Preparing your pets for winter storms

May 11, 2015

dogs-on-the-bed--1442326-mDuring Storm Awareness Week, May 11 to 18, the Murdoch University Pet Emergency Centre is reminding owners that they need to consider the welfare of their pets and be ready for the onset of storm season.

Senior Registrar (Small Animal Medicine), Dr Amanda Paul said that many pets can experience fear and anxiety during storms and that in some cases long-term behavioural issues can result if anxiety issues are not addressed.

“Depending on the pet, anxiety may result in shaking, panting, hiding, vocalising, urinating, salivating excessively, self-inflicted trauma, faecal incontinence, hiding or not wanting to be left alone,” Dr Paul said.

“Other severe reactions include destroying furniture, soiling carpets, not wanting to go outside for hours after the storm and developing fear of noises in general.

“The effects of storms may be cumulative, with animals developing phobias after a series of storms.”

Dr Paul added that family pets can be at risk from injuries and complications resulting from storms with dogs particularly at risk.

“It is quite common for them to become frightened, escape from their enclosures and run away to try and avoid the storm,” Dr Paul said.

“As a result they may suffer injury trying to escape, injure their paws by running excessively or, even worse, be hit by a passing car.

“Some cats may present with feline urinary tract disease which leads to an inability to urinate which can relate to thunderstorms, rain and loud noises. This can be a life-threatening condition and needs appropriate treatment and management of anxiety.”

Owners can prepare for storms ahead of time by taking a few simple precautions;

  • Make sure that the property or pet’s enclosure is secure so they can’t escape.
  • Make sure that fences are in good working order and not damaged so that pets don’t injure themselves on trying to escape.
  • If you can, bring pets inside before a storm.
  • If pets are left outside, don’t chain them up.
  • If you are with your pets during the storm remain calm and behave in a quiet manner, don’t over-soothe them as they will pick up on it and become more nervous. Don’t punish them for acting clingy.
  • Shield your pets from lightning and thunder by keeping them in a room with little or no windows and cover bird cages with a blanket. Dogs will respond well to being able to stay in the same room as you and would appreciate a warm bed or blanket. Cats like a place to hide from the storm, such as a small space in a cupboard.
  • Turn off the TV or radio and reduce noise in general during the storm.
  • Distract your pets by playing a game with them or giving them their favourite toys.
  • Make sure that the pet’s microchip, identification tags and council registration is up-to-date in case they do manage to escape the home.

“If you notice signs of anxiety from your pet it is recommended that you speak to a vet because the condition can be treated and managed effectively in most cases,” Dr Paul said.

You could also try to reduce anxiety by desensitizing your pets to storms.  Play recordings of storms for short intervals to accustom pets to the sounds and reduce their anxiety during the event.

The Department of Fire & Emergency Services has an online pets and animal emergency kit and plan which provides a guide for owners on how to care for their pets during emergencies. Further information on storm safety can be found at www.dfes.wa.gov.au/WinterSAFE

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