Wizard Of Paws

Training your pet to stay calm during a storm

Sudden or loud sounds such as thunder can cause anxiety in pets, but they can be trained to overcome fear

Dr Nameeta Nadkarni
First Published31 May 2024, 08:00 AM IST
Noise phobia in pets is often triggered by sudden, loud or unfamiliar sounds.
Noise phobia in pets is often triggered by sudden, loud or unfamiliar sounds. (iStockphoto)

As we struggle through this scorching summer, many of us are eagerly anticipating the arrival of the monsoon. However, for some pet parents, the thunder and lightning that accompany the rains can spell a different story. Noise phobias in pets are more widespread than commonly believed and addressing these fears is crucial for the well-being of our furry friends.

Noise phobia in pets is often triggered by sudden, loud or unfamiliar sounds. While a fear response is a natural survival instinct, it can become overly pronounced in some pets. Genetics play a role in this heightened sensitivity, with breeds like Collies and German Shepherds being particularly prone to noise phobia. The offspring of anxious pets with noise phobia are also more likely to exhibit similar fears.

Also read: When pets feel the heat

Pets who have experienced past trauma often show a heightened response to loud noises. Rescued pets, such as Indies and other breeds that have been given new homes, frequently suffer from noise phobia due to their previous experiences. Additionally, puppies and kittens adopted during the pandemic, who missed out on exposure to various sounds during their critical development period, are also more prone to anxiety when confronted with loud noises.

Thunderstorms and other noise phobias can be incredibly distressing for pets. During a thunderstorm, pets might hide, behave oddly, pant, drool, pace or try to escape. Persistent yawning is often mistaken for drowsiness, but in pets, it can signal stress—one of the more subtle signs of noise phobia that pet parents might overlook.

Some pets are more vocal about fear, resulting in excessive barking, whining, or meowing. Others become unusually clingy. Some might chew on furniture or dig at carpets. All these behaviours are indicators of distress. Never punish your pet for these behaviours as it can worsen their phobia.

Helping your pet overcome their fears is an ongoing process that requires preparation well before the triggers occur. If your pet was distressed by thunderstorms or fireworks last year, it’s crucial to begin training them early to manage their fears. Anticipate storms by monitoring weather forecasts and preparing your pet in advance.

Desensitisation and counterconditioning are key strategies to help your pet cope with loud sounds. Start by exposing them to recordings of thunderstorms at a low volume, gradually increasing the volume over time. Pair this with positive experiences like treats and playtime to reward calm behaviour and create a positive association with the sounds of storms.

Create a quiet, secure area where your pet can retreat during storms. This could be a closet, bathroom or a crate covered with a heavy blanket to muffle the noise. Include familiar items like favourite toys, blankets and bedding to provide comfort. Instead of constantly trying to calm your pet, go about your activities as usual to give them a sense of normalcy. Since pets take cues from their owners, remaining calm can significantly reduce their anxiety. Use heavy curtains, carpets, and soundproofing materials to reduce external noise. Ear muffs for the pet can help too. White noise machines can help mask the sound of thunder. Distracting your pet with games or food may also be effective.

For pets with chronic anxiety, long-term medication might be necessary and should be administered under veterinary supervision. Thunderstorm phobias in pets can be challenging but are manageable with the right approach. Creating a safe environment, employing behavioural strategies and using calming products are effective ways to help your pet cope with their fears. Patience, consistency and understanding are essential to ensure that both pets and their owners can weather the storm together.

Nameeta Nadkarni is a veterinary soft tissue surgeon and pet blogger from Mumbai.

Also read: Why every pet owner should know first aid basics




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First Published:31 May 2024, 08:00 AM IST
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