Even if your pet is normally calm, the sights, sounds, smells, and new environments that often come with a thunderstorm can be quite disorienting and scary for your four-legged friend. These are a few tips to help your pet through the storm season this summer:
One of the most helpful techniques is to gradually attempt to desensitize your pet to the sounds they will hear during a storm. While there will still be new sensations, smells and sights that you may not be able to prepare your pet for, often one of the most terrifying aspects of a storm are the loud noises. When there is not currently a thunderstorm outside quietly play a recording of a storm for your pet. Feed plenty of treats and give lots of praise for your pet showing relaxed behavior while this recording is playing. Over a period of days to weeks, gradually increase the volume of the recording. The goal is to have the volume be as loud as possible without causing your pet to show signs of anxiety (panting, pacing, lip licking, tucked tail or ears pinned back). As long as your pet is relaxed, continue to reward them with treats and praise. If your pet starts to become anxious, reduce the volume until your pet becomes relaxed again.
While desensitizing your pet to the noises of a storm before bad weather arrives is the best first approach, this may not be quite enough to keep your pet from getting at least a little nervous when a storm actually does arise. To help your pet feel less stressed during a storm, provide tasty treats as a distraction. The best treats provide prolonged distraction such as chilled peanut butter in a Kong or kibbles hidden in toys. What may also be distracting for your pet is hiding small treats around the house and helping your pet find them like a treasure hunt. If your pet is still willing, attempt to engage them in a game. For dogs, tug-of-war or indoor fetch may take their mind off of what is happening outside. For cats, rope toys or a laser pen with a treat at the end of play often work best.
Your pet may be tempted to hide during the storm. Block off small places in the house where your pet may become injured if hiding. Try to provide safe spaces such as a covered crate, box or big, heavy blankets. If cats are in their carriers, and it is safe to do so, try to set them on an elevated location such as a bed rather than the floor. Some pets respond well to natural pheromones. These products have a calming effect on dogs and cats. Feliway or Adaptil are the recommended brands.
Leave the radio or tv on in the background during the storm if possible. The sound of voices or music may drown out a bit of the storm noise and be familiar enough to be reassuring. It is also recommended to close the curtains or blinds in an attempt to mask the bright flashes of lightning that could startle your pet.
Just like some dogs will have a tendency to hide during a storm, there are several dogs that feel safe tightly wrapped up or in someone’s arms. For these dogs, Thunder Shirts can provide the sensation of protection during stressful events.
If your pet is already quite nervous around storms, it may be best to talk to our veterinarians about additional techniques and possibly even medication to use during the storm to help your pet feel more at ease.
As always, the veterinarians here at West Park Animal Hospital are here to help you understand and feel comfortable with your pet’s veterinary care. Our first priority is providing your pet with the highest quality medical care that addresses their individual needs. To schedule a consultation and exam for your canine or feline friend, please give us a call at (813) 749-6863, or you can visit our website and schedule online.