Storm anxiety – here’s how to help

Storms have been rolling-in around Newcastle lately. We treat many pets for storm anxiety, or related noise phobias. Typical storm noises, such as cracks of lightning and booms of thunder can trigger a response, but so can even the subtlest signs of a storm, such as changes to air pressure or static. These can severely interfere with your pet’s well-being and can put a strain on you and your pet’s relationship.

Physiological response to a phobic event:

  • Pupil dilation
  • Increased heart rate
  • Panting
  • Hairs standing up
  • Salivation
  • Trembling
  • Urination and / or defecation

Behaviours observed:

  • Avoidance and escape
  • Pacing
  • Hiding
  • Destructive behaviours
  • Attention seeking – vocalising
  • Inappetance
  • Inhibition and freezing

Diagnosing Storm Anxiety

Video recordings of your pet during a phobic episode can help our vets make an accurate diagnosis. It’s common for these phobias to occur if your pet has other anxiety disorders. Our vets can determine the severity as well as look for other possible issues. Where possible, the entire episode and recovery period should be recorded. The recovery period can be a key indicator of whether the phobia is progressing or stable.

Treatment

Environmental Management

  • Create a safe retreat space – Ideally an interior room away from windows, mimicing a den-like location. Lights should be on, shades or blinds drawn and music may be turned on loud enough to muffle thunder but not so loud as to increase fear. If time allows, it is ideal to teach your pet to go there to relax when the storm is not occuring, so a positive emotional response is made with the location. We recommend that the safe spot is readily available. Ensure also that your pet’s mcrochip details are up to date, incase of escape. We can help get this sorted for you!
Picture credit: pinterest.com
  • Wearable comfort – Body wraps and capes such as the Thunder Shirt or Storm Defender Cape can help some pets. For many, the static electricity that builds up in the fur can be another predictor that a storm is coming. The cape can ‘discharge’ this static, and the thundershirt provides constant pressure which can be very calming.
The Thundershirt – Picture credit thundershirt.com
  • Appeasing pheromone – Pheromone collars, diffusers and sprays have shown to provide calming affects to help with mild anxiety. They are best used before the event (before intense symptoms kick-in.) Get yours here at our clinic.

Behavioural Modification

  • Short-term – Remain neutral and ignore unwanted behaviours. Turn any negative situations into positives, by following any aversive noise (such as thunder) with a pleasant event (such as treats, playing or patting.) This will help your pet associate the frightening noise with something enjoyable. In severe cases, this technique will only work with anti-anxiety medication, to allow enough relief for your pet to enjoy the pleasant event and trigger them out of a panic response.
  • Long term – Desensitisation under a controlled setting can work wonders for long term management. Low level exposure to a trigger, while your pet remains relaxed (eg, a storm recording played at low level, paired with something pleasant such as a treat), can expose them to the event, without the added intensity of excessive noise or static in the air. This exercise should only be attempted with professional guidance. Contact our vets for more information, or a licenced pet behaviourist. We can give you some recommendations.

Medical Management

You can use medication as part of your pet’s storm anxiety treatment plan to increase the success of therapies. They can help bring their overall state down to a calm level, reducing their panic response and physiological reactions. It can help improve quality of life by minimising their and your emotional distress.

Eventually, some pets can be weaned off medication following successful training regimes. It is extremely important to use these according to the vet’s recommended prescription dose. Any changes made to increase the dose or example could be dangerous. See our other blog post on medication use at home for more information. Medications can be divided into situational use – those appropriate for occasional and predictable noise events, and those used daily.

  • Situational – Give these just before the event, to last a few hours. Some of these have the effect of light sedatives (your pet will be sleepy, but can still feel anxious), and others are anti-anxiety medications or anxiolytics (they reduce the anxiety-inducing physiological responses in the body).
  • Daily – For frequent or generalised anxiety sufferers, these can help bring their baseline down for 24/7 control.
  • Supplements – For mild symptoms, natural daily remedies such as products with tryptophan in them, can help ease anxiety. We have one here at the clinic called Complete Calm.

So, get that safety-den setup, prepare the thunder-shirt, choose your pet’s favourite games and treats, or contact us for medical support. You’ll be well prepared to combat the next storm that comes our way.

Meet the Fletcher Vet team

We enjoy a reputation as one of Newcastle’s best vet practices. Dr Paul Robin and his team have been caring for local pets (and their families) since 1998.

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