Monday, July 13, 2009 3:24 PM

Thunder and Lightning: For Pets, it's Frightening


Summer is here, and so far we've had several electrical storms, even though it is barely mid-July. If you've had pets for any length of time, you know how thunder can drive them crazy. Reactions to these storms run the gamut from mildly nervous to downright panicky. For some cats, comfort from you, their favorite person, is enough to calm their nerves, while others scurry off to hide somewhere safe until the storm has passed. Dogs tend to react with more fear than cats do, and the worst cases can actually do damage to themselves or your house in their panicked attempts to escape from what they perceive as imminent danger.

Why do pets react this way to these storms? Truth be told, many humans are also afraid of thunder and lightning. Of course, we assume the fear stems from the damage we know a lightning strike can cause. Our pets cannot know this, we reason; they are just afraid of the noise from thunder claps. This is true, of course. But many people are afraid of thunder, as well. You can't really separate thunder and lightning, and electrical storms are quite a force of nature. We can't control them, and lack of control can be frightening.

Pets' fear of thunder, which usually heralds the arrival of lightning and moderate to heavy rain, is really not all that unreasonable. Loud noises are startling to everyone, and in the wild, often announce danger of some kind. The adrenaline rush causes various reactions to danger: fight, flight or hide. Since fighting isn't really an option, animals do what comes naturally. They crouch, making themselves as low to the ground as possible. They hide when they can. When your dog tries to frantically dig a hole through your carpet, he is just trying to make himself a burrow to lie in. Pretty smart, when you think about it! Years ago, we always knew when a storm was coming long before we heard anything, because we would see Sweet Pea scuttle off, belly to the ground, to a safe spot in the basement. When she reappeared, we knew the storm had passed.

What can you do to help your pet during these stressful times? Take your cue from them. If they want comfort, give it. If they tend to want to hide, make sure they have a place they can go where they feel safe (indoors, of course). Some pets, particularly dogs, have an inordinate fear bordering on panic, so they may need a bit more help. Some veterinarians will prescribe sedatives for dogs like this, but there are more natural remedies you can try. Miss P. gives her dog D. a homeopathic blend called Calms Forte, which is a human sleep aid. She gives him one tablet, since he is a big boy, nearly 100 pounds. For smaller dogs, try a half tablet. She says it really helps take the edge off. Another natural product is Bach's Rescue Remedy. I have used this myself and I really like it. I have also it given to cats. Put 2-4 drops of the tincture in the dog's drinking water. You can also dilute the remedy in water and add to the dog or cat's food.
There are also other, single Bach flower remedies that you can try--the website gives a comprehensive list of them.

Remember: During an electrical storm, protect yourself as well. Stay away from open windows and doors--people have been struck inside their garages with the door open. Stay off the phone, and don't shower or do dishes. If you get caught outdoors, lay flat on the ground away from tall objects. And don't forget to unplug your computer!
Chat later!

1 comments:

Anonymous Says:
July 14, 2009 at 11:04 AM

The Rescue Remedy didn't work for W and this summer has just been a totally new level of distress on his part. He's never had the drooling response before and it has stained his muzzle and eyes. The vet tech offered that he has become very sensitive to even the "low" pressure as he can panic with rain. Thanks for addressing this issue. Pam

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Amanda
Amanda has worked with animals for many years and has always had cats in her life. She lives in Massachusetts with her husband and two excellent cats.
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