As millions of people prepare to look to the skies on Monday, others might be curious about what happens here on the ground during a total solar eclipse.

In the lead-up to the rare cosmic spectacle, there has been a lot of talk about protecting humans’ eyes from the dangers of looking directly at an eclipse.

But what about our pets and livestock?

For those animals, the problem is not so much about eye safety, explained Dr. Karen Overall, professor of behavioural medicine at the Atlantic Veterinary College in Charlottetown.

Instead, she said, it’s the fact that animals, like humans, all have an internal clock that could be affected by sudden darkness — and some animals could become stressed because of unexpected darkness arriving during daylight hours.

WATCH | How can you help your pets and other animals during the eclipse?: 

How can you help your pets and other animals during the eclipse?

We’ve heard about the damage looking at an eclipse can have on our eyes, but what about our furry and feathered friends? Dr. Karen Overall, a professor of behavioural medicine at the Atlantic Veterinary College in Charlottetown, explains how to keep your beloved animals safe during Monday’s cosmic spectacle.

From the perspective of someone standing on the ground, “What we would expect is that as an eclipse comes, it looks like the sun is setting,” Overall explained.

“What you would expect is animals to respond as if that diurnal clock signal … kicks in,” she added. “Not surprisingly, birds are going to go to bed.”

A solar eclipse occurs when the moon passes between Earth and the sun, darkening the sky and making it seem, for a few minutes, like nighttime.

Most of western P.E.I. will see a total eclipse on Monday, while the rest of the Island will experience near-totality.

The province will experience the effects at various times between 3:26 p.m. and 5:44 p.m., depending on the region. 

According to Overall, scientists published numerous papers after a total solar eclipse over parts of the U.S. in 2017, perhaps most notably a study by North Carolina State University biological sciences professor Adam Hartstone-Rose.  

He noted surprising eclipse-related behaviour in 17 animal species at a South Carolina zoo during the event.

That included tortoises moving faster and displaying mating behaviours; giraffes galloping without being chased; and apes making different vocalization patterns than usual.

The Current11:11How will animals react to the eclipse?

Researchers have noticed some surprising behaviour from animals during previous eclipses, from galloping giraffes to mating tortoises. Biologist Adam Hartstone-Rose tells us why he’ll be watching how the natural world reacts to Monday’s eclipse.

The results of that research aren’t surprising, Overall said, because the sudden darkness of an eclipse can mirror how humans tend to override our own internal clocks at night through artificial light, whether it’s from phone screens or television. 

“This [eclipse] is going to be a short enough event that you’re not going to re-regulate that [clock],” she said.”You’re just going to trigger the behavioural responses that you would see characteristic of a normal day.” 

A woman with long grey hair and glasses standing in the lobby of a veterinary school with photos of animals behind her.
Dr. Karen Overall, a professor of behavioural medicine at the Atlantic Veterinary College’s teaching hospital in Charlottetown, says many studies have been produced about an eclipse’s effects on animals. (Alex MacIsaac/CBC)

Can’t ‘run around putting eclipse glasses on them’

Monday’s sudden change from light to darkness will likely have some livestock farmers watching their herds more closely. 

Fernwood, P.E.I., farmer Ranald MacFarlane has about 100 free-ranging pigs and roughly 90 cows. He’s curious to see any effects the eclipse might have on his herds. 

“Pigs in a pig barn don’t really know night and day, or cows in a barn that’s lit 24 hours a day,” he said. “They won’t really understand an eclipse.

“My animals have none of those luxuries, they may actually be affected a little bit — we’ll have to see how it goes.”

His plans for Monday’s solar show? He’ll stand in the middle of his property “and watch what happens,” he said.

“There’s really nothing you can do about it,” he said. “It’s not like I can run around putting eclipse glasses on them or anything like that.”

A group of pigs wandering around the grounds of a snowy farm
Fernwood farmer Ranald MacFarlane says his pigs are free-range, which could mean they’ll experience the eclipse differently than livestock that are kept in barns all day. (Steve Bruce/CBC)

For any farmers who might be concerned, Overall suggested a few simple precautions, for instance putting cows and horses in barns or stalls, and even giving them favourite treats to comfort them and keep them calm.

Another reason she thinks animals could become anxious during an eclipse is because many associate darkness with storms.

For some, it might even bring up past negative memories, for instance if they were caught up in post-tropical storm Fiona or other distressing weather events.

“They’ve probably got some degree of fear and panic associated with those,” Overall said. “If you’ve got anxious farm animals anyway — if you’ve got cows that are really keyed into milking cycles, or if you’ve got a worried horse — anything like that could set them off just a little bit.

“This is so uncertain for most animals, and they don’t have a way to predict it.” 

WATCH | Tips to keep your pet safe during the solar eclipse:

Tips to keep your pet safe during the solar eclipse

As the anticipation builds for Monday’s solar eclipse, the Toronto Humane Society is educating pet owners on how to keep their furry companions safe and comfortable during the event. Anam Khan has more.

As for household pets like cats and dogs, the best guidance is to leave them inside so they’re not tempted to stare at the sun or become afraid in the large crowds expected gather Monday afternoon to watch the eclipse.

Overall said most anxiety arising from the eclipse shouldn’t last long, but the Atlantic Veterinary College’s behaviour clinic can help in the event that they do. 

“My rule of thumb is: if I’m protecting something about me, I’m protecting that in my animal,” she said. “If I feel I’m at risk, my animals are at risk — and they are with me in whatever precautions I take.” 


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