Monsoon Madness

No, we are not having a major blow out sale on fine used furniture. For veterinarians in Tucson, monsoon madness refers to the challenges our pets face during our rainy season. While this is the favorite time of year for many of us, it can be highly stressful for our pets. Two of our most common problems are storm anxiety and Colorado River Toad toxicity.

Storm Anxiety:
Those of us who look forward to the annual monsoon season are starting to glance skyward and sniff at the wind for even a hint of rain. July arrives with the expectation of dramatic and productive thunderstorms. For our dogs, these loud, sudden cloudbursts can cause mild to severe storm phobias – sometimes to the point of needing medication or behavioral conditioning.

Desensitizing a storm phobic pet requires a lot of patience and dedication and sometimes the assistance of a dog trainer or behaviorist. There is a well-established protocol involving desensitizing a dog with an audio recording of a thunderstorm set very quietly and slowly increased in volume over many weeks. Herbal supplements with Valerian Root, Kava kava or tryptophan can help reduce some of the destructive or stressful behavior. Prescription supplements such as Anxitane have been effective for many animals. Other over the counter medications such as Benadryl can be used to help them sleep through the storm. Dogs with severe anxiety or that are self-destructive need anti-anxiety medications like Clomipramine or Alprazolam. I like to advise pet owners to try to find the most insulated and protected room in the house – like a closet or utility room, and consider getting a dog crate or kennel to allow a fearful dog to feel protected in a “den” like environment. While we want to be calming and reassuring for our anxious pet, you have to really limit the contact time during a phobic episode to prevent giving positive reinforcement of the fearful behavior. I have had some good feedback from two behavior modification products: The Anxiety Wrap or the Storm Defender Cape. The Storm Defender cape gives dogs a calming sensation as it reduces static electricity on their coat and prevents the anxiety build up that some dogs develop with approaching thunderstorms. The Anxiety Wrap uses acupressure to help reduce anxiety.

Colorado River Toads:
One of the unusual creatures that live in our Sonoran Desert, the Colorado River Toad, are frequently encountered during our rainy season and have a justifiably notorious reputation among dog owners.

These large, grey-green toads are irresistible to most curious dogs as they hop around our back yards after an evening thunderstorm. They secrete a hallucinogenic toxin from glands on their skin and when picked up in a dogs mouth will cause a spectacular reaction. Dogs will typically drop the toad, hyper salivate, pant, and stumble around with dilated pupils. In rare cases dogs can have more severe neurologic symptoms including seizures and hyperthermia. The most important action to take if you think your dog has been exposed to a Colorado River Toad is to thoroughly rinse out the mouth with a hose and a wet washcloth. Some of these dogs will also need supportive care treatment by a veterinarian, but many will stabilize quickly at home. It has been reported that the toxin is strong enough to kill an adult dog, but that is very unusual. I had one case of a Jack Russell Terrier that actually swallowed an entire toad and died en-route to the emergency clinic. Many of the trainers that offer rattlesnake avoidance classes also train to avoid these toads.

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