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Thunderstorms can be extremely stressful for cats. While cats may not show their fear in quite the same way as dogs (in severe cases of thunderstorm anxiety, panicking dogs have been known to destroy furniture, jump through windows or otherwise harm themselves during storms,) they may still become extremely anxious.
Behaviorists are not sure which part of the storm frightens pets the most – the lightning flashes and thunder, the winds blowing around the house or the sound of rain hitting the roof. Some pets even show signs of anxiety an hour or more before a storm hits, leading to the theory that they are reacting to changes in barometric pressure.
Cats will usually hide from the disturbance under beds or in dark, quiet corners. Unlike dogs, they tend to not progress to the phobic stage – they simply wait out the storm in their safe place and come out of hiding when the storm has passed. But there are some things you can do to help your cat feel safe during storms.
Provide safe hiding places
If your cat usually hunkers down under the bed or in a closet, you may want to provide some additional comfortable hiding spaces.“Igloo style” cat beds can be a great option. If you keep these types of beds in areas where you and your cats spend a lot of time, they may use them to hide from the storm rather than cowering under the bed.
Natural calming remedies
Remedies such as Storm Soother or Rescue Remedy, given before a storm moves in, can help keep kitties calm. Pheromone plug-ins such as Comfort Zone with Feliway can also help – use in the area where your cat tends to hide during storms.
Our cats pick up on our emotions, and if we’re anxious, they’ll be anxious as well. Reassure your cat, but don’t overdo it. However, don’t believe the myth that trying to comfort your cat during a storm is going to reinforce her fear or make it worse. As long as you stay calm and interact the same way you normally would with your cat, it will reassure her that everything is okay.
The Thundershirt anxiety wrap, a pressure wrap that is intended to provide a calming effect, works for some cats. Given that very few cats enjoy being swaddled or held close, I’m not sure I’m sold on the concept. If you decide to try it for your cats, you will need to get your cat used to it before a storm.
If you live in an area where thunderstorms are a regular occurrence for long periods of time, you may consider desensitization. This approach gradually retrains your cat by exposing her to gentle reminders of a thunderstorm such as a recording of distant thunder, and rewarding her for staying calm. The idea is that over time, the response to the stimulus decreases.
For severe cases of thunderstorm anxiety, a visit to your veterinarian is in order. Your veterinarian can prescribe anti-anxiety or anti-depressant medication to help keep your cat calm during storms.
Are your cats afraid of thunderstorms? What do you do to help them?
This post was first published in 2014 and has been updated.
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