As summer draws to a close and autumn draws in, the changing of the seasons and the impending approach of winter often hails the advent of stormy weather. While torrential rain can be an inconvenience and go some way towards darkening the mood, it is unlikely to have a profound effect on the emotions of your pet, unless they have a particular dislike of inclement weather!
However, thunder and lightening and the impressive sky shows that stormy weather can bring may prove very upsetting for your cat or dog, and can often prove as traumatic as their man-made equivalent: Fireworks. Unlike fireworks night, which the pet owner is able to prepare for to some degree and knows is coming, the weather is not so consistent, and it can be easy to get caught out unexpectedly and find yourself having to deal with the effects that being in the presence of flashing lightening and clapping thunder can have upon your pet.
Here are our tips on how to handle storms, and keep your pets safe and as comfortable as possible.
While the appearance of the sky and clouds are not always an obvious indication of the start of bad weather, many people can tell from a change in the atmosphere that heavy weather is on the way. A building storm can lead to the air feeling highly charged and oppressive, and can lead to headaches and migraines in people that are prone to them. Pets are much more sensitive to changes in the weather than people are, and your cat or dog may realise that a storm is on the way long before you will.
Either species may appear fretful, anxious and clingy, and cats may hide in their favourite safe spot to wait out the storm. Dogs may appear reluctant to go out or generally come across as bothered by an unseen foe, and the behaviour that your pet exhibits can sometimes provide you with a valuable clue that something is in the offing.
If your cat or dog is particularly bothered by loud noises, flashing lights and events like bonfire night, the chances are that they will be unhappy during heavy storms as well. Generally, fear of this type and a perceived unknown foe will trigger the “flight” response in your pet, and they will look for a small, enclosed safe space to hide, making themselves appear as small as possible.
This is fine, and you should allow them to do this, and not attempt to prise them out of their bolthole if this is where they feel safe. Occasionally and particularly if they feel trapped, cats and particularly dogs may display defensive aggression, so be careful not to inadvertently place yourself in harms way when attempting to soothe or comfort your pet.
Your cat and particularly your dog will often take behavioural cues from you. If you yourself find the storm frightening or act in such a way as to convince your cat or dog that something is wrong by behaving differently and making a big fuss of your pet in an attempt to soothe them, this reinforces your pet’s belief that there is something to fear.
Try to keep your tone of voice calm and level, behave normally, and demonstrate with your demeanour and behaviour that there is nothing to fear, and this can have a very positive effect upon a scared pet.
If your cat or dog is inside when a storm breaks, you know that they are safe (if frightened) and have the best chance of minimising the effect of the storm on them. Try to reduce the effect that the visual and aural effects of the storm have by blocking them out, such as by closing windows and curtains and playing the radio or TV loudly enough to somewhat muffle the bangs.
Allow your pet to find the place where they are happiest and feel secure, and ensure that they find peace and solace from any additional stimulus, such as children or guests who may wish to play with them.
If your cat happens to be outside when a storm begins, they will usually either make a run for home or find a bolthole to hide up in for the duration. After the storm has abated, your cat will usually come home on its own, but if they are caught suddenly within a storm and are particularly frightened, they may lose their bearings and head out of their usual territory and become confused, although this is unlikely.
Allow time for your cat to come home on their own, but if they are out for much longer than usual, prepare to go looking for them. Rattling bowls, calling their name and generally giving them sound cues to orient themselves can help to coax a lost or scared cat out into the open.
Make sure that your cat is microchipped, and if you use a collar, displaying your contact details to allow any cat lover that finds your cat to assist them in finding their way home.
If your dog reacts negatively to storms, this can pose problems if you are caught out in a heavy one when away from the home. If you think that a storm is brewing, try not to take your dog out, or stay close to home.
If you happen to be out and a reasonable way from your home or car when a storm breaks, try to find shelter, cover and an enclosed space where you can sit out the storm and soothe your dog.
Always ensure that your dog wears a collar with contact details on it when outside of the house, as a scared dog may run off if faced with a lot of frightening stimulus.
Try to keep your dog under control and close to you, and speak soothingly to them to help to calm them down. Do not place yourself in danger, and keep well out of the reach of your dog’s teeth if they are growling or behaving defensively due to the sounds or lights overhead.
If you and your dog are the tallest things for some distance around during a lightening storm, remember that there is a very slim chance of lightening using you to find the shortest route to the ground. Try to get under cover and out of exposed areas, and remember that woods or wooded areas are a relatively safe pick, but that standing under a lone tree protruding significantly higher than the rest of the landscape can be more dangerous than being out in the open.
Try to remove any metal elements from yourself and your dog if you are in an exposed area and far from shelter, and keep your profile as low to the earth as possible to avoid making yourself an obvious target for lightening.
Once the storm has passed, wait for your dog to calm down and return to something approaching their normal demeanour, before heading for home.