Solar eclipse checklist: Perfect viewing spot? Check. Viewing glasses? If you shopped early, check. Homemade viewing box? Got it! Safety lectures for the kids? Done, done and done! Plan for the family pet? Ummm …
Over the past few days, several pet parents have expressed concern for the safety of their four-legged family members. Some pets spend a great deal of time outdoors, and their eyes are just as vulnerable to sun damage as ours. We’ve heard the litany of precautions we must take to safeguard our vision. So what about our pets?
In theory, pets can develop solar retinopathy by staring directly at a solar eclipse. And like their human companions, they can suffer permanent vision damage or blindness as a result. Since it’s unreasonable to expect pet owners to control what their pets may look at, most animal care professionals are suggesting taking various precautions. Some are even advising pets be fitted with eclipse viewing glasses. But is that really necessary?
Staring at the sun is not something animals instinctively feel compelled to do. They do not posses the same intrinsic curiosity about the cosmos as we do, and they learn early in life that looking at the sun is painful. It is therefore a safe bet that our pets will not have enough interest in the eclipse to look at it. My own dogs will not be wearing eclipse-friendly glasses. Statistically, they are more likely to scratch their corneas and damage their eyes by trying to claw the glasses from their heads. And if you’ve got one of those dogs who eats anything and everything (like mine!), glasses are likely to end up in his stomach. The simplest and most effective way to protect your pets from eye damage is to bring them inside until the celestial show is over.
Unlike a storm or tornado, an eclipse is not preceded by a drop in barometric pressure. While this shift is imperceptible to most humans, dogs and cats sense it long before anything noticeable happens in the sky. Since there are no recognized sensory precursors to an eclipse, a pet who spends most of his time indoors, may not even realize one is taking place.
What you may notice however, is a behavioral shift toward nighttime behaviors. This might mean settling down and sleeping right through the eclipse, or it may involve anticipating the usual evening activities. I suspect our older dog will stand by her food bowl and bark — in her world, dusk equals dinner. Our less food-driven, younger dog will probably camp near his leash. For him, it’s all about exercise, and darkness equals going for a walk. There may a few hours of slight confusion as their sense of the passing of the day gets disrupted. Anxious pets may seem uneasy or frightened. If your pet is prone to anxiety, and will be spending the day alone, he may be happier in a darkened room where the windows are covered and the lights are turned off. This will make the effect of the eclipse less dramatic. You can also try using a Thundershirt. Species-specific pheromones such as Adaptyl for dogs or Feliway for cats may help pets who appear to be stressed. If they are having an especially tough time, ask your veterinarian if prescription anti-anxiety medications are appropriate. Do not administer any medications intended for human use unless specifically instructed to do so by your veterinarian.
If your nonhuman family includes chickens or other birds, they may settle down to roost, or launch into typically evening vocalizations. Horses, goats, and other farm animals may start walking toward the barn or feeding station, as if expecting the evening routine to begin. Wild animals may be faked out as well, so don’t be surprised to hear crickets in the afternoon.
As with most other unusual events, our pets take their behavioral cues from us. So stay calm and enjoy the show. Or just take a nap. That will suit our four-legged friends just fine.
Dr. Kupkee is the lead practitioner at Sabal Chase Animal Clinic.
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