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Weathering the storm

thunderstormWhile many human members of the Family enjoy a good thunderstorm; dark skies, high winds, heavy rain and thunder claps can strike terror into the heart of our pets. So, with Spring’s changeable weather making things occasionally stormy on the home front, I thought this the perfect opportunity to share some tips for alleviating phobic pets’ distress in stormy conditions.

Build a fortress

Cats that are susceptible to storms (and other stress-inducing situations) are likely to batten down the hatches and make a dash for their ‘safe place’ so the first step in helping them through a storm front is to familiarise yourself with this bolt-hole. Once you’ve identified their safe haven - be it under a bed, in a wardrobe, or behind a sofa -  deck it out with comfy, familiar bedding that looks and feels cozy and protective. Warmth, elevation and security are the key elements to ensure your moggy makes it through stormy weather with minimal distress.

Storm-phobic dogs tend to let their their emotions hang out, growling and barking, trembling, pacing, and displaying a range of other symptoms associated readily associated with fear and panic. But, while the canine stress response can differ markedly from that of cats, the first step in alleviating their distress is very similar: identify a zone in your home where they will be best-insulated from the sights and sounds of the storm. A room with small (or no) windows, double glazing and heavy curtains is an ideal spot or, better still, a basement. Furnish the space with a dog bed or crate that has nice high sides to help your pet feel sheltered from the storm, and fill it with familiar bedding so your dog feels cozy, comfortable and at home.

Invest in a dog anxiety shirt

While I’ve never used an anxiety shirt on my own dogs, a locum vet I work with bought one for his dog and swears by it. I imagine the sensation for the dog is very much like being cuddled or held tightly which they find very reassuring. My vet college said it works fantastically, keeping his dog quiet and calm during storms. A few drops of Calming Remed, or even a pharmaceutical sedative can be an effective supplement to this type of device.

The herbal - and pharmaceutical - approach
Calming herbs like chamomile, passion flower, valerian and skullcap can be effective in modifying your dog’s mood, but you need to give these supplements time to kick-in so, unless you have plenty of warning that a storm is approaching, they’re not going to have the desired effect.

Desensitising your pet

Systematic desensitisation - playing your dog a recording of a storm at low volume and gradually increasing the volume of the recording over a period of days and weeks - can also help. Desensitisation familiarises your dog with storm noises to the point that they are so blasé about thunder claps and flashes of lightning that they stay calm and collected when a real storm hits.

There’s nothing harder for a pet owner than seeing their cat or dog in distress and feeling helpless to ease their pet’s fears, but the tips above should help you to help your furry friends weather the storm.

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