After a disaster or crisis, all you really want is for things to get back to “normal.” Unfortunately, we all know that rarely happens overnight. Dealing with the aftermath of an emergency can be just as stressful as the event itself for everyone in the house, including the dog.
You may find yourself in temporary housing or without a home. This, of course, can greatly affect your dog’s day-to-day. Being creatures of habit, dogs thrive on routine, and a sudden change after a stressful event can have some undesirable side effects when it comes to going to the bathroom, eating, exercise, and sleep.
As Denise Fleck, an animal care instructor and author (known as the Pet Safety Crusader) notes, an emergency situation can be extremely emotional. “The frenzy involved in evacuating may have lingering effects — if humans were yelling, or something fell on the pet or burned him, feelings of home no longer being safe may make a homecoming not so happy,” she says. “Tentativeness, fear, or actual refusal may be behaviors you have to help your pet overcome.”
Pets that have had an emotional stressor and now find themselves in a foreign place — maybe a shelter, a hotel, or even a relative’s home — will feel displaced and disrupted. Even if you get to return home, it most likely doesn’t smell, look, or feel the same, and this will impact your dog as well. Stress in dogs often manifests itself in behavior issues, particularly house-training. It’s not uncommon for dogs to start going to the bathroom inside after a disaster. If this is happening with your canine companion, take him outside on a leash more often than normal, and don’t punish him if he does have an accident.
Go back and review your house-training protocol — if your dog goes outside but doesn’t do his business, crate him for a few minutes and try again. Remember, you are trying to return to normal, so reviewing old training will bring a sense of familiarity to an otherwise tense situation.
Another behavior issue that often happens after a crisis is refusal to eat. Extreme stress and being fed at weird times in weird places can cause this, especially if your dog is already a fussy eater. You may have to entice your pup by adding some yummy broth or canned food to his meal. Try feeding him as close to your normal schedule as possible. Stress may also cause him to have diarrhea, which pumpkin can help ease.
Chances are, your dog is not getting the same amount of exercise post-disaster. This can also cause some behavior problems, especially in high-energy dogs. You could be dealing with the destruction of your home, maybe even your livelihood. You may have lost loved ones during the event. The last thing on your mind is running with the dog, and that’s OK. But quickly getting your canine companion back into a routine he’s used is important.
To make life easier, ask someone your dog is familiar with to help out with his exercise — a pet sitter or dog trainer you have used in the past, a relative, friend, etc. If that’s not an option, try giving him an interactive toy to stay busy. For some dogs, the distraction of a toy can ease their emotional stress.
Finally, your dog’s sleep routine might have changed drastically, just like yours. Following a crisis, your canine companion may sleep all the time or become hyper-vigilant and not want to sleep. As a result, he may keep you up at night with pacing, whining, and barking. If your dog is crate-trained, try putting him in his crate at night and placing a cover over it. Giving him familiar blankets and a toy can also help. If his stress doesn’t improve, you should consult your veterinarian about a possible medication plan.
Above all, it’s important to stay positive. “Disasters are upsetting for everyone involved: two-legged, four-pawed, hoofed, or otherwise pedaled,” Fleck says. “Any species may feel fear and have trouble returning to a state of calm. How we respond and help our animal family get back to a normal routine may help them recover more quickly and completely.”