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How to keep pets safe during the solar eclipse, whether at home or on the road

A dog tries on eclipse sunglasses in London in 2015. Experts say pets don't need eclipse sunglasses — in fact, quite the opposite.
Kirsty Wigglesworth
A dog tries on eclipse sunglasses in London in 2015. Experts say pets don't need eclipse sunglasses — in fact, quite the opposite.

Updated April 7, 2024 at 4:08 PM ET

The solar eclipse is a can't-miss event for millions of Americans, whether or not they'll be viewing it from the path of totality. But what does it mean for our many furry friends?

Dr. Rena Carlson, the president of the American Veterinary Medical Association, got a firsthand view of how animals responded to the total eclipse in 2017.

Her veterinary practice, in Pocatello, Idaho, closed down for several minutes so staff members could watch the eclipse outside, along with many of their dogs.

"Honestly, the animals were probably more anxious because of our excitement than anything else," she remembers.

Carlson says while certain dogs may exhibit some of the behaviors they normally do when it starts to get dark outside, the eclipse is unlikely to directly affect pets in a significant way.

But things like crowds and traffic can, which is why experts recommend leaving animals at home to be safe.

Carlson says there are steps that their humans should take to look out for them on such a hectic day — especially if anyone involved is traveling.

"My bigger worry is there was so much traffic and so many people coming through our area that a drive [that] typically would take us two hours took over eight to 10 hours," Carlson says. "So if you're traveling with your dog, please be prepared for long wait times."

Here are some expert tips for protecting your pet during the eclipse, whether they're right in the thick of it or waiting for you at home.

Consider: Should Fido come or stay?

The first step is to decide whether your pet even needs to come with you for outdoor eclipse viewing, whether it's close to home or out of town.

Most of the time, Carlson says, the answer is no.

"It's quite an amazing phenomenon for us to experience," she explains. "And so that can be pretty stressful when dogs are with large crowds and a lot of noise, they don't quite understand the excitement. They're going to be much more nervous about 'What's going on?' and 'How should I react?' "

She says the same guidance applies to all pets, even though cats and birds are not as likely to be traveling in the first place.

"They're going to be better off at home, in their normal environment," she adds.

Prepare for commotion and contingencies if you're traveling

If you do decide to bring your dog, plan ahead for what to do if things get overwhelming.

That includes bringing extra food and water in case the journey takes longer than expected, and getting them out of the car for walks or bathroom breaks if you're stuck in traffic.

Once you're at your destination, Carlson says, "always be thinking about" how to keep your pet safe and comfortable. Keep them on their leash, make sure they're hydrated and pay attention to their body language.

"You know your pets' behaviors better than anybody else," she says. "And so watch for any kind of a change in how they're reacting."

Signs of distress may include panting, pacing and whining. If you notice any of these behaviors, Carlson advises removing your pet from the situation as soon as possible, because "the more worked up they become, the harder it is to calm them down."

"I know there's a lot of activity going on and there's a lot of things to see, and excitement," she adds. "But if you have ... a pet with you, make sure you're really paying attention to them and watching their signs of stress so that you can respond appropriately."

If you're traveling sans pets, make sure there's someone back home you can call to feed and let them out while you're away, especially if there's a chance you may get home later than normal.

The ASPCA recommends keeping pets busy with a food puzzle toy or other form of enrichment while you're away. But Carlson says not to worry more than usual about leaving your pet alone that day.

"They're not going to be worried about the eclipse happening," she says. "They're just going to think it's a normal day where you're gone."

Don't waste your eclipse glasses on your pet

Any human who plans to look directly at the eclipse needs to wear special sunglasses, except for those few brief minutes when the moon is fully blocking the sun. Pets, however, do not.

"They're outside every day and don't look up at the sun, so there's no reason to think they're going to do that at this point," Carlson explains.

In fact, trying to put glasses on your pet — even for a photo opp — could likely do more harm than good, Carlson says. It could stress dogs, leading them to paw them off and even chew them up.

"Keep the glasses for yourself, because we're the ones that are going to be looking up at the sun and need that protection for our eyes," she says. "They're just going to be looking around like they normally do every day and feeding off of your emotions and your excitement."

Dr. Lori Bierbrier, the senior medical director of ASPCA Community Medicine, told NPR over email that while it's unlikely that animals will look right at the sun, their eyes could be damaged if they do so long enough.

Symptoms of eye damage include squinting, closing one eye or pawing at their eyes, redness, inflammation or cloudiness and watery eyes or discharge. She recommends contacting your vet as soon as you notice them.

But what about vet offices that are closed for the eclipse — as Carlson's briefly was — or hard to get to on the day of the eclipse?

Carlson says you should be aware of heavy traffic and figure out back roads you can take.

Ideally, worried pet owners could call their vet to explain the situation and get advice first. Carlson says that's just one example of why strong client-patient relationships are so important.

"Whether there's an eclipse or not," she says, "emergencies happen."

More resources to enjoy the eclipse

NPR will be sharing highlights herefrom across the NPR Network throughout the day Monday if you're unable to get out and see it in real time.

Copyright 2024 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Rachel Treisman (she/her) is a writer and editor for the Morning Edition live blog, which she helped launch in early 2021.