Opinions vary on pet tips in storm

As I pulled into my cousin’s farm a couple of weeks ago, the only one around was the family dog.

Lily, a tall, thin Saint Bernard mix, waved her huge, plumy tail welcoming me to come sit and stay. The wind was blowing in an afternoon rainshower so I opted to sit in the car until it passed. Lily headed to the porch to get out of the weather.

Within a couple of minutes, a flash of light blazed through the westerly sky followed by an explosion of thunder. Lily bolted off the porch and ran, a glazed look of fear in her eyes. By the time I jumped out of the car to rescue her, she was beyond eyesight.

My cousin pulled up a few minutes later and was on the phone with her sister. Lily had run to her sister’s house, nearly a mile away, in less than five minutes, trying to escape the storm.

I thought about how many other animals I have known that were petrified during severe thunderstorms. That look of fear is heartbreaking, not to mention the uncontrollable quivering. Their first instincts typically are to find a place to hide or to run. Some dogs will pant, pace or bark during a storm, others will burrow under a bed or in a closet.

What causes many dogs to behave so erratically during thunderstorms, and what can you do to help your four-legged friends overcome this fear?

Often, I turn to the Internet for basic information pertaining to topics of the columns I am writing. I research many sites to compare opinions and facts in determining relevant information. On this subject, I uncovered an array of views regarding treatment for what is commonly referred to as “storm phobia.”

Unfortunately, many sites contradicted each other in their advice. Several recommended crating your dog. Some said not to. Others cautioned never to close the door to allow for escape. Many veterinarians stated seeing serious injury to dogs’ feet from trying to dig out of a crate.

One author encouraged reassuring the fearful pet that it is safe by stroking it, talking soothingly and giving it treats. Another site recommended completely ignoring the animal so as not to encourage frightened behavior.

Many of the veterinarian references talked of the availability of prescription drugs to sedate the frenzied animal. In contrast, a homeopathic link remarked that a sedated dog is still afraid of the loud noise but cannot escape because of the drugs in its system. Several sites recommended flower essences and oils, such as lavender, which have a calming effect. A particular product called Rescue Remedy appears to have some success in relaxing anxious animals.

And then, when I thought it could not get any better, I discovered the Thundershirt. This invention provides constant pressure, possibly allowing for an endorphin release, all the while giving the dog a feeling of being hugged. According to Thundershirt’s website, this product has helped thousands of pets overcome anxiety.

Animal behaviorists continue to research this malady, but haven’t yet come up with reasons for why dogs are fearful of thunderstorms. A veterinarian and author, Nicholas Dodman, suggests that static electricity created during an electrical storm can be painful to dogs, especially those with thick, heavy coats. (These guys may need to try the Thundershirt!)

The noise of the wind howling, thunder booming and changes in the electrical fields all contribute to this terror. Dogs’ keen sense of hearing also is undoubtedly a factor in their sensitivity.

I think each dog is as unique as we humans are and often react to our emotions as well. How you treat the uncontrollable fear your best friend experiences during thunderstorms may actually reflect on you. How do you react during a thunderstorm?

If the dog wants to go hide under the bed, by all means let it. Many pets want to be close to you, their protector, and your strong presence will help comfort them.

If your dog is a runner, make sure to have some sort of permanent identification tags on its collar, but try to get it inside before the storm hits. In severe cases, especially if your pet can do harm to itself or the laundry room, you may want to discuss sedation measures with your veterinarian. Turning the volume up on the radio or television also can help mask erratic noises outside.

The most important aspect of addressing this fear is to keep your dog safe, by whatever means is necessary. And take a moment to watch your friend’s behavior with the onset of a storm. Stop and listen to what this compassionate creature is trying to tell you.

Charlé Thibodeau has been a passionate pet caregiver for more than 30 years. If you have a pets question you would like Thibodeau to answer in her column, email .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).


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