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Pets feel your fear

All creatures great and small

To all my dog-owners who live with a storm-phobic pet, help is at hand. This is a difficult and stressful problem I encounter all too often. And it's not just their psyche (and ours!) at risk. We all know that dogs are capable of doing serious damage to themselves during storms. Fractured claws, lacerations, broken teeth and bruises are but a few consequences.

So how do you handle thunderstorm phobia? Here are my suggestions:

* Handle it early on in your dog's life.

From the very first flash of lightening your new puppy sees, start to build a positive relationship between him and the storm. Try to stay calm yourself, dogs are extremely sensitive to your mood and will react with fear if you are frightened. You may be quacking in your boots but try to display a relaxed demeanour for your pet.

* If you can't make it better, don't make it worse.

Shouting at your dog to calm down during a storm will not help. He is already terrified and now you are giving him more reason to think storms are bad. Speak soothingly to him to help calm his nerves. Stroke him and distract him from the storm as much as possible.

* Offer treats, cuddling and other good stuff when storms happen.

This method is best employed before the phobia sets in —— as pups. Try to develop a positive association with the storm from an early age.

* Let him hide — in a crate.

Hiding (as in a cave) is a natural psychological defence for dogs. Getting them used to a crate has a tremendous influence on how comfortable they are when things scare them. Having a go-to place for relaxing or hiding away is an excellent approach, no matter what the fear.

* Get him away from the noise, and compete with it.

Creating a comfy place (for the crate or elsewhere) in a room that's enclosed (like a closet or bathroom) may help a great deal. Adding in a loud radio or television can help, too.

* Counter the effects of electromagnetism.

Though it may sound like voodoo, your dog can also become sensitised to the electromagnetic radiation caused by lightning strikes. One great way to shield your dog from these potentially fear-provoking waves is to cover her crate with a double layer of heavy-duty aluminium foil. If she hides under the bed, consider slipping a layer of aluminium foil between the box-spring and mattress.

* Desensitise him.

Sometimes it's possible to allay the fears by using thunderstorm sound CDs when it's not raging outside. Play it at a low volume while plying him with positive stimuli (like treats and petting). Increase the volume all the while, getting to those uncomfortable booming sounds over a period of weeks. It works well for some but takes time and patience from you.

* Ask your veterinarian about drugs.

There are several options for medicating storm phobias, but these should be used in conjunction with behaviour modification to get the best results. Speak with your veterinarian for the best options for your pet.

* Natural therapies can work.

For milder cases, Bach flower extracts (as in Rescue Remedy), lavender oil (in a diffuser is best) and/or “Dog Appeasing Pheromone” (marketed as D.A.P. in a diffuser, spray or collar) can help.

* Consider seeing a certified animal behaviourist.

They may have suggestions which will help your pet during these stormy days.

Dr Lucy Richardson is the owner of CedarTree Vets, a companion animal concierge veterinary service in Bermuda. She graduated in 2005 from Edinburgh University and has worked as a vet in Bermuda since 2006. She is married to Mark and has two beautiful children, Ray and Stella. If you have a topic you would like Dr Richardson to discuss please contact her at cedartreevets@gmail.com or visit her website at www.cedartreevets.com

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Published November 04, 2013 at 8:00 am (Updated November 04, 2013 at 8:17 am)

Pets feel your fear

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