Thunderstorm Season Hits Pets Where it Hurts. But is it OK to Sedate?

Patty Khuly, DVM
Written by:
Published: June 4, 2010
Thunderstorm Season Hits Pets Where it Hurts. But is it OK to Sedate?

It’s June in Miami, which can only mean one thing: Hurricane season! OK, so it also means heavy downpours, lightning, and thunder. And anyone with storm sensitive pets knows that you don’t need a hurricane to totally unhinge pets who suffer storm phobia. But is it OK to sedate them?

This is a huge issue here. Already I’m getting calls from clients begging for sedatives — most of whom expect a drug cocktail to solve their problems. Which is kind of annoying.

After all, they should have been worrying about this a month ago … or a year ago … or a year before that.

Too often, what happens is that owners leave it till the very last minute to worry about their pets’ storm phobic needs. Hurricanes are especially likely to elicit a flurry of callers demanding I dispense sedatives.

No, the day before a hurricane is definitely not the time to be asking questions about sedation. Whether to sedate an animal or not is a serious issue fraught with many considerations, most of which revolve around drug safety and the possibility of adverse reactions. Which is not something you want to have to stress about in the middle of a severe storm.

With that in mind, here’s my checklist for the kind of behavioral criteria that should find pet owners asking their veterinarians — well in advance — to detail the pros and cons of sedatives for their pet’s particular medical and behavioral condition:

  • Does your pet stress during even minor storms?
  • Does that stress ever manifest as more than hiding behavior?
  • Is her behavior worsening with each progressive storm season?
  • Does she ever hurt herself or others while exhibiting symptoms of storm-related anxiety?

If you answered "yes" to any of the above — particularly for the last point — sedatives might be in order.

Sure, there’s little so unsavory as the need for drugs to relieve anyone of their fears, but recognize that some anxieties will not be amenable to any other ministrations without the assistance of sedatives.

Having said that, the fact that drugs are being considered at all should be a wake-up call. After all, drugs are ideally used as a last resort when all other behavioral interventions and natural remedies have proven insufficient, and only for the most severe sufferers.

Which is why "knocking out" a pet shouldn’t be the only thing you discuss with your veterinarian during hurricane season. A variety of long-term strategies to help alleviate your dog’s (or cat's) storm anxieties are absolutely in order here. And there are plenty. Stay tuned to part 2 of this post for the real meat of the issue.

Dr. Patty Khuly

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