By Karen Fazio, CDBC, Director of Training and Behavior
Almost all pets are uncomfortable with sudden or loud sounds. Most cope with their discomfort by hiding or seeking out comfort from owners or other animals living in the home. For those classified as phobic, nothing quite compares to the intense level of fear and anxiety such pets experience when exposed to thunderstorms or fireworks.
Sound-phobic dogs and cats present certain symptoms that earn them this classification. Some include pacing, excessive panting, drooling, vomiting, trembling, house soiling, aggression, over-the-top vocalizing or attempts to escape the home. In some cases, symptoms persist long after the event has concluded.
Luckily, there are a number of ways an owner may help their pets prepare for and cope with thunderstorms and firework displays.
Report the behavior to your vet: Your vet will have a variety of pharmaceutical options that may significantly reduce the amount of stress your pet experiences during thunderstorms and fireworks.
Be aware: During summer months keep an eye on weather by tuning into the local news in order to better predict impending thunderstorms. Check out the local newspaper or official county site for planned area firework displays.
Crate a safe room: A safe room would include carpet, curtains or wall coverings to help absorb sound, or a safe hiding space. Scary sounds may be reduced by introducing music players programmed with tunes specifically designed to soothe fearful pets. Such items are available at throughadogsear.com. A television or radio may be used to provide music or sound, too.
Block out scary visuals: Draw shades or window blinds to block out frightening flashes of light, which often serves as a predictor that scary sounds will soon follow.
Fit the pet with a Thundershirt: This is a compression vest that replicates the sensation of swaddling and has been proven to reduce stress in cats and dogs. Thundershirts are available at Petco or PetSmart and behavior-savvy veterinary hospitals.
Try soothing the pet: Contrary to popular belief, soothing or comforting a fearful pet doesn’t reinforce the behavior or make it worse. Either it works or it doesn’t. If your pet responds to soothing words or touch, feel free to do so.
Plan to stay home: If expecting a thunderstorm or are fireworks display it may be best to remain home for the comfort of the dog, or hire a pet sitter to be available when you are unable to.
Provide mental stimulation and exercise: Teach the pet a new skill or trick as well as engage them in physical exercise an hour or so prior to the event. Mental stimulation and exercise may rid the brain of excess energy the animal would normally devote to fears.
Relocate the pet: Provide an alternative location for the pet, such as with a friend or family member’s home where no firework displays are planned. One may also choose to board the pet at a veterinary hospital who offers 24-hour supervision.