by STEVE DALE
Q: My golden retriever is petrified of thunderstorms. When there is a storm, he jumps and and claws at me. What can I do to calm him down? He weights 100 lbs.
A: You must have a sturdy lap. I get the picture; your dog is terrified. Truly, seeing dogs so anxious is heartbreaking. If the storm occur overnight, it means your dog won’t get sleep, and you won’t either. Some dogs, with only mild anxiety, can be jollied to think about something else. Those dogs do fine playing a game of fetch in the basement, with shades drawn so the lightening can’t be seen, and the TV or radio on at a volume loud enough to drown out the crackling thunder.
Other dogs are anxious but learn to deal with the storm in their own way, often finding a secluded and seemingly secure place – such as a bathtub, under the bed or closet.
However, it doesn’t seem as if your dog fits into either of the above categories. Unlike many other anxieties and fears when desensitization is suggested, desensitizing a dog to storms is a challenge. It’s not only the sight of lightening, the sound of thunder, the smell of the rain, it’s also the sensation of electricity in the air and the weather front bringing the rain. These anxious dogs sense it all.
It doesn’t sound as if you’re making matters worse, but some people do. And I can’t blame them. We want to cuddle these fearful dogs, assuring them there’s nothing to worry about. Often in our attempt to do so, we actually enhance their perception that something is wrong.
Various approaches are used – some help some dogs to apparently feel a sense of security when they wear what’s basically a tight fitting t-shirt. One such t-shirt like product is called the anxiety wrap. Also, there are reports of some dogs calmed by talking melatonin. Various herbal calming products are on the market. A item (available through vets) called D.A.P. may help.
However, for many dogs with serious thunderstorm anxiety, I feel the most effective and humane answer is a psycho-pharmaceuticals, most likely Xanax (alprazolam), though another option is Clomicalm (clomipramine) – or a combination of the two. I seriously question any veterinarian suggesting Benadryl or a more serious narcotic called acepromazine (making a pet sleepy doesn’t decrease fear or anxiety, which the other drugs do) to solve this problem when better choices are now available.
The way you respond to your pup during the storm also matters. While certainly it’s painful to see our pets suffer, it’s one thing to provide a source of comfort. It’s another to coddle the dog, which often reinforces the fear, making matters worse.
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