Facing the Fear Of Fireworks and Thunderstorms – A Holistic Approach
Written by Jen, RVT
RUMBLE! CRASH! BOOM!
Does the sound of a oncoming storm send your dog or cat running? Some pets are even so sensitive to the atmospheric pressure changes of a coming storm that they will start to exhibit signs of stress before the actual storm has hit. Other pets will react to fireworks and the noise, commotion and scents that come with them. Fear not and read on to find a variety of tips, tricks and solutions for helping your fearful friend and keeping you both calm in the storm.
What is “thunder phobia” and what is happening to my pet?
If you’re like many dog owners, you’ve witnessed the terror that summer storms can strike in your pet. “Thunder phobia” most commonly develops in dogs between ages two and four, according to animal behaviorist Patricia McConnell. This fear can manifest as a variety of challenging behaviors—hiding, whining, scratching, slobbering, or tearing down door frames in a state of panic—and it can get worse with age.”¹
In addition to the stress induced behaviour we see, there are often underlying physiological changes that aren’t so easily detected. These can include: increased heart & breathing rate, endocrine & metabolic changes such as stress induced hyperglycemia (increased blood sugar), gastrointestinal upset, and the release of stress hormones (cortisol)². All of this adds up to a stressed out pet, a worried and frustrated owner, and can have lasting effects on both the physical and emotional state of your pet.
What can I do?
As always with pet care your number one priority should be keeping yourself and your pets safe! Keep them indoors and away from open windows or doors that they may run out if frightened. Consider keeping pets in a closed room, a crate or even leashed if you are having guests over who may accidentally let them slip by. Thousands of pets go missing each year during storms and fireworks. Even the best behaved pets may become startled suddenly and take of running so be sure to keep them safe and secure at all times.
There are many resources available for helping pets adjust to the stress of thunderstorms, fireworks and other stressful events. A quick search can bring up hundreds of links, videos and other resources on desensitization, training and calming methods. We’ve even included a few links below to get you started. Instead of repeating that here we’ve come up with some “alternative” options for treatment. Remember, if your pet’s anxiety becomes extreme or more than you can bear, a trip to your veterinarian or a consultation with a veterinary behaviourist may be the best solution for everyone. In the meantime, read on for some specific products and tips that you can try for your pet at home.
- Anzio-VM™ from Alpha Vet Science. This calming formula is created from scientifically based and naturally sourced formulations. When given before a stressful event (such as a storm or fireworks) it can help reduce the stress and anxiety your pet may experience. It acts as a mild sedative that supports the central nervous system without the “hangover” effect some pets may experience from other prescription sedatives and tranquilizers.
- Bio-Calm™ from Ceva. This palatable formula helps promote an overall feeling of calmness and relaxation without causing drowsiness. The key ingredients are L-theanine (a tea leaf derivative) and milk protein hydrolysate. Think of this of the pet equivalent of a warm cup of milk or a relaxing cup of tea before bed. It can be given as needed or daily for long-term behavioural support.
- Essential Oils
- Essential oils, when used safely, can be a great addition to your pet’s regular care. Calming and grounding oils such as a lavender, frankincense, chamomile, and geranium can be diffused, applied to bedding or collar or used topically to help bring feelings of relaxation and peace to your pets. These oils can be used individually or you can create your own blend to use with your pets. For more information on using essential oils with pets visit our Essential Oil information page. Remember to only use high quality, unadulterated oils and always use with caution in case your pet develops a sensitivity to a scent.
- Dogs and cats communicate with each other through subtle body language, vocalization (barking, meowing, etc) and pheromones. These naturally produced chemicals are undetectable by humans but pets use them to mark territory and send calming signals to other animals. To help pets feel more relaxed Ceva has developed products that mimic these pheromones – Feliway for cats & Adaptil for dogs. Both products are available in a variety of forms – sprays, collars (for dogs only) and a plug in that diffuses the pheromone into the environment and can help bring calm and harmony to your home. Available through your veterinarian, ask if pheromones are a good option for your pet.
- A comforting touch can have relaxing and healing effects for both pets and owners. We instinctively reach out to comfort our pets with a gentle stroke when they are nervous or afraid. To increase the benefit of physical touch you can target specific acupressure points to increase feelings of relaxation and calmness. While there are many spots in dogs and cats the easiest ones to find are on the head.
Start by stroking your pet’s head from just above the eyes to between their ears with gentle but firm motions. There is a bony spot (the “happy point”) on most pets head just between their ears that connects to a series of acupuncture points that help calm the brain and clear the mind. Pet this area for approximately 30 seconds or for as long as your pet will tolerate, if they become more agitated or move away from the pressure discontinue and allow them to move about freely.
Another spot to use is just behind the base of the ear where it connects with the head, known as “An Shen”. This helps to calm the spirit or “shen” by decreasing anxiety and fear and improving focus.³ Since most pets enjoy a good ear scratch this is one spot that is usually very well tolerated. Other spots can be found on the paws and lower on the body as well but may be more difficult to access in a nervous animal and may take some more practice to locate.
Our pets are very sensitive to our mood and energy so try to keep your demeanor calm with slow, regular breathing and use a gentle voice. This alone can be almost as comforting as the acupressure itself. For more information on this technique and other spots you can use for treatment visit http://www.animalacupressure.com/index.htm
- ThunderShirtswork on the same premise as swaddling a baby, by apply gentle pressure at specific points on the body it can help calm dogs and cats in a variety of anxiety inducing situations including during fireworks and as the name implies, thunderstorms. These shirts are available in a variety of styles and sizes and can be purchased online, through a pet store or from your veterinarian. For more information on ThunderShirts visit their website: http://www.thundershirt.com/
- Most people have heard the quote “Music soothes the savage beast” but have you tried it with a scared one? Often times the phobia pet’s experience is partially due to their sensitive ears and the loud noises associated with storms and fireworks. Calming music and other noises can sometimes distract from that fear and reduce some of their anxiety. A quick YouTube search can bring up a variety of relaxing songs and videos for you and your pets to enjoying during stressful events or pick your favourite songs and make a customized calm down playlist for your pet.
As always – we encourage you to seek professional advice for the best health of your beloved furry friends.
If you have questions, comments or would like to book an appointment don’t hesitate to contact us.
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