Thunderstorms & Fireworks- What Can You Do to Help Your Anxious Pet?

As we enter summer we are also entering the season of thunderstorms, high winds, tornadoes, and firework season. And, what this means for our anxious patients that have noise aversions is that we are also entering SHAKE UNCONTROLLABLY AND HIDE IN THE BATHTUB season. We do not like to see our patients suffer in such a manner, especially when there are ways we can help them that are relatively easy, affordable, and without use of heavily sedative medications. Check out the steps below to help your dog (or cat, they also can have thunderstorm anxiety though it is not as common).

-Make sure your pet has a safe space that they can access at any time where they feel protected. For some, as mentioned above, it is the restroom. It is ok for them to have somewhere to hide. It is a self soothing behavior and as long as they are not destructive it is not harmful to allow them to have a safe hiding space. Dogs will often choose the bathroom because it won’t have a window and will be in the interior of the house where sound is more muffled. You can also cover a crate in heavy blankets to create a safe cave if you do not have another spot they like to hide.

-Do not try to overly comfort your pet. When you pay more attention to them when they are anxious you are reinforcing their anxious behavior because in their mind your attention (usually over-the-top and extra when they display anxious behaviors) is a reward. Often pets will repeat the behavior just for attention (pretty neat trick, though!).

-Some of our clients have had luck with thunder shirts, though your mileage may vary and they do not work for all dogs. Though, for the ones they do work for many have said it is a life saver!

-Calming supplements! My favorite for both dogs and cats is Composure Pro Liquid (preferred to the treats because we can adjust the dose more easily). It was specifically developed for thunderstorm anxiety but also works before fireworks. It can be given as needed or daily for generally anxious pets. If you are using it for storms or fireworks make sure you give it at least one hour before the expected event. If you are expecting storms over several days and are unsure when they will start, start the supplement a few days before to help them maintain a calmer state. We have also used it with success in a few patients that are afraid of car rides. Use it for several days prior to travel and then re-dose an hour before travel. It is a very safe product and we can double the dose if needed without any negative effects outside of occasional vomiting.

-Remember that pets are VERY sensitive to the shift in barometric pressure before a storm and they often know it is coming before we do. This is often why we will dose their calming supplement too late and it will not be as effective overall.

-Try a distraction. Work on training with a high value treat or play their favorite game. By not letting the pet focus on the noise outside they will be less affected by it. This will also reinforce to them that storms are ok and nothing important to pay attention to.

-Turn on the TV or some music (not too loud!) so the thunder, fireworks, wind, etc. sounds are not as dramatic and obvious.

If you try the above tips and your pet is still very anxious or becoming destructive please call us (or follow the following link) so we can schedule them for a consultation. They may need additional training with a professional or stronger medications used for anxiety.

Sarah M. is the Practice Manager at Lifetime Pet Center of New Richmond. She received her Veterinary Cannabis Counselor license in 2020 and has a special interest in pet behavior related to anxiety.

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