dogs are more comfortable around something that ‘grounds’ them. Some dogs get in bathtubs or curl around toilets. Others seek closets or other small, protective areas. Still others do better if they’re wrapped tightly in a blanket. One of our dogs just feels more comfortable in her crate in times like this (storms and possible evacuations are a good reason to make sure your animal is comfortable in a crate or carrier).

As a precaution against your dog or cat running away in a panic, do make sure they have their collar on with ID tags. All dogs (and even cats) should be microchipped. It's a relatively painless, simple procedure (I've even done it to myself just to see).

So just like with us, have a plan. Maybe one room is better insulated or air conditioned than another. Maybe the crate or closet is made comfortable in advance. Protect yourself and don't forget to protect our four-footed companions.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Lynda August 26, 2012 at 03:29 PM
You always provide interesting advice I haven't heard before. My first response to an animal's storm or loud sound anxiety is to pet her/him and say "it's ok". I will try your suggestions instead next time we have thunder or low-flying planes. Scott, what do you think of the commercially available "Thunder-shirts".? Do they work as well as lying next to your pet as you suggest? And, frankly sometimes, I can't be home to comfort my pets so I would like an alternative..
Scott Shwarts August 26, 2012 at 04:36 PM
Lynda: I've seen very good results from the Thundershirt (also the Anxiety Wrap). I've also seen an ace bandage used in a pinch (search the web and should be able to find an example of how to wrap it). Scott
Lynda August 28, 2012 at 12:56 AM
Thanks for the reply, Scott.
Cherlene Willis August 28, 2012 at 01:57 AM
Thanks so much Scott for sharing such great advice! I learn something new every time I read your blog! - Cherlene
The Wallyboy Company September 05, 2012 at 06:44 PM
You can also get get treats that calm down your pet. Here is a link to an example: http://www.wallyboypetproducts.com/dog/dog-treats/calming-treat-large-dog-21-count.html

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