How will your pets react to the solar eclipse?

By: Rose Kennedy For The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Updated:

The Aug. 21 Great American Solar Eclipse will be the first total solar eclipse to stretch coast to coast in the continental United States in 99 years. Humans are expected to react with amazement when the thin path of totality, or total eclipse, passes through portions of 14 states, but what about their pets?

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Dogs and cats will be affected by the eclipse much less than wildlife, says to Russell McLendon, science editor for Mother Nature Network. But there are still important things to know about how the solar eclipse could affect dogs and cats, including safety measures responsible pet owners should take.

Here are five of the most important things to know about how the solar eclipse could affect your pet:

Cats and dogs may not notice the solar eclipse much. 

Many wild animals may mistake solar eclipses for twilight, McLendon wrote in MNN. Crickets and frogs may jump-start their evening chorus, diurnal animals might quiet down and even nocturnal animals like bats and owls might be lured into activity in the eclipse's totality. 

While they can't anticipate the eclipse phenomena like humans who read about it ahead of time, family pets are unlikely to have a primeval reaction to the eclipse like their wild animal relatives. They react differently, because their daily routines are influenced by human schedules as well as sunlight levels, McLendon reported.

Pets may still become fearful during the eclipse. 

More than the darkness of the solar eclipse, pets may be apprehensive about the crowds that gather to view it, according to Lloyd Nelson, an Illinois animal-control officer interviewed by the Southern Illinoisan. Be aware that your dog or cat could get spooked by solar eclipse-inspired events that involve crowds of people, whether you take a pet with you to a viewing spot or it's near your home.

"It's sort of like the Fourth of July, but tripled," Nelson said. "We are going to have concerts, people shooting off fireworks in the dark of the midday sun, loud noises and strangers." 

Just as you do during firework holidays, make sure your pet is either safe inside for the eclipse or on a leash and under careful watch.

Pets can suffer "eclipse blindness." One thing we do have in common with our pets is that human, canine and feline eyes can all suffer from "eclipse blindness" when safe precautions are not taken during the eclipse viewing. During the eclipse, as the moon's shadow starts to block the sun's light, some of the sun's fiery disk will still be visible, according to LiveScience.com . A view of that light can literally burn any eyes, human, cat or dog, that look up at it. 

The condition, commonly called "eclipse blindness," happens when the sun's powerful rays burn sensitive photoreceptor cells in the retina. It usually results in blurred vision and other vision loss instead of complete blindness, since humans and animals ordinarily turn away before complete blindness occurs.

Pet's don't necessarily need glasses, but it wouldn't hurt. 
Space.com's safe viewing recommendations for humans include proper eye protection from NASA-approved eclipse glasses, along with strict warnings against trying to view the partial eclipse with a camera or telescope.

Whether your dog or cat also needs the glasses is up for debate in the scientific community. Mike Reynolds, an astronomy professor at Floriday State College in Jacksonville, Florida, told LiveScience.com that it's best to outfit pets that will be out during the eclipse with protective glasses.

Another expert quoted in the article wasn't as concerned. "On a normal day, your pets don't try to look at the sun, and therefore don't damage their eyes," said Angela Speck, director of astronomy and a professor of astrophysics at the University of Missouri. "And on this day, they're not going to do it, either,"

Animal lovers can help with worldwide research. While it's unlikely that your dog or cat will have a remarkable reaction to the Great American Eclipse, pet lovers might enjoy observing how animals in the wild or even the neighborhood do unusual things. Previous eclipses worldwide have involved reports of night birds singing, bats flying, spiders tearing down webs or owls calling, according to a report in the Southern Illinoisan.
But because total solar eclipses are so infrequent, scientists have little beyond anecdotal evidence of animal behavior, Rebecca Johnson, citizen science research coordinator at the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco, told the paper.

To remedy the dearth of research, the academy created a "Life Responds" project where citizens all over the world download the iNaturalist app from Apple or Android platforms and document the plant and animal reactions they see during the eclipse.

To join in the fun, download the iNaturalist app, make an account and practice making observations before the eclipse using the project "Getting Started" guide.

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