Anyone with a dog will know that even the calmest pet can be sent whimpering and looking for a hiding place by a flash of lightning or clap of thunder.
Unless you have divine powers, you won’t be able to do much about what the weather is doing outside but there are steps you can take to help your pet cope with the storm.
One of the reasons owners are often left clueless about what to do is that no one is certain about what causes dogs and cats to be afraid of thunder and lightning.
Commonly referred to as storm phobia, symptoms can vary from panting or hiding under the bed to incontinence and self-inflicted trauma.
The behaviour isn’t just limited to dogs and can be exhibited by cats too. Either way, it is clear to most owners whether their pet is suffering.
What you can do to help
Not every dog or cat suffers from storm phobia so being aware of the symptoms is important.
Vet approved site Pet MD lists them as including:
• Hiding / remaining near the owner
• Excessive salivation
• Excessive vocalisation
• Self-inflicted trauma
• Faecal incontinence
Even if your dog simply follows you around the room or calmly crawls around the bed it may mean they are suffering. Ignoring it can cause the behaviour to grow more extreme over time.
“Most of the time, they don’t grow out of it on their own, and many will get worse with time if nothing is done,” vet Matt Peuser told specialist site Cesars Way.
There are several steps you can take to reassure your pet and help keep it calm during the next storm.
1. Reward calm behaviour
Barbara Sherman, from the North Carolina State University College of Medicine, recommends taking a pre-emptive approach by showering your dog with affection when they are completely calm to know that is the correct way to behave.
2. Create a safe space
If your dog has a place that they typically go and hide in during a storm it is worth considering making that a safe space by putting blankets, toys and water there. The key is to make sure it is as far away from the storm as possible.
The Australian Pet Health project suggests facilitating the process by using sound-proof foam rubber or sound proof wall cladding to add a layer of protection.
Runa Hanaghan, the Dogs Trust deputy veterinary director, told metro.co.uk that the key is to ensure the space is accessible wherever the dog is in the home.
“Praise him gently whilst he is in the den, use your attention as a reward for his behaviour,” she said. “Even when the storm seems to have passed don’t try and coax him out, let him come out in his own time, he feels safe in there. When he does come out give him praise, but otherwise behave normally with him.”
3. Reassure your pet
While some would suggest ignoring a pet to not reward ‘negative behaviour’, Patty Khuly told USA Today that providing rewarding or distracting stimulus to clam your pet down is a good idea.
“Your dog won’t get it when you punish her for freaking out. Indeed, it’ll likely make her anxiety worse,” she writes.
Techniques you can use include giving your dog a firm hug around his or her chest and showing them you are calm by smiling, blinking your eyes as if you are falling asleep and softly whispering to them.
4. Distract and desensitise
You can help distract your dog from the thunder by playing the radio or TV otherwise you can help desensitise them by teaching them to tolerate the noise.
Rachel van der Vliet, from Chatham-based Pip’s Palace, told metro.co.uk that you could do this by playing something such as firework noises or actual bad weather sounds quietly in the background.
She added: “Gradually over several days or hours increase the volume until your pet is oblivious to the louder sounds. The RSPCA offer free downloads of sounds pets might find scary to provide pet therapy.”
5. Be at home
It’s hard to control when a storm happens but if you can be at home with your pet then it will help reassure them.
6. Consult your vet
Calming drugs are available but always consult your vet for advice before using them. Otherwise, if you have exhausted all other techniques they may be able to suggest unique solutions or training.
(Article source: Metro)