How to comfort a pet in a war zone? Advice from animal psychologists

Evacuation of animals from the Kherson region after the explosion of the Kakhovka HPP, photo: UAanimals

If you know how dogs react to fireworks, you can only imagine the stress they feel when they hear explosions. Since the start of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, Rescue Now has helped evacuate over 1000 animals and their owners who decided to flee their homes. The ones who decided to stay have already adapted to living in a war zone and taking care of their pets.

Drawing from the experience of the Rescue Now team, Ukrainian pet owners, and animal psychologists, here are some things to keep in mind when caring for a pet in an emergency.

Evacuating with a pet

Evacuation with a pet is never easy, but you can prepare for it in advance to make it as smooth as possible. Create an emergency kit for your pet with food, water, leash, hygiene bags, and favorite toys. If you plan to go abroad, make sure you have the pet’s passport, vaccination card, a microchip with the rabies vaccination, a rabies antibody test taken no earlier than three months before the crossing, and the #1-BET certificate issued by a public clinic three days before departure.

Different countries and transport companies have different rules for transporting animals, so check the requirements before traveling. Make sure the pet carrier is durable, avoid feeding your pets right before the trip, and always keep them on a leash because stressed pets may try to run away.

Adapting to a new home

For any pet, moving homes is very stressful. When you make it to your destination, pay close attention to your pet. In a new home, cats will often hide in a dark place. Don’t bother them and let them adapt — just make sure they have access to water, food, and a toilet. Oppositely, dogs may need some extra love and affection. Let them sleep in your room or bed so they feel your presence and rest well. Walks should be short and follow the same route, allowing the dog to adapt and avoid unnecessary stimulation.

Dealing with fear, stress, and anxiety

In pets, stress often manifests as changes in facial expressions. If your pet yawns, “smiles”, or has an unnatural gaze upwards or to the side, it may be a sign of high stress levels. Often, pets will also start overgrooming, licking themselves too much, and meowing, or barking loudly.

If your pets refuse to eat and don’t sleep, they are very stressed and should not be disturbed so that they can recover. In other cases, try incorporating simple games; for example, let them search for treats hidden in the room. Opt for crunchy treats that take a while to chew since chewing calms the nervous system and gives a sense of comfort. If possible, create a schedule or at least one daily ritual to give your pet a sense of stability in stressful times.