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Dogs and Anxiety – how to calm your stressed pet

Dogs and Anxiety – how to calm your stressed pet

Fireworks

Author: Dr Kersti Seksel, for Delta Society Australia

As featured on 9Coach https://coach.nine.com.au/2017/12/14/11/53/pet-anxiety-thunderstorms-fireworks – December 2017

As the ‘storm season’ and summer celebrations continue it is helpful to know of some practical tips that can help to calm your dog who may experience noise-induced stress. 

Dogs and cats have hearing that is at least 4 times more sensitive than that of humans, which can mean that they can become very stressed and anxious around loud noises such as thunderstorms or fireworks. Dogs experiencing this kind of noise-induced anxiety may shake, salivate, become very distressed, bark or howl, hide, or even try to escape through doors and windows, which can lead to them possibly injuring themselves in their panic. Cats often hide or escape so many owners are unaware that their cat may be suffering.

Thunderstorms can be particularly frightening for pets, as besides the loud noises associated with thunder, storms also involve changes in the air’s humidity, barometric pressure, wind and lightning, all of which can be incredibly intense experiences for some dogs.

During thunderstorms or fireworks displays, if your pet is exhibiting any of the above signs of anxiety, follow these guidelines to help calm your pooch or kitty and get you all through the event with minimal stress.

Stay calm

Dogs, and cats, can pick up on our emotions, so it’s important that you remain as calm as possible, and help to reassure your pet that everything is OK. Speak in a soothing, low voice, and offer treats and plenty of affection and cuddles. If your dog is really anxious, it may help to wrap them firmly in a towel or place a child’s T shirt on them (firm like a hug- only if your pet likes hugs) to help them to feel safe. Your pet can’t help feeling anxious and frightened, so never punish your dog or cat for being scared.

Close quarters

Create a quiet, safe space for your dog to hide until the worst of the noise is over. If your dog is crate-trained then this could be a great time for them to go and bunker down in their crate. Leave the crate door open though, so your dog doesn’t feel trapped. If your dog wants to be next to you or on you please let them do so. It should help decrease your dog’s anxiety. At the very least, make sure your dog is inside the house, and try to keep them in the most sound-proof area of your home. Many dogs will already have their own ‘safe space’ that they routinely retreat to for comfort – this could be a bathroom, laundry, under a table or even inside a wardrobe. Some particularly storm-phobic dogs have even been known to hide in the bathtub during a storm!

Cats also need a safe place, often a cupboard, cardboard box or space under a bed will provide some comfort to the cat.

Distract and redirect

Try to distract your dog from the loud noises with their favourite toys, treats, or by starting a fun game. Engaging them in an activity may help them to keep their mind occupied and less focused on the noise, and may also help to reduce anxiety in the longer term – if the dog begins to associate storms with fun, treats and or games, then their anxiety should lessen over time. Cats may also benefit from treats but generally are less likely to take them.

Make your own noise

Turn on the TV or radio, or try playing some calming music as ‘masking noise’, to reduce the impact of the noise of the storm or fireworks. Even noises like those from air- conditioners, fans or washing machines may be helpful in reducing your pet’s stress.

Medicate if necessary

If your pet is exhibiting high levels of anxiety then it may be a good idea to consider pheromones or anti-anxiety medication. While many pet owners may feel reluctant to medicate their pet for anxiety issues, prescription medication can make a significant improvement in the way an animal deals with anxiety-inducing situations such as thunderstorms or fireworks. Discuss the options with your vet to see if medication might be the way forward for your pet. These medications are not designed to sedate your pet or change their personality, they simply help them to feel less anxious and stressed and thus improve their quality of life.

Often a combination of the above factors will be needed to help your anxious pet to feel more comfortable during thunderstorms and fireworks displays. In cases of extreme storm- or noise-phobias, a consultation with a veterinary specialist in behavioural medicine may be required.

Delta Society Australia (Delta) is a national not-for-profit organisation with one core belief: that the human-animal bond remarkably improves our quality of life.  Established in 1997, Delta has developed an enviable reputation in the pet therapy sector and trusted relationships with more than 850 health and service facilities across the country. www.deltasociety.com.au

About the Author

Dr Kersti Seksel is a registered Veterinary Specialist in Behavioural Medicine, and a Board Member of the Delta Society.

For more information and advice about caring for your four-legged friends, follow the Delta Society on Facebook @DeltaSocietyAus, on Twitter @DeltaSocietyAus