Pet Connection

Thunder Trauma

What can you do if your pet is fearful of storms? Five ways to help him stay calm

By Kim Campbell Thornton

Andrews McMeel Syndication

Loud wind and hail attacked the house. Branches crashed onto the roof and deck. The power flashed on and off. Tim became hyperalert, trembling and glassy-eyed. Nothing Christie said got through to him. He bolted off the bed, tore through the house and ran outside. Christie found him huddled in a corner of the yard, behind some trees, as far away from the house as he could get. She had to crawl on the ground to reach him and then wrapped him in her coat and carried him back to the house.

“I dried him off with a towel, put him in my bed, wrapped him in blankets and gave him some alprazolam and trazodone that I had. He huddled against me while I waited for the drugs to kick in. It was hours. It was awful.”

Tim, a silken windhound who was 7 years old when his fear began, belongs to Christie Keith of Davisburg, Michigan. He had come to live with her from eastern Washington, where thunderstorms are uncommon.

Storm Fear Facts

Storm phobias like Tim’s are common in dogs and can occur in cats as well. Dogs, however, are more likely to exhibit fear in a destructive or dangerous way, such as Tim’s escape from the house through a dog door.

Not every animal who lives in thunderstorm-prone areas becomes fearful of them, but those who do may have heredity to blame. Some have a genetic predisposition to anxiety, fear or phobia, says Lisa Radosta, DVM, a veterinary behaviorist in West Palm Beach, Florida, and one of the co-authors of the book “From Fearful to Fear Free,” released in April. Based on some studies, sporting and herding dogs are at higher risk of developing storm phobias.

There’s not a single quick fix or cure, but a combination of environmental management and medication can help most animals ride out a storm safely and comfortably. Work with your veterinarian to try different techniques, supplements and medications to see what works best. Individual pets may need a customized regimen depending on lifestyle, owner schedule, and mildness or severity of their fear.

What to Try

-- Ask about medication sooner rather than later.

“I think we tend, as owners, to wait until the dog's really bad to try to actually intervene,” says Lore Haug, DVM, a veterinary behaviorist in Sugar Land, Texas. “Then it makes it harder to get the dog under control.”

A drug called Sileo, introduced in 2016, is FDA-approved for dogs with noise-related fears. Keith calls it a “game-changer” for Tim. Other medications and supplements that may help include alprazolam (Xanax), gabapentin and diazepam (Valium), as well as natural products such as Zylkene and Anxitane.

-- Provide a safe space. This can be as simple as a crate with a blanket thrown over it or a dark closet or bathroom without windows. Don’t close your pet inside it; you don’t want him to feel trapped.

-- Try calming clothing. Gear such as Thundershirts, Calming Caps and Mutt Muffs can help to relieve a pet’s anxiety or reduce exposure to visual and sound stimulation.

-- Drown out storm sounds with white noise machines or calming music for pets.

-- Try aromatherapy or calming pheromones. Scents such as lavender and chamomile can have a relaxing effect. Canine or feline pheromones may help if the pet gets a strong whiff of them from a saturated paper towel or bandana.

“Most people think there's going to be a thing that's going to turn your dog’s thunderstorm phobia around,” Keith says. “And what I've learned is that for Tim, it’s everything in combination -- and it has to be the right combination.”

Q&A

Various foods make up

healthy parakeet diet

Q: We are thinking of adding a parakeet to our home. What diet would you recommend we feed her?

A: First of all, congratulations on being a thoughtful pet owner and considering your bird's needs before it joins your home. Although wild parakeets are primarily seed-eaters, pet parakeets will benefit from a diet made up of about 75 percent formulated diet, such as pellets, and 25 percent healthy table foods.

Healthy parakeet table foods include carrots, yams, sweet potatoes, broccoli, dried red peppers, dandelion greens and spinach. All these foods are high in vitamin A, which can help boost your bird's immune system and keep it healthy.

Other healthful options include unsweetened breakfast cereal, whole-wheat bread, cooked beans, cooked rice, pasta, tofu, water-packed tuna, scrambled eggs (no, that doesn’t make your bird a cannibal), cottage cheese, plain yogurt or low-fat cheese.

These should be offered in parakeet-size portions -- a few carrot shreds or a single piece of cereal -- so that your bird's digestive system doesn't become upset by overconsumption.

While sharing healthy food with your parakeet is ideal, sharing food from your own mouth is not. Human saliva has bacteria in it that can be harmful to pet birds, so it's best for your bird to have its own portion instead of sharing yours.

Now that you know which foods are healthy for your parakeet, let's review those that are not. Unhealthy parakeet foods include chocolate, alcohol, rhubarb, avocado, and any snack foods that are highly salted, sweetened or fatty.

If you are acquiring your bird from a breeder, find out what the breeder has been feeding it, and continue that diet. If you are purchasing your bird from a pet store or adopting it from a shelter, find out what its diet has been and continue it. -- Dr. Marty Becker

Do you have a pet question? Send it to askpetconnection@gmail.com or visit Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker.

THE BUZZ

Paw pads aid

balance, stability

-- Have you ever looked closely at your dog’s paws? The specialized pads, made up of thin, hairless skin over a layer of fatty connective tissue on the bottom of the feet, provide protection, traction, cushioning and shock absorption when dogs walk, run or jump. The metacarpal pads are on the forepaws, and the metatarsal pads are on the hind paws. The rough texture of the pads provides traction when the dog needs to stop, turn or is going downhill. Dogs who spend most of their time on smooth or soft surfaces typically have smoother pads. Common paw pad injuries include abrasions, burns and lacerations. Paw pads can also develop yeast infections. Don’t worry if they smell like corn chips, though -- that’s normal.

-- We love our backyard chickens -- and the eggs they produce -- but careless contact with them can leave humans with nasty vomiting, diarrhea and fever from salmonella infection. To protect your health and that of your children, remember the simple rules your mom taught you: Wash your hands before you eat and after touching your chickens (or dogs, cats, reptiles and other pets), and don’t touch your eyes, nose or mouth after handling animals until you wash your hands.

-- A cat’s sense of smell is 15 times stronger than that of a human. Cats may even have a better sense of smell than dogs, with better ability to discriminate among more scents, although they probably won’t be doing search and rescue or bomb detection anytime soon. It’s no wonder, then, that cats dislike strong-scented litter, potpourri and other things that people think smell good. One of the scents that cats especially dislike is citrus, so avoid using air fresheners, detergents (especially for cat bedding), shampoos and other products that have lemon, orange, lime or grapefruit scents. -- Dr. Marty Becker, Kim Campbell Thornton and Mikkel Becker

ABOUT PET CONNECTION

Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet-care experts headed by "The Dr. Oz Show" veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker and award-winning journalist Kim Campbell Thornton. They are affiliated with Vetstreet.com and are the authors of many best-selling pet-care books. Joining them is dog trainer and behavior consultant Mikkel Becker. Dr. Becker can be found at Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker or on Twitter at DrMartyBecker. Kim Campbell Thornton is at Facebook.com/KimCampbellThornton and on Twitter at kkcthornton. Mikkel Becker is at Facebook.com/MikkelBecker and on Twitter at MikkelBecker.

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