Summer is full of wonder, but can also be a season of woe for pets with thunderstorm phobias and other noise-related anxieties such fireworks. Watching a pet tremble and shake is heartbreaking for pet owners, but for some dogs, the reaction is so severe that they even injure themselves and destroy property. Sometimes these pets are surrendered to shelters with former owners being reluctant to divulge this condition.We're not professionals here at BaxterBoo, but most of us are pet owners, and we are happy to pass along some of the things we've learned or heard about to help our friends out there in dealing with storm anxiety.
Be the change you want to see.The first thing we've learned is that pet's are often more aware of the mental and emotional climate of the people around them. This is probably due to the fact that animals don't have a spoken language and so are more clued into things like body language, scent, and mood. In fact, some of the kinds of dogs most prone to thunder phobias are herding and working dogs that are trained to be observant of subtle changes in their charges, so there may be a genetic component to environmental sensitivities.
Therefore, the first thing you can do to ease your dog or cat's anxiety is to check how you're feeling about the impending storm. Are you stressed about your pet potentially becoming stressed? See how things could quickly spiral out of control with pet and guardian feeding off of each others' stress signals? Be the calm, comfortable leader and model a content, happy disposition that let's your pet know "it's no big deal."
Create positive associations.I've actually had to do this with kids and pets that are afraid of storms. For the kids, (and dogs) we'd all cuddle up in my bed together, open up the blinds and say, "Oooh, that was a good one!" for particularly loud or bright flashes, and pretend we were watching fireworks. So now they get excited about storms knowing they get cuddle time sharing an "adventure." This happy energy is picked up on by the pets.
For pets, sometimes it is possible to distract them from the storm with particularly decadent treats or play time. Use this technique with young dogs and cats to prevent fear from developing during storms in the future. Eventually, you might find your pet bringing you toys at the onset of those barometric pressure changes and rumbles from the horizon!
Some professionals claim you shouldn't "reward" anxious behaviors like shaking, pacing, whining, and panting by coddling and petting your pet; that rewards should only be offered once the pet exhibits a calm demeanor. But as a firm believer in the human-pet bond, trust your instincts. No one knows your pet like you do, and if your pet seems to benefit from your reassuring touch, by all means, do it! After all,Â the Good Book says, "perfect love casts out fear."
BaxterBoo Product Recommendations for AnxietyOne of the things we've used and had great success with is the Anxiety Wrap and Thundershirt. These items are so popular at BaxterBoo that they often sell out quickly. It hasn't been scientifically proven why this flexible pressure technique works, whether it's muffling nerve sensitivity with all-over pressure, or if it is simple as making your pet feel like they're receiving a comforting hug. Perhaps there is a cross-species correlation mimicking swaddling in human babies which makes them feel calm and secure (like a cozy womb.)
Similar to that idea, it's often helpful to create that cozy, safe place that your dog knows he can go to if he starts to get afraid. Show him a nice quiet closet or bathroom with no windows that is filled with blankets that you've slept with. Provide a really nice chew toy or chew treat that they can put all that nervous energy towards. Keep that area accessible to your dog, especially if a storm is predicted and you will be away from your pet so they can retreat to that place and feel safe.
Natural SupplementsThere are also supplemental products available at BaxterBoo such as calming chews and tablets. Some people like to use flower essences or homeopathic solutions (which we don't carry, as of yet.) Even melatonin has been suggested to work on anxious pets during storms. These are often especially beneficial when combined with behavioral modifications as listed above.
Extreme CasesThe previous methods listed are helpful for pets with mild to moderate storm phobias. However, there are some animals that don't seem to benefit from these lifestyle and supplemental changes. Often their owners are haggard from sleepless nights, ruined houses, and vet bills from pets engaging in self injury. For those animals, consult with a vet who takes your issue seriously. These pets may be treated with a combination of Prozac through the summer months with supplemental anti-anxiety medications or sedatives during storms. Often these measures make a huge difference, especially when combined with behavioral modification techniques. If your vet doesn't feel comfortable prescribing these kinds of meds, find one who has experience treating storm-induced phobias who can help bring you both relief.
There is a ton of information out there on this topic with move extensive suggestions, but we'd love to hear what our BaxterBoo friends have done to deal with pet storm phobias. What has worked for you?
Lab lap dog in the storm photo courtesy of Wendy Owens.