Hey, did you know that some of your dogs can accurately forecast the weather? Dogs with storm anxiety usually will start showing symptoms hours before a storm without even a cloud in the sky. Most feel this is due to being extra sensitive barometric pressures.
However, ask anyone with a dog or sometimes a cat with this affliction and they will all say that they’d rather depend on meteorologists for their weather forecasting. Yes, there’s no better bonding experience than having your dog pace or pant on your face at 3:00 a.m. as a storm approaches. So, let’s examine this common pet health hazard.
The cause of this anxiety is more or less unknown. Early mild symptoms probably start in puppy years. As they age the symptoms tend to worsen and become noticeable by the owner.
- Panting with or without excessive salivation
- Pacing and usually trembling
- Following and remaining close to you the owner
- Destructive behavior including chewing and scratching doors, woodwork, destroying clothes, tearing up carpet and upholstery, chewing through drywall , to name a few.
- Hiding, sometimes frantically, trying to find a ‘safe place’ such as a closet or under a bed.
- Excessive vocalization: barking and howling
- Self inflicted trauma including chewing out patches of hair, licking skin until inflamed and oozing, and orthopedic trauma from frantic behavior
- Inappropriate elimination
Obviously this disorder is a serious problem not only for you but most definitely your pet. This anxiety can cause severely increased heart rate, hyperventilation, and gastrointestinal problems. Geriatrics with underlying cardiovascular disease or digestive problems could possibly develop life threatening symptoms. So what do we do?
- Behavior modification: do not, I repeat DO NOT punish the pet. This just exacerbates the problem as the pet relates a terrifying experience with another terrifying experience. Also efforts to comfort them are ineffective.
- Desensitization and counter conditioning techniques are available. I will not discuss these as they require much expertise and frankly I’ve not seen a successful outcome by our clientele.
- Medications. We use The Benzodiazepines. These include Diazepam (Valium) and Alprazolam (Xanax). These medications are very effective if dosed appropriately and given before the storm hits. Other medications are available but we have had great success with these and feel they are very safe for use.
- To assure successful treatment, start the first time your pet starts to exhibit symptoms. Do not wait until the symptoms have progressed to more serious behavior problems. Also the meds are much more effective when administered before a storm arrives. But, even if you are late, give the medications to aid in calming.
- * (Sarah's note: some clients have found moderate success using products like the Thunder Shirt.)
Imagine yourself locked in a small place such as a closet with no light. You are alone in a strange place and outside there is banging on the walls, screaming by menacing people or things and the ceiling is closing down on you. This is how your pet feels with storm anxieties. They don’t understand and are scared. So treat them as needed for their health and well being and for you to get a good night’s sleep and not have your home destroyed!
Dr. Jerry Miller graduated from The Ohio State University College of Veterinary Medicine and has been serving Southern Ohio for his entire career.