For many dogs, thunderstorms are traumatic events. When the large clouds roll in, and even before the first crash of thunder hits, dogs with storm anxiety may panic, running in search of a safe place to hide. Behind a toilet, under a bed, in a closet—dogs with this fear may even bolt out of the house, running in a futile attempt to escape the noise.
Experts are not sure what triggers some dogs to react so excitably to thunderstorms. Some suspect it could be ionization, the drop in the atmospheric pressure, wind, or sudden lightning. Breeds that tend to be more susceptible to storm anxiety include herding breeds, hounds, and working breeds, all of which suppress certain undesirable stimuli. Other dogs that may suffer storm anxiety are rescued dogs, especially those that have had bad experiences prior to adoption. Dogs that display storm anxiety also tend to become more susceptible as they age.
Dogs may display different symptoms of storm anxiety, such as drooling, panting, uncontrollable shivering, pacing, climbing on their owners’ laps, destructive behavior such as tearing up furniture, losing control of their bladder or bowels, jumping over fences, and cramming themselves into tight spaces.
Dogs that have storm anxiety experience chronic stress, which can have a negative impact on their immune system and overall health. Some dogs have even experienced a fatal heart attack.
What can the owners of dogs with storm anxiety do to help their dogs? Here are some suggestions.
- Create a safe spot for your dog, a dark, quiet, easily accessible space such as a closet, bathroom, or even a small room. Furnish the space with pillows, the dog’s favorite toys and blankets, doggie bed, and treats.
- Play music on the radio or stereo or turn up the TV to help drown out the noise from the storm. Closing drapes and blinds can also help reduce the amount of exposure from the storm.
- Keep your dog indoors as soon as you see a storm is approaching. It is also most helpful if you or someone else stays with the dog while it is inside, as some dogs become destructive in confined situations.
- Try to play with your dog just before and during the storm: tug of war, tossing a ball, hiding treats. You can try this along with playing distracting music.
- Some products are on the market designed especially for storm phobic dogs, including items that looks like capes or wraps. However, rather than invest in these items, you may find that snuggling up with your dog and a favorite blanket may work just as well.
Some dogs do not respond positively to any of these measures. If your dog is one of the nonresponders, you may need to speak to a veterinarian about behavior modification medications, such as Clomicalm and Reconcile, which can be given throughout the storm season. If you need something to give your dog on an as-it-happens basis, then you might ask your vet for valium or Xanax.
If you have a dog that suffers with storm anxiety, some things you should not do is lock him in a room or put him in a crate. Dogs that are in a panic mode can seriously injure themselves, jumping through windows or tearing out their nails trying to get out of a crate or room. Dogs that have destructive behavior related to a storm also should not be punished, because they are acting out of fear, not on purpose.
A dog that suffers with storm anxiety can be a challenge, but with some patience and perhaps some help from your vet, you and your dog can weather the storms together with minimal or no anxiety.
Humane Society of the United States