Friday, Apr 20, 2018
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Dr. Gary Thompson

How to help a dog frightened by storms

Dear Dr. Thompson: My dog is petrified every time a thunderstorm rolls through. He will hide under furniture and we literally have to drag him outside to go to the bathroom. We try to reassure him but it seems to be getting worse every year. We tried a sedative but he was out of it for a day and a half. Do we have any other options?

Thunderstorm phobias are not uncommon in dogs. These can develop suddenly or arise over a period of time, frequently extending to other loud noises like fireworks or car backfires. Dogs will pant, hide, tremble, salivate, or even hurt themselves trying to escape the loud noises. Every Fourth of July brings a tragic tale of a dog escaping during the fireworks and being struck and killed by a car.

For mild thunderstorm phobias, distracting your pet with play or chew toys can help as a diversion. White noise in the background from a TV or radio will occasionally drown out the storms. Unfortunately, our efforts to comfort our pets during these times can worsen the condition. This good-natured reassurance will reinforce the dog s fears by confirming there truly is something to be afraid of. I counsel people to act as if there is nothing new happening and try to distract the dog as effectively as they can during these events.

For debilitating phobias, a program of desensitization is needed to develop a healthier response to the sounds. This is a gradual process that can t be rushed. No one ever overcame a fear of flying by being dragged down a jetway and thrown on a cross country flight. Some noise machines have calming sounds of storms, and recordings can be made and played at a low volume to help acclimate the dog to the sequence of a storm. Anti-anxiety medicines can be given to help with the process. Fast-acting products like Xanax will help with isolated events. It is not a sedative and addresses the anxiety in your dog. For some dogs with multiple phobias, daily medication with some of the anti-anxiety medications for people has been shown to be very effective in facilitating behavior modification.

Patience is the keystone to success. Imagine being so afraid of something you couldn t understand that you were unable to move or even soiled yourself? That is what your pet is experiencing. Work with your veterinarian and behaviorist to try to help your dog develop a healthier way of dealing with these phobias. Good luck.

Dear Dr. Thompson: My cat is 5 and has had recurring bouts of bladder infections. They seem to get better for a while and then flare up again down the road. It is starting to create problems in my house. Nothing we have done seems to help.

Urinary problems in middle-aged cats are one of the most common problems that every veterinarian sees in practice. However, what are called bladder infections are usually not caused by bacteria. Bacterial bladder infections are rare in middle-aged cats. What they develop is a sterile inflammation of the bladder called idiopathic cystitis. This is also labeled as feline urologic syndrome. As my friend Dr. Manolukas likes to say, The longer the name of the disease the less we know about it. This holds true for urinary tract inflammation in cats. It is suspected that the combination of genetics, concentrated urine, and stress lead to this condition. What results are frequent urges to urinate, often with blood. These urges can strike at any time, and what precipitates the visit to the veterinarian usually is urinating out of the box.

A urine culture will eliminate the possibility of an infection. Blood tests and an ultrasound will help diagnose any other urinary tract diseases that could be complicating the picture. Once this syndrome has been identified, the goal is decreasing the inflammation in the bladder and diluting the urine. However, you can lead a cat to water, but they will look at you like you are nuts. Fountains, canned food, and supplements can help increase water intake. Every veterinarian has a trick that he or she has used successfully. Dealing with litter box aversions that can develop is a whole separate issue, but your veterinarian can help if that has occurred.

Questions for Dr. Thompson can be e-mailed to or mailed to The Blade, Attn. Ask the Vet, 541 North Superior St., Toledo, OH 43660. Dr. Thompson regrets that he cannot answer individual letters.

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