Cats, dogs and thunderstorm phobia

This summer we have had some spectacular displays of thunder and lightning. A few times, a storm cell was directly over my house, and the elapsed time between a bright flash of light and a sound so loud that dishes rattled in the cupboard was mere seconds.

To many cats and dogs, thunder and lightning cause thunderstorm phobia, which gives rise to anxiety or fear — from mild to severe. Dogs, especially, may hide, tremble, whine, drool and pace. In severe cases, some dogs may chew furniture, tear drapes and break windows. Mild phobia or severe, what you have is a terrified, unhappy dog.

I’ve shared my life mostly with cats; some paid no attention to storms, whereas others immediately fled to hide in a closet or under a bed. Getting to them (even if I could), to provide comfort, was always impossible.

One of these feline friends, a small adult cat who weighed around 6 pounds, always hunkered down under my desk when a storm rolled in. Though he was a kitty who loved to be held, petted and talked to, he resisted mightily to being picked up and comforted. It was as if he had suddenly turned into a heavy hunk of iron and the floor was a magnet.

Then there was Lucy, my late canine buddy, who always frantically paced, shook and whimpered during storms. I often sat with her, petting and talking softly all the while, and this sometimes helped but mostly not. I’ve since learned that this is counterproductive because it may confirm a dog’s phobic reactions to storms.

The cause of storm phobias, a very common behavioral problem that dog owners face, is not clear. Animal behaviorists don’t know exactly what or how many parts of the storm frighten dogs. The sound of thunder is most certainly a factor; many dogs react the same way to the sounds of repeated fireworks and gunshots. Other triggers may be the sounds of hard-blowing wind and rain on the roof, lightning flashes and physiological reactions to a sudden drop in air pressure or the electrically charged air.

So what can we do to help our furry kids conquer this phobia? That will be the topic of next week’s article, so stay “tuned.”

To wrap up this week’s article, we want to remind you that CAPS volunteers will be waiting tomorrow for your donated items for our garage sale to be held on Sept. 20–21. The place and time? Spring Valley Rentals at 1105 Taylor Place (the street next to Walmart), unit A85, from 9 a.m. to noon.

Can’t make it tomorrow (or on Aug. 24), are housebound or have items too big to handle? Well, we’ll come get them! All you need to do is call Rita Hand, and she will schedule a pickup for you (home: 775-423-6346; cell: 775-427-3376). Should Rita not immediately take your call, please leave a message, and she will return your call as soon as she can.

Next, tomorrow is the final photo shoot for our 2014 Happy Endings calendar. The place and time? Flower Tree Nursery between 10 a.m.-2 p.m. So please bring your furry, feathered or scaly friend whose awesomeness will be captured by photographer Kim Lamb. The cost is only $20, and you’ll receive a free 2014 calendar.

Then don’t forget to mark Oct. 19 to attend our annual autumn fundraising event. We have had an art auction and dinner for many years, but this year it will be completely different. We will again have a dinner, buffet style, but the rest will be an evening of entertainment filled with mystery and excitement! (For those who bought our 2013 calendar, please change the original event date of Oct. 12 to Oct. 19.)

This week’s article was contributed by Betty Duncan, a member of the CAPS board of directors.


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