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Help! My Pet is Afraid of Thunder

Summer is on our heels. A glorious time of year; however, out of all the seasons, summer can be the most frightening for our canines and felines. With the onset of fireworks and thunderstorms, our pets' sensitivity to noise can be the cause of dangerous anxiety attacks.

The symptoms of an anxiety attack are obvious. Pets become nervous and unsettled. Heavy breathing or panting, pacing and even vomiting can occur. If these symptoms are not addressed, pets can become destructive to couches, backyard fences, their favorite toys and even to themselves. It's entirely natural for them to attempt escape. Dr. Jane had a client in Florida with a German Shepherd that became so frightened one Fourth of July evening that he dove right through the front window! He was badly hurt and Dr. Jane had to treat him with several stitches and a tranquilizer.

Thousands of pets end up in animal shelters during the summer months, especially around Independence Day. In fact, shelters now refer to runaway canines as 'Fourth of July Dogs.' Sadly, many of these dogs and cats are never reunited with their owners due to insufficient or outdated identification.

We at HPN want to help you to avoid any unnecessary pain or loss. Below are a few tips for helping your pet through these summer thunderstorms.

Some trainers recommend conditioning your pet to loud noises -- desensitization, in other words. CD's of fireworks and thunder are available to help condition your pet. Play it softly and gradually increase the volume while engaging in a pleasant game with your pet or giving a treat, such as HPN's Wholesome Hearts for Dogs or Purr-fectly Natural Cat Treats. This will help your pet associate the noise with pleasantries.

Even though this desensitization technique will teach your pet to respond in non-fearful ways to frightening stimuli, please understand that the noise of thunder generally comes with weather changes that your pet can easily sense, so don't expect a 100% turn around.

Confine your pet to a safe place just before and during the storm/festivities. Where does your pet feel most safe? The closet, under the futon, in a cage, on your bed? Make this favorite space comfortable with water and dry food and soft music to help distract him or her from the noise.

Be sure that your pet can't escape. It only takes one second for your cat to run through your legs and out the door. Keep all doors and windows closed and don't open them when your pet is in the room. Just in case, make sure your pet is wearing a current I.D tag on its collar. Microchips and tattoos are also good options because they can never come off.

Contact your vet beforehand to discuss tranquilizer options. If you want to go natural, here are a few ways: (a) one product is called Calms Forte, available at health food stores. This homeopathic product is 100% safe, even for infants. It will take the edge off of fear but not as much as a prescription tranquilizer.
(b) Valerium is an herb commonly used for dogs with fear. It tastes so bad that the chances of giving it to a cat are impossible.
(c) Dr. Jane also recommends trying warm milk with honey. It hits the sleep center in the brain and helps your pet to relax. Some vets recommend anti-histamines that have the side effect of sleep. Some pets are given tranquilizers or human anti-anxiety drugs like Elavil by their family vet.

Do not punish your pet for being afraid. It's not your pet's fault and you will only cause him or her to be more fearful. Overall, pets suffering from noise anxiety can be helped through proper planning, prevention and loving reassurance from their owners. Pay attention to the level of anxiety your pet has (it can vary vastly) and work with your vet to determine the best treatment method possible. If your pet is not responding to anything you do, ask for a veterinarian behaviorist or a PhD in animal psychology. Don't give up.

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 June 2006 Issue

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Dr. Jane Bicks
Product Formulator

First and foremost,
Dr. Jane is the ultimate pet person. She shares her life with a dog, a goat, two horses, a monkey, and two cats. Her pets are her family and she is dedicated to their health and happiness. Dr. Jane knows you feel the same way about your pets and she has devoted her life to the health and wellness of our precious companions.

Dr. Jane is a highly respected and nationally recognized holistic veterinarian. She is the author of three national books on pet care and nutrition and has served on professional boards including the Cornell Feline Health Center.  Dr. Jane is responsible for HealthyPetNet's product formulation and development.

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