Is your dog afraid of thunderstorms?

With storm season upon us, I am republishing a post from last spring about living and managing pets with storm phobia.


Welcome to Tails and Tales this week with Dr. Regehr. We have had a few thunderstorms already this spring.  This time of year gets the phone ringing about storm phobias in dogs.  Dogs have a variety of phobias, but storm phobia is the most common we see.  Worse though are dogs that have it, but their people are  unaware that there are treatment options.

Keep your dog calm in any weather!

Keep your dog calm in any weather!

Symptoms of storm phobia vary from agitation and pacing all the way to outright panic with associated destructive behaviors.  The array of signs allow for an array of treatment options.  If your dog has mild anxiety at storm time there are some simple things you can do to modify your environment to put your pet at ease.  The following are the basic tools for all dogs with mild to moderate storm phobia.

Confinement – Use a crate of controlled space so that you can control your pet’s environment.  One reason we love for puppies to learn crate training when they are young is that so they are relaxed and comfortable with confinement as adults.

  • Noise – White noise can dull the sound of the thunder.  Small fans or box fans with a whirring motor placed next to a crate can provide great white noise.  My preference is the small table top size 10 – 20 inches tall.  Honeywell, Lasko and Vornado have great options at your local big box store.  Place it on high.
  • Distraction – Save high value treats for this occasion.  CET dental chews, Kong or treat toys stuffed with peanut butter and kibble then frozen, or a favorite chew toy are all great activities for your pet during a storm.
  • Diffuse the trigger – The alteration in the barometric pressure may indicate to some dogs that a storm is coming.  As well, your dog may hear the thunder long before you do.  However, once the storm is here the lightning can become a trigger for the anxiety causing event, the thunder.  Place the pet crate in a closet or room with fewer windows.  Close the shades or blinds if possible.  You could also cover the crate with a sheet or blanket.
  • Don’t reinforce the fear – This is the hardest for people to do.  Don’t try to snuggle, comfort or reassure your pet that everything is fine.  You are saying to them “Absolutely be afraid and keep panicking.  I am here for you and your are doing a great job panicking.“  Act as normal as possible even though your pet may express signs of anxiety.  Calmly arrange the storm space you created.  Use your basic training techniques to get them in the crate, give the high value treat and leave them alone.
  • Other options – The Thundershirt is gaining in popularity.  This a a tight fitting jacket to aide in reducing anxiety taken from ideas for calming people who have autism.  The thundershirt is available for retail sale at many major retailers, pet stores and online.  It is a great tool to be used with the above strategies, but it should not be used alone.  It is not a magic shirt!  It should be placed if possible just before the storm starts and left on for 20-30 minutes.  It should be taken off for the same amount of time and then put back on.  Once the dog’s behavior has been modified enough to understand the effect, the coat can be worn for the duration of a storm.  It isn’t meant for all day use.

If your dog is the type to panic, be destructive, vomit, drool excessively, or is unable to calm down with the above tools, he or she needs a behavior consult appointment with us and needs medications.  The quality of life for dogs with this type of panic is negatively affected when storms develop.

We typically pursue two types of medications for storm season.  We discuss daily medication for 3-6 months along with a situational medication added only on storm days.  These are to accompany strict adherence to the bulleted recommendations above.   I will tailor a home plan to your pets specific needs.

Most people will fortunately never have a dog that has true panic from storms.  The average dog with moderate agitation will usually do will with consistent use of the basic tools above.  However, there are dogs that absolutely will have better lives if their storm phobia is treated.  We are here to help when those events occur.


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