The Star-Herald

Thunderstorm phobia is real

Cuddled up on my couch last night with my kitty Willie in my lap, I could hear the distant rumblings of an approaching thunderstorm — the first one of the season, and fortunately it wasn’t too bad.  And my Willie didn’t move a muscle. He is a pretty calm and cool cat.

The thunderstorm phobia can cause pets to hide for hours, chew things up or even become aggressive during a storm.  It can affect both dogs and cats. It is important to recognize there is a problem early.

The behaviors tend to get worse as storm season goes on and the storms become more frequent. The phobia can also get worse as the animals get older.

According to the Association of Professional Dog Trainers, some dogs react to the noise of thunder and others react to the lightning. Some believe that the dogs can sense the change in the barometric pressure from the storm.

But there are ways to help.

“The number one thing that I see people do wrong in a situation with a dog with a storm phobia is that they try to comfort them. And that is not the right thing to do because what you are doing is reinforcing that behavior, and you don’t want that behavior to continue. So we want to not punish them for that behavior, but what you want to do is provide a safe place for them to go, and that’s typically not in your lap and not in your arms,” said Dr. Nicole Pearsall of Penn-Ohio Veterinary Services.

Dr. Pearsall said the ideal safe space looks different for each animal. If they have a place that they naturally tend to go when they are scared, try to make that more comfortable for them.

The best safe place is as soundproof as possible.  If your pet does not have an established safe spot, Dr. Pearsall said rooms without windows are best so the animals cannot see the lightning. Medication is an option for severe cases, but you do not want to use drugs if it can be avoided.

Dr. Pearsall also recommends trying a ThunderShirt for your furry friend.

“You put it on beforehand and what it does is it actually hits acupuncture points that help to calm them. Also it gives them that feeling that they are being held so they are comforted in that way,” Dr. Pearsall said.

Dr. Pearsall also recommended a Calming Cap. It is a cap that goes over the eyes to filter the dog’s vision to reduce the visual stimulation they experience in the stressful situations.  Whatever your choices are, we hope it will ease your pet’s anxiety during future storms.

Visit the Central Aroostook Humane Society at 26 Cross Street in Presque Isle to adopt the forever pet that is right for you. Check us out on Facebook for all the latest news and available pets. Our hours are:  Tuesday through Saturday, 10 a.m.-4 p.m., closed 12-12:30. Please remember to be responsible: spay and neuter your pets.

Gloria J. Towle is the secretary and a member of the board of directors of the Central Aroostook Humane Society.

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