Storms, Fireworks and Anxiety
Spring and summer may bring a welcome reprieve from the cold. Warmer weather, however, brings fireworks and thunderstorms causing anxiety for some pets. This anxiety may manifest in a number of subtle or overt ways. Examples include: tail tucking, trembling, hiding, trying to run away and becoming more “clingy.” Vocalizing, inappropriate elimination, chewing, licking, drooling, panting and even aggression may occur. The following steps should be considered when addressing this anxiety.
- Microchip and identify your pet. This is critical to reuniting a pet to the family if he/she escapes.
- Place anxious pets into an interior room, away from outdoor sights and sounds. White noise such as a fan, television or radio are encouraged. A kennel with a blanket may be helpful if hiding is preferred. A number of products for managing pet anxiety exist, with some having studies to demonstrate efficacy. The Anxiety Wrap® and ThunderShirt™ are wraps snugly fit to the pet’s body to swaddle and apply constant gentle pressure. Mutt Muffs™ are a product marketed as ear muffs for reducing loud noise. The Storm Defender Cape® contains metal lined fabric with a claim to decrease static charges to the pet from electricity in the air associated with a storm. The ThunderCap™ is a product for covering the eyes reducing visual input. Adaptil® is a synthetic pheromone spray, collar or plug-in. This product may be soothing or calming for some puppies and adult dogs. Finally, a number of natural remedies exist over-the-counter. Speaking to a veterinarian regarding these is encouraged, to ensure product safety. While none of these products are expected to work in all pets, some may provide benefit for an individual.
- For some pets, playing a thunderstorm recording at a low level and rewarding calm behavior may help. If the pet remains relaxed, the volume may slowly increase with positive reinforcement (treats, petting) continuing if the pet remains calm. This type of training may help if the anxiety stems from the sound of rain, wind or thunder.
- In some pets, fast-acting anti-anxiety medications are a necessary part of anxiety management. These medications, however, must be given before the event to be fully effective. By relaxing the pet, a fearful experience may be changed into a pleasurable one. Examples of retraining response include: providing a highly desired treat, special toy, petting or massage. The pet must remain calm to be rewarded and ensure anxious behavior is not being rewarded or encouraged.
- For some, starting a long acting anti-anxiety medication at least 1 month prior to the anxious experience may be necessary. This medication may then be continued or slowly tapered. Using short or long acting medications may be a necessary component used to reduce severe anxiety. A goal of creating a more relaxed and calm demeanor is key to allowing learning to occur and thereby retraining the pet’s response to the event. Additionally, some pets are a risk to the safety of themselves and other family members during these extreme responses.
- Behavior problems are a common concern at the Pet Health Center at Kansas State University. Please let us know if we can help with an individualized plan for your pet!