Spring is quickly drawing to an end and the hot, sunny and often humid days of summer will soon be upon us. Along with the changing seasons will come days of rain and pop-up thunder storms.
Many pets won’t react to sudden heavy down pours or thunder and lightning but there are a good number of our four legged friends who become absolutely terrified during a storm. These storms can carry strong gusting winds, heavy rainfall and loud claps of thunder. If you have a pet who demonstrates a fear of storms there are some things you can do to help your pet get through the storm with less stress.
The first thing you can do is to provide a safe, secure and quiet place where your pup can stay to ride out the storm. If you have properly crate trained your dog this will be a perfect place for him to go to. When dogs are crate trained this is their retreat and safety zone and, when the crate is the proper size for the dog, he will feel more secure. Have some cozy blankets and a favourite toy in the crate which will comfort your dog and help him deal with the storm.
Stay in the room with your dog during the brunt of the storm. Talking softly to him will reassure him that all is well and often if you stay calm and don’t react, your pet will also stay calm. If your pet doesn’t have a crate to retreat to, you may find that a walk-in closet or a room in the basement where he can’t see the lightning or hear the wind and rain as much will help keep him to stay calm.
You may have heard that trying to comfort your dog during a stressful situation will only reinforce that fearful behaviour, but during a heavy thunder storm your dog will not want to be left alone and will want to hear you reassuring him that everything is ok. He may also benefit from some gentle petting or a little massage. After all, dogs are pack animals and, like humans, need to feel the comfort of their family near them during a scary storm.
For dogs that are somewhat fearful during a storm you may want to consider investing in a “Thunder Shirt”. This is basically a snug fitting shirt or wrap which you put on your pet when you know storms are in the forecast, and leave on your pet until the storm has passed. As with anything you try, don’t leave it to the last minute. If you purchase a Thunder Shirt for your furry friend, put it on him at various times, when the weather is clear, and play with him. Your pet will begin to associate the shirt with a positive fun experience and this will help lessen his anxiety during storms.
You may also want to try putting on music to keep your dog calm, increasing the volume as the storm progresses to help drown out the sound of thunder. There are specific music tapes on the market made to keep your pet calm, such as Through a Dog’s Ear, but any soft classical music will usually work. You can also try putting a fan on in the room which will help to redirect his attention to another sound and keep him a little cooler since a pet that is stressed will usually have an increase in body temperature.
If your pet is extremely stressed and frightened during storms, you may want to try a natural calming remedy to help ease the stress. There are several products on the market today which you can try, such as Rescue Remedy, Calm Ease, Lavender Oil or extract from Bach Flowers. Any of these natural remedies can be tried and should be administered according to the directions on the label, usually at least half an hour before the storm hits. Today there are many alerts or warnings issued well in advance of an impending storm and that’s the time to take action.
In severe cases, if your dog over-reacts to a storm, you may need to get professional help. Make an appointment to speak with your vet about your dog’s phobia and get a prescription drug to help ease your pet’s anxiety. This is not what most of us want to do, but in severe cases may be necessary.
In older or arthritic pets, you may notice that prior to storms your furry friend may seem a little stiff, not move as well or just seem a little unsettled. This is often due to a combination of changes in the barometric pressure or even low frequency rumbles that we can’t hear but they can feel and, as in humans, dampness in the air can cause joints to hurt. If this is the case your vet may recommend some joint therapy medication to help senior dogs on damp, rainy and stormy days.
Make sure that if a storm pops up you will be able to find immediate shelter away from trees and waterways and that your pet is restrained on a leash. Always remember that if you have a dog that reacts to storms, the sound of thunder and heavy down pours of rain or hail, his first reaction will be to try and run away. If he is not properly restrained, he could easily bolt into traffic not realizing the danger.
So as the hot, humid days of summer approach try to plan ahead and, if you are on vacation, hiking or just hanging out at home, always be ready for the unexpected and keep your four legged friend happy and stress free. Have a safe summer and wish for clear sunny days.