by Tim Smith
Dark skies, noisy winds, unfamiliar scents and being confined to a small space with stressed out owners – major storms add up to a potentially anxious time for our beloved pets.
We can help animals cope with a storm by understanding what might make them frightened, looking out for the tell-tale signs that they are uncomfortable, preparing properly for the storm and, most importantly, training them to handle those difficult hours as we bunker down.
Carol Terceira, owner of Noah’s Ark Feed and Supply in Devonshire, says: “It would be perfectly normal for a pet to be restless during a storm, but you should be aware of the signs of stress.”
Terceira says pets can express stress by pacing, panting, showing wide eyes, keeping their tail down, lip-licking and yawning. It can escalate to signs of fear, like shaking, hiding or trying to be as close to you as possible.
“If a dog shows signs of stress in a storm, this has the potential to escalate with each exposure if there is no intervention.”
She urges owners to keep a close watch on their pet’s behaviour on stormy days. “Sometimes it’s enough to improve the environment, redirect behaviours, add calming supplements and treats or use a compression jacket,” she says.
For some dogs, however, it may become necessary to use medications prescribed by the vet.
Terceira has put together some additional tips so pet owners can help their pets weather any storm:
TRAIN YOUR PETS
Dogs and cats have a natural tendency to find a small space, out of the way, where they can rest and feel secure.
Terceira advises owners to take advantage of this natural behaviour by training their pet to a crate. “Keep your pet familiar with their crate and do not just pull it out for vet visits or storms. You want them to view their crate as their safe space and not be a harbinger of something potentially unpleasant in their future.”
When the storm approaches, Terceira suggests putting treats and a safe toy inside the crate and leaving the door open.
Other training tips include:
Get pets such as birds, hamsters and guinea pigs accustomed to being handled in normal situations so that they find it less stressful if they need to be handled during a storm.
Train cats to use a litter box indoors well before the storm. Give them a litter and location they accept.
Train your dog to eliminate while on a leash, as this might be the safest way of doing it after a storm. Alternatively, train the dog to eliminate on a pee pad.
Engage your dog in training regimes such as sitting or pawing so they learn to direct their attention to you instead of the storm.
PET HURRICANE KIT
This should include basic first aid such as vet wrap, scissors, saline rinse, antibiotic cream, tweezers and medication. Stock up on water and pet food for a few days. Consider freeze-dried shelf-stable versions as an alternative to refrigerated or frozen food. Pureed pumpkin can help settle digestive issues. Other items include a crate, bedding, toys, chews, cat litter box, litter, scoop, place to dispose of soiled litter, disposable pee pads, collar or harness and leash.
MICROCHIP AND VACCINATE YOUR PETS
Collars with ID can help reconnect you with your lost pet, but what happens if the collar becomes lost? “A more secure way to identify your pet is to have them microchipped. All vet offices and dog wardens will have the capability of scanning your pet,” says Terceira.
KEEP YOUR PETS SECURE
As well as providing a secure, den-like environment, a crate can stop your cat and dog from trying to escape the house during the storm. It can also help you transport your pet instantly and safely in case of an emergency. “Birds and small animals generally have their own regular home enclosures, but you may want to have smaller portable carriers for each in case you need to relocate quickly,” Terceira says.
You can also keep your cat in a room where they can be comfortable behind closed doors.
Large animals, such as horses and goats, should be housed as best they can. Their homes should be secured in the same way as our homes. Ensure they have extra water, while extra hay can reduce stress and give extra food security. Rabbits and birds housed should be brought into the house in a temporary indoor cage or travel crate.
“A change like this is stressful for them, but less so than being out in a strong storm, which can damage housing and allow escape,” she says.
If your animal does escape during a storm, you should notify vets and online pet sites such as Facebook: Bermuda Lost and Found Pets; and Pet Connection Bermuda. Keep a good photograph of your pet printed and ready to share electronically so you can quickly upload a photo, with date, last known location and contact information. That information can also be emailed to vets. After the storm, put food and water outside. The scent from a dirty litter box can help guide your cat home.
TRY TO STAY CALM
Our own behaviour can make our pets more anxious. “Pets can be extremely sensitive and are easily impacted by our behaviour even when we do not think we are giving off cues,” Terceira says. “My advice is to be prepared yourself as best you can to avoid the panic or anxiety that can accompany last-minute prep. This will help children and pets to stay calm.”
If things do get stressful, she says pet owners might find it beneficial to move their pets to a quiet part of the house with you or allow them to retreat to their crate. A favourite, long-lasting chew can also help keep a pet relaxed. Terceira also suggests engaging in easy play and using a white noise machine to block out the storm noise. For serious storm anxiety, consult your vet or dog trainer for help.