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April Rain


April Showers Bring...Thunderstorms

Ever wake up during a 4 a.m. thunderstorm with your pet's paws wrapped around your neck?
Fear of storms can be lessened if the owner takes the time to overcome the problem.

Thunderstorm season is upon us, and the forecast for many dogs and cats calls for fear, anxiety, and acting out. Fear of thunderstorms and other loud noises is a very common behavior disorder in both dogs and cats. The problem with thunderstorms is that you can't tell exactly what is scaring your pet. It could be the lightning flash. It might be the vibration of the house when the thunder goes off. It could be the noise. It might even be the smell of the ozone following lightning. There's multiple stimuli and it's hard to be sure which one is setting your pet off.

The range of responses seen with this fear is large. Some animals will whine and whimper or stand still and shake. Others may compulsively chew, either on themselves or possibly on the closest piece of furniture. Some may dig. Animals may be so frightened they dig through hardwood floors or jump through a plate glass window to escape. Many animals can sense when a thunderstorm is approaching long before it actually happens. As owners, we don't necessarily do anything to perpetuate this fear. Flashes of lightning, the crash of thunder, and the unpredictable nature of the storm can add to the animal's level of fear.

The non-drug oriented method of treating this fear is desensitization. Desensitization is simply giving the animal the stimulus (the sound of the thunderstorm) in low doses, and then gradually increasing the dose of the stimulus. If the noise of a storm is the stimulus that sets them off, the tape should desensitize them to the sounds. Look for a recording of thunder sounds at your local library or pet store, or record your own during a storm. While desensitization can be very successful, this treatment is a very long-term approach, taking anywhere from a few months to greater than a year, depending on the patient. Desensitization takes time and patience to be truly effective. During desensitization treatment, you are creating fear in the animal. It is important to link that fear with a positive reinforcement. There is debate about which reinforcement will work best, but a positive reinforcement may be gentle stroking or a food treat.

Sometimes, in extreme cases, tranquilizers can keep a dog calm. Drug therapy is a new form of treatment for this fear disorder. The problem with thunderstorms and medication is that it takes most of our medications 30 to 60 minutes to work. So owners have to anticipate when the storm is going to occur. The weather channel has helped a lot in trying to predict when to give medication. Drugs commonly used include Acepromazine and Valium. Be very careful with drugs that manipulate the brain. There has not been enough research with drugs such as Prozac, Amitriptyline, or Valium to understand the true effects on the animal's behavior. There can be both positive and negative behavior changes in pets who are on medication. Be on the lookout for potential adverse effects as well as good effects. If you are interested in using drug therapy, contact your local veterinarian to determine whether it would be appropriate for your pet.

Another tip is to use distraction whenever a dog begins to show fear. Try playing fetch or introducing a chew toy. Do things that will help take the animal's mind off what is going on outside. Give your pet extra playtime or play a radio or television in the background. It is important to know your pet well so that you can see whether there are any changes in behavior that might indicate something is not right. A fear of thunderstorms and loud noises can occur at any time in your pet's life and will not diminish as your pet matures. If you feel your animal suffers from this fear, contact your local veterinarian.

What owners shouldn't do is reinforce the fearful behavior. Try not to spend a lot of time petting the animal because it is afraid. Cuddling the animal, holding the animal, letting the animal get in the bed, these are rewards that encourage the dog's fearful behavior. Try to divert its attention instead, although that can be kind of difficult in the middle of the night.

Speaking of thunderstorms, CLICK HERE and check this out

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