Behavior Bytes | July 2011
by Dr Stefanie Schwartz, Board Certified Veterinary Behaviorist
09:53 PM, Friday, July 01
Dear Dr. Schwartz,
My dog Smudge was adopted at a local shelter last year. He is a Terrier cross and was found as a stray in Louisiana shortly after Hurricane Katrina. We don’t know anything more about him except that he was wearing a collar when he was picked up. He is better than he was, but still so terribly nervous. It’s almost like he thinks the sky is falling all the time. Do you have any suggestions for us?
Chicken Little’s Mom

Dear Chicken Little’s Mom,
Pets, like people, who are survivors of natural or manmade disasters are at risk of developing anxiety disorders, phobias and post traumatic stress disorder. Although rescue efforts are becoming more proactive and better prepared with each event, not every pet will be reunited with his or her people. Lost pets who have ID microchips have better odds of being returned to their owners; if Smudge doesn’t have one yet, please do ask your veterinarian about this. In your case, it sounds like Smudge lost his family, survived one of the most intense storms ever recorded and was transferred between multiple animal shelters before finding you. That’s a lot of emotional baggage for one little dog to carry.
It’s unclear from your brief description whether Smudge is suffering from generalized anxiety disorder or post traumatic stress disorder, and more. However, it would be important to make a diagnosis and give him appropriate treatment so I do hope I’ll see you in an appointment with him soon. Intense anxiety, regardless of its triggers, is a form of pain that can and should be controlled. In such cases, psychoactive medication can help the symptoms by interfering with the biochemical rut of chronic anxiety and help your Chicken Little to see blue skies once again.
*Note: If you would like to make a contribution to the American Veterinary Medical Association’s Disaster Relief Fund for pets, please visit and read the Articles of Interest section or see the home page article at

Dear Dr. Schwartz,
In the last earthquake scare I went looking for my Persian cat Jewel and found her hiding way under my bed way at the back against the wall. I just couldn’t get to her and so I was wondering if you had any tips if the next earthquake is the ‘big one’ and we need to get out in a hurry.
Thanks so much,
Jewel’s sister

Dear Jewel’s sister,

It might be helpful to place obstacles such as suitcases or storage bins under your bed to prevent her from getting too deep in there. You might also consider rearranging the furniture so that you can reach her form either side of the bed, or just block off the space with some cut to measure plywood or particle board. Many animals can sense even minor tremors that go completely unnoticed by people. Larger quakes are frightening to everyone.
Our instinct is to run out of the house or building, which is not what is recommended; falling and flying debris are often more dangerous that seeking shelter under a sturdy piece of furniture, so experts do recommend that we stay indoors during a quake, too, at least at first. Cats instinctively hide in dark corners of closets, inside cabinets or under furniture, which are pretty good places to be in the first waves of an earthquake. Some cats prefer to climb to higher perches, but your first priority must be to keep yourself safe. When you find her after the quake has settled, avoid reaching in to retrieve her without safety precautions. Remember, frightened cats can scratch and bite. Use a blanket or towel to pick her up and place her in a cat carrier, gym bag or even a pillow case for quick transport out of the building, if that is required. Make sure she is microchipped now so that she can be returned to you after a disaster in case you are separated.

Dr. Stefanie SchwartzDr. Stefanie Schwartz is a board certified veterinary behaviorist based at California Veterinary Specialists in Carlsbad, CA. She also sees patients at the Veterinary Neurology Center in Tustin, CA. For more information, please call (760) 431-2273 and visit and

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