Winter might conjure up images of evenings by the fire, hot chocolate and toasted marshmallows. However, winter also brings stormy weather, which can be very frightening for our beloved pets.
Understanding what actions you can take during winter storms to keep pets safe is an essential part of being a responsible pet owner. Here’s the lowdown on looking after pets when storms are predicted (or hit unexpectedly!).
Cats and dogs, amongst other animals, can sense a storm approaching due to the change in atmospheric pressure. This can cause them to feel uneasy and show signs of stress even before the first clap of thunder is heard.
Steps to help keep pets safe during winter storms
PETstock veterinarian Dr. Sasha Nefedova explains, “Thunderstorms can make all pets, particularly dogs and cats, feel highly stressed or anxious. In some cases, pets may show destructive behaviours, such as barking, scratching, or chewing in response to a thunderstorm.
She says there are many ways pet owners can prepare their pets for a thunderstorm. “As a pet owner, it’s important to take active steps towards ensuring your pet is physically and mentally safe should a storm strike.”
Here are a few ways to ready yourself and your furry friend for potential winter storms.
“Taking your dog for a walk before a thunderstorm will tire them out both mentally and physically. This helps to act as a natural calming aid, so your pet feels more relaxed before a storm rolls in,” advises Dr. Nefedova.
“Thunderstorms can make pets feel stressed or anxious; so it is important to reward calm behaviour all year round, even on clear days, so that your pet can feel settled on command. Giving your pet treats and praise when they are laying down calmly means they will associate this behaviour with being rewarded and more likely to feel encouraged to continue this behaviour during a thunderstorm.”
Being thunderstorm ready also means making sure your pet’s identification is up to date.
“One of the easiest and most important ways to prepare your pet for a thunderstorm is to ensure that their ID tag and microchip details are up to date. If your fur baby were to panic and run away, having this information up to date will save a lot of time and hassle,” says Dr. Nefedova. (You can get a tag through our partner PetIDTag with a 20% discount – enter code GET20 at checkout)
“There are many ways that pet owners can comfort their frightened pet during a thunderstorm. Showing them attention to calm them down, such as gently patting or massaging them, will reassure your pet that they are safe, protected and will make them feel at ease.
“It’s a good idea for pet owners to place their pet’s bed in the most soundproof room of the house, so that when a thunderstorm strikes they have a safe and familiar place to escape to.
“An easy and effective way of reducing a pet’s anxiety or stress during a thunderstorm is to close the blinds or curtains. In the eyes of your pet, this forms a protective barrier between them and the threatening rain and lightning outdoors.”
If you have a dog that becomes extremely anxious during stormy weather, Dr. Nefedova recommends a Thundershirt.
“A Thundershirt is an anti-anxiety weighted coat for dogs. It works to calm their nerves if they are feeling anxious or fearful—particularly during storms, heavy rain, or hail. The gentle, constant pressure of a Thundershirt has a calming effect on a dog’s nervous system and is a safe and drug-free solution to help combat a dog’s anxiety.”
Try distraction techniques
“Keeping your pet distracted during a thunderstorm will reduce their anxiety levels and offer them a sense of comfort. Whether they are a cat, dog or rabbit, enrichment toys such as Kongs, food puzzles, or calming chews help to keep them mentally and physically occupied during a storm.
“Some pets that feel anxious respond well to music being played. Calming music is an effective distraction from the noise of a thunderstorm. Playing calming music on days where there is no thunderstorm will create a sense of familiarity with your pet when it is played during a thunderstorm. This will offer a sense of comfort and hopefully work towards desensitising your pet to the sounds of a storm.”
Dr. Nefedova adds, “For any animal that already suffers from anxiety the added element of a thunderstorm will be difficult. Symptoms of anxiety in pets include trembling, licking of lips, pacing, increased drooling or salivation, shaking or a decrease in appetite.
“As responsible pet owners, It’s important to monitor your pet closely during a thunderstorm. If any symptoms present themselves, pet owners must take the correct preventative measures to keep them at ease. Pet owners are advised to chat with their local vet about additional techniques to assist pets with extreme thunderstorm associated anxiety and conditions.”
Dr Marty Becker has recently updated his info on managing pet stress, including some useful videos and infographics. You can find them here.
Is your pet affected by thunderstorms? How do you keep your fur pal calm when storms strike?