Summer in the south means sweltering humidity broken only by sometimes scary and violent thunderstorms, and with those storms comes a condition that many pets and their owners dread: storm phobia. It can affect dogs, cats and other pets to varying degrees.
If you have a pet with this distressing condition, you know the symptoms well: excessive panting or drooling, trembling, rapid heartbeat, shedding, pacing or even destructive behavior as a pet attempts to find a safe spot in the home.
It's normal for animals to exhibit a certain amount of anxiety during extreme weather as a natural, life-preserving instinct. But pets suffering from storm phobia can sometimes elevate this response to unhealthy and unsafe levels. Outdoor pets have been known to jump fences and run away in an attempt to outrun the cause of their fear.
What exactly is the cause? It's different for each pet, but often they are experiencing a hypersensitivity to changes in barometric pressure, static electricity buildup, strong winds and of course bright flashes of lighting and loud cracks of thunder.
If you believe your pet may be suffering from storm phobia, it's important to address the issue with your veterinarian. Untreated, the symptoms can worsen and lead to destructive behavior and chronic stress which can impair your pet's immune system and overall health. In addition, Humanesociety.org offers these helpful "Fear Buster" tips to help you and your pet cope:
Build a storm bunker: Find a dark, quiet and easily accessible place, like a closet or bathroom, and teach your pet to relax in this safe area during normal weather. Fill the space with bedding, favorite toys and offer treats. An opened kennel nearby can also help. When a storm begins to approach, coax your pet into this safe space and use a fan, television or radio to drown out the noise.
Desensitize: Before storm season, play storm sounds at a low volume once a day. Increase the volume each day, pairing it with commands and rewards, playtime or treats. When storms are expected, start the fun before your pet shows signs of anxiety.
Seek help from medication: Severe phobias sometimes respond well to vet-prescribed medication coupled with behavior modification. Contact our Veterinary Care Center to discuss your pet's specific symptoms and reach out to a dog trainer like Aiken's Trish Wamsat for helpful behavior tips.
Create a natural calm: Synthetic products that mimic cat and dog pheromones can alleviate fears. These are available in various forms like collars, sprays and diffusers.
Snuggle up: Thundershirts for dogs and cats apply gentle, constant pressure to calm anxiety and fear. We have select sizes available at the SPCA Albrecht Center, or you can find them at pet supply stores and online.
If the fear becomes so severe that your pet bolts and becomes lost, you'll want to make sure you have a microchip in place so he has a much better chance of being returned to you. All of the SPCA's adoptable pets leave with a microchip, but it's important to check yearly to make sure your information is current. If your pet is not microchipped, Our Veterinary Care Center offers microchipping for just $25.
For microchips, storm phobia advice, vaccinations or any other veterinary needs including affordable spaying & neutering, our Veterinary Care Center is open for appointments Tuesday - Friday 10:00am -12:00pm and for walk-ins Tuesday - Friday 1:00pm - 4:00pm and Saturdays 9:00am - 3:00pm. Visit www.LetLoveLive.org/vet-care or call 803-648-6863, ext. 1.
Sarah Neikam is the Marketing Director for the SPCA Albrecht Center for Animal Welfare. She is an Aiken native and has been with the SPCA since 2012. Sarah lives in Graniteville with her family which includes three adopted cats: Bastian, Luna and Grady, who are all living happy, loved lives thanks to the efforts of the SPCA.