Anxiety from Thunderstorms and Fireworks

Thunderstorms and fireworks are a staple of every Canadian summer.  However, for some of our pets, these events trigger severe anxiety.  Pets may develop fears in response to many unique situations or stimuli and as we all know, they have an excellent memory!  Often fears intensify over time – the earlier this is addressed, the better for the pet and household!  Early signs of fear include cats retreating and hiding, and dogs looking away, walking away, refusing a treat, or not following a command.

If you notice your pet reacting in a fearful manner, try to reward good behaviour, such as responding to your commands.  It is useful to teach your puppy to “settle” on a mat (the nice thing about a mat is that it is portable and can be brought with the dog to the groomer’s, the cottage, or the vet clinic!).  Sometimes it can be helpful to “de-sensitize” your cat or dog to the offending sound, for example by playing a recording of a thunderstorm very softly while playing with your pet and giving them treats.  If they remain relaxed, you can gradually increase the volume.  If you remain calm, they are likely to remain calm.  Even though many of the behaviours are annoying, keep in mind that punishment does not reduce fear, and it is almost impossible to do any meaningful learning when one is afraid. It is always better to respond with compassion!

In some cases, medication can help decrease anxiety.  However, for dogs and cats with severe anxiety, it will be very difficult to learn a different response to the stimulus.  We suggest booking an appointment with a veterinary behaviourist to work on desensitization.  Call us to discuss the information in this article, or any other, further and we would be happy to set up an appointment.

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