It’s finally the return of the rainy season here in Florida. I love that time of year when you can set your clock by the afternoon thunderstorms. This is the “lightning capital” of the U.S., though. So, every storm brings another anxiety-ridden few hours for some pets. They cower, tremble, hide, and generally feel miserable while their pet owners fret over what to do. And if the cracking of regular thunder boomers isn’t enough to terrify pets, think about what happens around New Year’s Day and the Fourth of July–because the sales of fireworks are not restricted here in Florida. For weeks around those holidays some neighborhoods sound and smell like war zones. Pity the poor noise phobic pets and their owners! These are times when some pets try to escape, and later find themselves checked in to the closest animal shelter, lost and frightened.
What can a pet owner do to help a pet through such noisy events?
- If your pet is still young, try to prevent noise phobias from beginning. During the critical first 4 to 6 months, make sure to calmly expose your young pet to loud noises so they won’t be frightened later as an adult.
- Be calm yourself, offer immediate food treats and praise for relaxing while loud noises occur.
- Train your pet that a crate or a kennel is a safe and comforting place to be anytime–and reward them for going to their assigned dens during loud noises. Reward them in their dens with special treats and toys.
- “Jolly” pets through loud events, as you might a young child by playing or distracting them during a stressful time. If your pet experiences a loud event calmly and associates it with comfort, then future noisy events should be less of a problem.
- Microchip your pet. Update the microchip registration every year. Also be sure your pet is wearing an ID tag and proper license tag. Proper identification will help get your pet back to you should they make an escape attempt during a stressful event.
- If your pet already shows symptoms of noise phobia, employ a good dog trainer to set up a desensitization/counterconditioning program for you and your pet. Such programs might take several weeks or months of practice before achieving good results.
- Try a “storm jacket” or “thunder coat” to swaddle your pet during noisy times. “Dog muffs” are also available to help dampen noise for pets.
- Ask your veterinarian to prescribe a sedative or tranquilizer to give your pet during very stressful times, such as Independence Day. Certain sedatives help pets relax and focus enough to receive training. Others sedate so heavily the pet becomes sleepy and cannot focus on training. Work with your veterinarian to pick the correct medication for your situation. Your veterinarian will need to do a complete physical exam of your pet before prescribing any medications.
Welcome to summer in Florida!
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Dr. Spencer practices at Bayonet Point Animal Clinic