We have recently had a spate of thunderstorms and when they occur, there is an increasing number of calls for help from people whose cats and dogs have run away. The loud noises which come with not only thunder but also fireworks (which sound similar to thunder) can trigger extreme fear and anxiety in our pets.
With New Years Eve just around the corner as well as an increase in summer storms, I wanted to look at what pet carers can do to keep their cats calm and safe during these noisy events. Loud noises as well as strange smells noises trigger a sense of danger in cats. This, in turn causes a flight response, ie; flee the potential threat.
Signs of fear:
The most common sign is hiding, cats typically choose cave-like places such as at the back of a wardrobe or under the bed.
- Dilated (large) pupils
- Crouched down low
- Ears flat
Keep your cat indoors:
Keep pets inside if you know a storm is approaching or fireworks are expected (New Year’s Eve, Bonfire Night, Australia Day, 5th July, or Thanksgiving. A scared cat will run and hide, and if that is outside, they are at risk of becoming lost or injured.
Lock windows and close blinds and curtains so that the cat can’t see flashes of lightning or fireworks. Provide background noise such as a television or music can help to muffle the sounds.
Give your cat a safe place to hide:
Give the cat the opportunity to retreat to a safe place during the storm or fireworks. Better still, offer multiple locations. Under a bed, in a wardrobe or leave the cat’s carrier out and place a comfy blanket and few treats in it for the cat to take shelter. Place several blankets over the cage to help muffle the sound.
Keep lights on in the room the den is located, this can help to reduce the impact of firework and lightning flashes.
Don’t try to coax a cat out if he is hiding. If you want to calm the cat, do so, but let the cat remain in his den and calmly talk to him.
Make sure there is a litter tray and food and water nearby.
Let your cat lead the way:
Some cats like to hide, others want the comfort of their human family. Let your cat decide. If they choose to bunker down on your lap, be flattered they turn to you in times of stress and let them feel safe with you.
Use a Feliway plugin:
Feliway is a synthetic phermone which mimics the cat’s natural feel-good pheromones which are secreted by glands located on the cat’s forehead, cheeks and lips. These pheromones calm and reassure stressed cats.
Try a ThunderShirt:
Originally designed for dogs, ThunderShirts are vests which apply a gentle pressure to the cat’s torso that can help to calm down stressed and anxious cats.
If you know there will be fireworks or a storm, stay home with the cat to help keep him calm. Being alone during a thunderstorm or fireworks display can exacerbate the fear.
How to calm your cat:
Remain calm yourself, cats pick up on our emotions. Talk in a quiet, calm and reassuring voice.
Do not yell or get frustrated with your cat. I have a few irrational fears (not that I am saying fireworks and thunder are irrational to a cat), and the worst thing somebody can do is invalidate those fears or get frustrated. Fear is genuine, and cats don’t choose to feel this way.
Avoid picking up a stressed cat as it can lash out.
Make sure the cat’s microchip is up to date:
Sometimes despite our best efforts, cats manage to escape during a storm or fireworks (we currently have a missing pet snake in our town due to storms). Shelters and veterinarians notice an increase in lost pet during these times. A microchip can quickly reunite a lost pet with his or her human family, but only if the microchip details are up to date.
Slowly desensitise your cat to the sound of fireworks and thunder by playing recordings of the sounds at a low volume. A person the pet trusts should carry out this treatment.
During desensitation, distract the cat with something fun like a game or some treats and offer plenty of praise. If the cat doesn’t respond, gently turn up the volume. If the cat reacts, stop and try again another time.
Desensitisation therapy should only be carried out under the advice of a veterinarian.
Consider stray and feral cats:
Our own pampered felines aren’t the only ones vulnerable to the sound of thunder and fireworks, homeless cats are also at risk. Consider providing a shelter for these cats too. This could be a dog house or waterproof box the cat can hide in until the risk has gone.
What should you do if you find a scared cat or dog?
Approach it calmly and carefully. If you think you can safely catch it (without risk to you or the animal) do so and take it to your local veterinarian or shelter. They will be able to scan the animal to check for a microchip and contact the owner.
Most cities and towns have local Facebook pages, take a photo of the pet and post to let locals know you have found (or spotted) a lost animal.
Ford have released a prototype sound-proof kennel for dogs who are scared of fireworks. It is not available to the public just yet, but may be an option in future for cats and dogs who are scared of thunder and fireworks.