Thunderstorms giving your pet anxiety? AVC professor offers advice

·3 min read
Several people took to social media to talk about how their pets responded during last week's thunderstorms.  (Shutterstock / N K - image credit)
Several people took to social media to talk about how their pets responded during last week's thunderstorms. (Shutterstock / N K - image credit)

An associate professor at the Atlantic Veterinary College is reminding pet owners that they're not alone after recent thunderstorms left some pets filled with anxiety and their owners searching for solutions.

"Everybody is having trouble," Dr. Karen Overall, an associate professor of behaviour medicine at AVC, told Island Morning host Mitch Cormier.

Several people took to social media last week sharing first-hand accounts of how their animals reacted to the loud claps of thunder and streaks of lightning.

Some reported animals hiding while others described their pets as shaking and panting.

"People are complaining about either the lightning or the thunder or both and the fear it's inducing, primarily in their dogs," said Overall.

"But I think people don't realize that when they don't know where their cat is, their cat is hiding. And very few people have looked at how fearful cats are."

'Shaking like leaves'

Overall said most dogs tend to be scared of loud noises but some are afraid of the flashes of light.

"They don't eat. They can't go out for a walk. They won't go out and when you see these dogs they're truly all curled up and their eyes are huge," she said.

"They're salivating. They're shaking like leaves."

In fact, Overall said some pets shake so much that their muscles tense and it can occasionally lead to lysed blood in the urine.

Submitted by the Atlantic Veterinary College
Submitted by the Atlantic Veterinary College

The correlation between sounds and anxiety in dogs is something Overall said has been researched for more than two decades.

"It's an interesting phenomenon," she said.

"We know that there is a genetic component to it, we know it runs in family lines in most cases."

According to research, Overall said different breeds tend to react in different ways.

As for what dogs are most affected she said, "nobody knows the answer to that question because nobody has a census of all breeds."

How to help your pet

There are some ways to help pets cope with the situation, though.

For starters, Overall recommends treating the behaviour early and aggressively.

"I want to hear from these people the first time their dogs react to noise. This is a time penetrant condition, meaning it tends to get worse with age," she said.

"Some of the dogs from some of the lines by two years of age it's fully pronounced and they're not going to get worse because they're horrible already."

There are also medications pets can benefit from or other options like weighted blankets and thunder shirts.

"As long as you know, the dog will not eat it and as long as you know the dog will not panic and try to get out of it and get constricted, those can be great."

Overall said if you find a safe option that works for you and your pet — keep doing it.

"If there is something, you know, that actually decreases the signs of the fear ... that stops the panting, that stops the shaking, that stops the salivating or decreases it, that stops the dog from pacing or lowers the level so that it's noticeable, definitely do all of those things," she said.

"But please, please, please, please, please do not just rely on behaviour modification and environmental management."

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