A couple of weeks ago, a series of thunder storms moved over the south-eastern part of the United States and left flooded homes, hail damaged cars, and scared dogs in its wake. We humans naturally fear thunderstorms because we recognize the physical damage they cause; however, our dogs fear bad weather because of the loud noise and lightning. Many of our clients have dogs with severe thunder phobia so here is how we answer their questions.
Why is my dog so terrified of thunder?
Fear of loud noises is common in dogs and arises from their natural instinct to survive. When they face a threatening situation (strange sound, strange animal, strange person, etc.), fear is nature’s way of protecting them from harm. The dog’s fear alerts him to potential danger and stimulates a “fight or flight” mechanism to keep him safe by either addressing the danger or fleeing from it.
The problem is that some dogs have an excessive fear of thunderstorms and develop a phobia. These dogs react adversely to the noise but also to the associated lightning, change in barometric pressure, windy conditions and darkening sky. When thunder-phobic dogs get really scared, they act out.
What are the most common signs of thunder phobia?
Some dogs seek the comfort of their owners and won’t leave their sides during bad weather. But since owners aren’t always at home during stormy weather, dogs may seek a cozy place to cuddle up (under the bed) or may pace constantly. Others bark continuously or become destructive in the home. One of our clients had a dog who scratched at the back door until his feet bled. Another came home to find piles of urine and feces all over the house. Scared dogs can react in many different ways.
What can I do to help my dog through thunder storms?
We all feel badly for the poor dog that suffers from excessive storm anxiety. How sad to see them so miserable. There are several ways pet owners can help their dogs deal with storm phobia.
- Create white noise to calm the dog. White noise can take many forms. You can purchase a noise machine or simply turn on the TV or radio.
- Purchase a thunder garment. These weighted vests are fashioned to fit snugly and “hug” the dog. The pressure on the torso makes many dogs feel more secure.
- Place the dog in the most soundproof area of the house. If there is an inner room without windows, basement, or large closet, relocate the dog’s bed there temporarily. Move his water bowl and favorite toy there, too. Turning on the sound machine or TV in this area is an added advantage. Rooms without windows also block out the scary light show created by lightning.
- Utilize a dog crate. If your dog likes his crate, simply move it to a quieter area of the house or cover it with a blanket to muffle sound and limit light.
- Distract the dog with play or treats. Try placing kibble in a Kong toy to keep his mind off the storm, or play an indoor game of fetch as a distraction.
- Desensitize your dog to storms. Between storms, expose your dog to recordings of thunder and wind while he is calm. Start by playing the recording softly and gradually increase the volume. Reassure him during the recordings. Provide these sessions 3 times weekly before storm season starts.
- Ask your veterinarian for anti-anxiety medication. If these tactics don’t solve the situation, ask your doctor to prescribe medication. Medicine PLUS the above tactics may be just the ticket for your dog.
Many of our clients have worked hard to help their dogs through stormy weather. Some found success with the tips given above while others added medication to the treatment plan. Now they don’t dread summer thunder storms any more. If you work with your dog and your veterinarian, you won’t either!