Last night, like most of Denver, we raced the storm home and got pummeled with hail as we ran from the truck to the house. Once safely inside we shook off the ice and drew straws as to who would take the dogs out once it let up a bit. And then the hail got worse instead of better. I couldn’t help but stare up at the skylight and wonder if it could really withstand the pounding. And then I realized the always boisterous Swota was huddled in a corner under the kitchen table with her ears back and her head low. Fortunately for us, none of our pets have ever had an issue with storm anxiety. But in this moment of rolling thunder and punishing hail, Swota was terrified. So I sat on the floor and patted her head for a moment. And when her food bowl was filled, all was forgotten.
But not all storm anxiety is so easily overcome. In my time as a vet-tech I spoke to so many owners whose pets were terrorized by foul weather. And it’s not just about the weather, the 5th of July is the busiest day of the year for many shelters. Why? 4th of July fireworks, according to The Preventative Vet. The bad news is that whatever causes some pets to lose it may never be overcome. The good news? There are a whole lot of options to help your pet cope. While working in the veterinary field I heard everything from, “he hides under the bed during fireworks”, to “she pulled up the floor, ate the drywall, and ripped the door off its hinges.”
First and foremost, you should talk to your vet about your pets’ anxiety. And if one remedy doesn’t work, don’t give up. While working for a vet in Arizona we had a client bring his dog in for euthanasia. The dog was not particularly old, and appeared in good health. So when we pushed for more information as to why this man wanted his dog put to sleep he admitted that his wife was insisting on it. He went on to explain that during the last monsoon season the dog had done a few thousand dollars worth of damage to their home. He said they had talked to their previous vet and nothing had worked to address her anxiety. Fortunately for the scared little dog the doctor that I worked for did not take euthanasia lightly, and flat refused the procedure. But a quick scan of the dog’s file revealed that not much had been tried after all. He had tried two medications, and nothing else. The dog was a high strung border collie who got very little exercise. She had a big yard, but was so bored she would fetch a rock, nose it off the porch, run down and fetch it again. So we came up with a plan that included exercise, different medication, and a thunder shirt. I am happy to report that just a month later her insane storm anxiety had subsided to manageable levels. No doubt this was an extreme case, but if there was hope for her there is hope for every terrified pup. You just have to find the right recipe for success which may include some or all of the below.
Exercise: Talk to any dog behavior expert from your vet to your trainer and they will likely tell you that numerous behavior issues are linked to a lack of exercise. Dogs have evolved over generations to do certain jobs, whether it’s moving a herd of cows on the dusty range to dragging a loaded sled across the frozen tundra. But most household pets simply don’t do much. They lay around all day while we’re at work. They sit at our feet while we veg out in front of the tv. And their energy builds and builds until it manifests in destructive and neurotic behavior. And few things are more energizing than a massive electrical storm. So one of the easiest steps you can take to ease anxiety is bring down your pets energy level with a good workout. The more energy you can burn off your pet before the storm the less they will have to cope with during it. Now, don’t get me wrong: a quick job around the park is not likely to solve extreme anxiety, but it can help. And it certainly won’t hurt.
Thunder Shirt: Thunder shirt is probably one of the most common, non-medication, ways to cope with pet anxiety. It works by applying gentle constant pressure that makes your pet feel safe. I have heard nothing but positive reviews. And unlike medication, which can make some pets lethargic, there are no side-effects to worry about. Worst case scenario – it just doesn’t work.
Homeopathic Remedies: These can range from calming herbs to plugged-in infusers. I am a huge fan of natural remedies, as long as they work. There are probably as many of these out there as there are people with pets. I have heard some people swear by these and others completely trash them. A quick search of Only Natural Pet.Com gave me 36 remedies ranging from Chinese herbs to pheromone remedies. When it comes to these type of remedies I suspect there are as many effective options as there are snake-oil remedies. So do your own research. Ask your vet, your friends, and check out their ratings online. Preferably from more than one site. You may even be able find some of them on consumer review sites. The internet is a powerful tool, use it.
Medication: This one should definitely be discussed with your vet. Medication for anxiety can range from giving your pet a benadryl before the fireworks start to keeping them on doggie-prozac year-round. My only advise on this one: communicate openly with your vet. If one medication doesn’t work, ask to try another. If one med knocks your pet out, talk to your doctor about the dosage. Don’t start or stop anti-anxiety meds without consulting your vet. Some medications take time to build up and others can be dangerous if you stop abruptly.
Consider Crating: Crating your dog gives them a secure place to hide when the world gets to be too much. And depending on your pets personality, a quiet dark space, like an interior closet may also provide some much needed comfort.
The moral of the story? You are your pet’s best ally in this big, scary, noisy world. Don’t blame them for being afraid and don’t give up on them.