If you are the owner of a pet that gets scared during thunderstorms and other loud noises, then you know how difficult it can be. Watching (and listening to) your dog or cat as they try to deal with the noises from outside can be heart-wrenching. If you’ve struggled with how to help your pet cope with loud, stress-inducing events such as storms, the good news is there are things you can do both in the short-term as well as the long.
But first, let’s talk about what not to do.
Do Not Punish Your Pet
When our pets make loud noises, barks, whines, scratches at furniture or acts out their stress in any of a hundred other ways, it’s easy to get frustrated. We might yell at them to be quiet or send them to a crate. This is not an effective solution. The last thing you want to do is add to the fear or anxiety through negative reinforcement.
Rather than getting your pet to calm down, punishment can result in making him or her more anxious, because now there are two things to be scared of — the noise, and your response.
Do Not Baby Your Pet
The opposite reaction is just as bad. When a pet acts out due to fear, many owners’ first instinct is to try and calm him or her down through treats and petting. Many experts say this is the wrong approach, because it trains our pets that if they act out in that manner, they will end up being rewarded. Rather than stopping this behavior, it only acts as a reinforcement.
Instead, here are some things you can do:
Train Your Pet to Feel Safe
Most animals have a “safe” spot where they feel most comfortable. When noises outside begin, at the first sign of distress, train your pet to go to his or her “safe” spot. This could be a bed, a crate or next to you on the sofa.
Note: Sending your pet to a crate is okay in this instance, as long as it is seen as not being a punishment, but instead as a way to make your pet feel safe. Keep the door open for an easy escape, should it be required.
You’ll notice that both of the negative responses above are wrong because they present scenarios where the owner reacts differently from the norm. This strange action (whether it’s angry or loving) can confuse the pet and reinforce the concept that something strange is going on. Instead, act as normally as you can. Don’t change your tone of voice or the way you act towards or around your pet. Teach your pet that everything is normal and as it should be — that will often help to calm them down as they will look to you for cues.
Distract With Games
Rather than showering your pet with treats, give him or her some quality positive time by playing. Playing is a fun activity that all owners should be doing with their pet anyway, and the act of play can not only make the pet happy, but make it completely forget about the perceived apocalypse happening right outside those windows.
Try a Thundershirt
You’ve probably seen these products in the store — Thundershirts. They’re tight shirts that are made to squeeze the pet ever so slightly. They aren’t tight enough to be uncomfortable or dangerous, but they are tight enough to give the feeling of being wrapped in a tight hug. This is a very calming sensation for most animals, and over 75% of owners who have tried the Thundershirt report having positive effects. Think about it — doesn’t it feel good to have a warm, heavy blanket pressing down on your legs? It’s the same thing, but specifically for pets.
Try Natural Herb Remedies
If you are looking to try soothing through natural means, there are a variety of natural herbs and supplements out there that are meant for treating pet anxiety. Natural herbs and supplements include melatonin, which helps pets stay calm and even sleep, L-tryptophan, which can help with calming effects, and Zylkene, which is sources from milk proteins. These supplements are used often and seen as safe, although of course you’ll want to speak with our team at Longview Animal Hospital before starting any kind of treatment whether natural or prescription.
Finally, there are a variety of medicines that are available to help calm your pets, from Fluoxetine to Clomacalm. These should not be taken lightly, however, as all medications can have potential side effects, but when they work right they can significantly improve your life and (more importantly) the life of your fur-ever friend. If you are looking to treat anxiety issues for your cat, take a look at our Happy Cat Kit – it might be just the thing to help you.
If you have questions about any of the suggestions mentioned here, please don’t’ hesitate to contact us at Longview Animal Hospital! Our team is happy to discuss these issues with you and provide guidance on what you can do.