little boys comforts dog who appears to sense an earthquake nervously

This World Wildlife Day We Explore Whether Animals Can Sense Earthquakes


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World Wildlife Day in the first week of March is not only an opportunity to celebrate and conserve our natural resources. It’s also an opportunity to explore the many natural disasters we as a nation have weathered. Our people, pets, endangered species and other wildlife have known cyclones, tsunamis, landslides, flooding and earthquakes. Which brings up an interesting question: can animals predict earthquakes?

Could cats, dogs and other animals really sense when an earthquake is about to happen?

In this article PD Insurance looks at this much debated question as we also delve into how, when and why we celebrate World Wildlife Day in New Zealand. Home to some of the planet’s most novel and endangered species.

dog outing to celebrate World Wildlife Day and responsible pet parenting

When is World Wildlife Day?

Just as the word ‘world’ implies, World Wildlife Day is a global celebration of the planet’s flora and fauna. It happens every year on 3 March, which just so happens to be a very special conservation day. March 3rd is the birthday of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).

This treaty signed by governments around the planet aims to safeguard threatened species, especially with international trade. Before we move to answer whether animals can sense or predict an earthquake, we’ve something to celebrate. The CITES agreement was put into action on 3 March 1973, so…

2023 is the 50th birthday celebration for CITES.

We’re half a century into global awareness being supported by an agreement to safeguard endangered species. Now that is cause for celebration.

man celebrates World Wildlife Day with his dog

How to celebrate World Wildlife Day

Our footprints on the planet and our pets’ pawprints should all be taken in step with the beauty and wilderness around us. To help this happen, PD has partnered with the Department of Conservation to bring about the Lead the Way programme.

Lead the Way helps us engage in responsible pet ownership in tandem with protecting our coastal habitat and the wildlife that inhabits it. Celebrate World Wildlife Day by taking the 5-minute Lead the Way quiz. You’ll get a chance to gauge and improve your actions as a responsible community citizen.

What better way to recognise this worthwhile occasion? That and reading all about whether animals can predict earthquakes, of course. Without further ado…

little boys hugs dog on World Wildlife Day

Can animals predict earthquakes?

Since New Zealand is in a seismic zone we’re prone to the effects of earthquakes. We’re also a nation with one of the highest rates of pet ownership on the planet. Naturally, some of us may be curious about whether animals can predict that an earthquake is going to happen.

This question is widely disputed, possibly because it’s difficult to get concrete answers. What’s clear is that a number of studies point to the possibility that cats, dogs and other animals do sense and react to seismic activity (more on this below).

But the idea that animals can predict earthquakes sort of sounds superstitious. A far more plausible explanation is that animals don’t predict so much as use their senses to feel atmospheric changes and hear seismic shifts.

While it’s not entirely clear what causes animals to change their behaviour preceding an earthquake, some great examples have been documented. For World Wildlife Day, let’s take a look at examples.

Seismic shifts in animal behaviour

Below are some examples of notable changes in animal behaviour preceding earthquakes. In some cases, people have used this behaviour as an early warning or forecasting system for seismic activity and ensuing earthquakes.

On this last point, the farm animals’ behaviour fascinatingly only changed if they were indoors. If they were outdoors in open spaces there didn’t appear to be noticeably heightened activity.

Interestingly, in China, the unusual mass evacuation by the snakes helped the authorities decide to also evacuate the city. The earthquake that ensued destroyed nearly 90% of buildings. Besides snakes, many other animals including dogs also showed changes in behaviour, like anxiety.

Earthquake or not, why not learn how to speak dog and decode cat body language this World Wildlife Day.

like many endangered species, this dog appears to predict the coming earthquake with this display of heighted activity

Can dogs sense earthquakes?

We already know that our pets have far superior senses to our own. The same can be said for many endangered species that have great hearing, sight, smell or any combination of them. Could this be the answer?

We already know dogs respond to barometric pressure changes before a thunderstorm (read about dogs and thunder). Research done by psychology professor, neuropsychological researcher and writer on the intelligence, mental abilities and history of dogs, Dr Stanley Coren, furthers this. It shows they can probably hear the underground shifting, scraping and breaking of rocks and earth during seismic activity.

He was unconvinced before this.

Dr Cohen says ‘I must admit that I was skeptical about many of these reports... that a variety of animals, including dogs, can anticipate similar earth tremors.’

Interesting research that may prove the point

Dr Coren happened to be observing 200 dogs in Vancouver for an eight month long data collection when an earthquake happened. 24 hours before the 6.8 earthquake shook the Pacific Northwest, many of the dogs showed a marked increase in activity and/or anxiety.

Here’s what the findings of this study show:

  • 47% of the dogs showed higher activity levels than normal
  • 49% of the dogs displayed a marked increase in anxiety
  • 13 of the dogs that didn’t display these behaviours were hearing impaired
  • 1 hearing impaired dog that was with a hearing dog did become anxious
  • The dogs with the greatest of reactions were those without floppy ears

Why this last finding? Floppy ears tend to cut out some of the sounds, not to mention also trap added moisture and debris. (The moral of the story is that if your dog has floppy ears be sure to keep them clean). Oh and pay attention to your dog’s behaviour – they could be telling you something important!

Read how to tell if your dog is scared and how to keep pets safe from fireworks and other loud sounds.

And while we’re celebrating World Wildlife Day and all the natural wonders and calamities that exist, read about emergency preparedness and response for pets.

a girl hugs her dog

World Wildlife Day and responsible pet parenting

Both dogs and cats were once wild too, however, they’ve been domesticated for thousands of years. Together with our pets and other domesticated animals, we’ve collectively modified our behaviour.

Dogs are the first animal to ever have become domesticated and since then a lot about the way we humans live has changed. Dogs made it easier for us to hunt, farm and even produce more than we need to survive. They’ve helped us live better lives, but we should still tread with care when moving together towards a successful future.

World Wildlife Day is a chance to remember that humans and our companion animals are not apart from nature. We may appear to have a unique position, but we’re still very much part of it. While modern lifestyle puts added pressure on global biodiversity, our lives depend on it.

Read about using a cat collar with a bell to help prevent your cat from successfully hunting endangered species. Also read about sustainable dog food and reducing your carbon pawprint.

little girl hugs dog who is anxious as it can sense a coming earthquake

Anticipating shakes and scrapes for pets

It’s been fun exploring whether animals can sense approaching earthquakes, but what about your pet’s safety?
Even in their normal daily life there can be unexpected falls, scrapes, ills and aches. When this happens and they need to go to the vet, can you afford it, or will you need to break into your savings?

With comprehensive pet insurance you’ll likely not need to and instead you give your cat or dog the soft landing they deserve. Your pet’s plan can help pay for an enormous variety of medical bills from X-rays and other diagnostics to treatment and prescription medication. Just like human health insurance, this can save you from crippling bills.

Celebrate World Wildlife Day by getting one or more months of FREE pet insurance with PD. Click below to start your quote.

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