Thursday, April 17, 2014

April Showers Bring..........Storm Anxiety!

It's that time of year again.  Time to think about the weather and how it is effecting your fur babies.  Many dogs and cats, large and small, suffer from a condition known as Astraphobia or Storm Anxiety.  In fact, as many as 30% of dogs can be affected by this fear.  Many of their humans have no idea what to do to help them get through a bad spring storm.  Hopefully, we can help!

What are the signs of storm anxiety?
Even before a thunder storm starts, you may notice your pet pacing, panting, and/or hiding.  Our pets will know about the coming storm before we do.  They can feel changes in barometric pressure and sense low frequency rumbles that we may not hear or feel.  Changes in static electricity can also cause pets to become more anxious.  Wind, rain, thunder & lightening can all contribute to storm anxiety.
Pet's may hide under the bed, stay close to their humans, start trembling or shaking, or even want to hide in their kennel.  Once the storm has started, and you actually begin hearing rain and thunder, the signs of storm anxiety will often worsen, and your pet may act even more agitated.

What can I do to help my pet feel more at ease during a storm?
There are several things that can be done to ease anxiety.
1.  Start when they are young and get them used to loud noises.  Buy a CD that has storm sounds on it and play it at lower volumes at first, then increase the volume over time.  This is a technique that MAY work.  During a real storm, other factors, besides noise, can still cause anxiety in a pet that has been introduced to the noise gradually.
2.  Try to remove your pet from the situation by making them a safe place.  Put your fur baby's bed/crate in an interior room and cover it with a blanket.  Keep the room dark and quiet, or try play calming music.  If you are using their crate as a safe place, be sure to leave the door open so they can still come and go as they please.  Don't make them feel trapped with the door closed.
3.  During a storm, offer treats, cuddles and play time.  This may help your pet associate storms with good things and can sometimes serve as a distraction from the storm outside.
4.  Use calming scents or diffusers throughout areas that your pet frequents in your home.  Feliway and DAP diffusers are commercially available pheromone scents that have calming properties.  Also, lavender scent is calming to everyone in the home, two and four legged.
5.  Try using a Thundershirt.  Thundershirt looks like a vest, but works as an anti-anxiety pressure wrap on your pet.  It helps make them feel more secure in their environment.  It is the same idea as swaddling a baby.  The makers of the Thundershirt (Thunderworks) have several items available to assist in calming your dog and/or cat.  They have the vest/shirt, sweaters, coats, leashes, toys, Pheromone sprays, and they even have treats.  You can visit the Thunderworks website for more information.
6.  An Animal Behaviorist can work with you and your pet to help relieve anxieties.  They will teach you several exercises that you can do with your pet to help lessen their fears.  However, if you aren't willing, or able, to work with your pet, this may not be effective.  We recommend Jane Page with New Behavior, LLC.
7.  Be sure to stay calm yourself.  If you are nervous or anxious, your pet will sense this, which will only heighten their anxiety.
8.  If you are finding that nothing else is working, you may want to talk to one of our veterinarians about medication that can help relax your pet during a storm.  Medications do take some time to be effective, so remember that if you know a storm is coming, you will need to watch the weather to figure out a good time to give your pet his/her medication.  Also, some medications will only work for a short period of time, so your pet may need additional doses for storms lasting a long time.

Other Anxieties:

There are also other situations that can cause your pet to be anxious.  Fireworks, travel, separation from owner, and meeting new people and animals can all be causes of anxiety.  Many of these situations can be remedied with some of the techniques mentioned above.  You can discuss these fears, and additional tips on how to treat or prevent them, with one of our veterinarians when you come in for your next appointment.

Written by:  Erricka Jones & Dr. Aimee Hossler
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