Thunderstorm Anxiety in Dogs
on May 30, 2015
Posted in Dogs
Thunderstorm anxiety affects between 15 and 30% of all dogs. Some breeds of dogs such as hounds and German Shepherds, seem to be more likely to develop thunderstorm phobia. Dogs that were adopted from shelters are also more susceptible.
Causes of Thunderstorm Anxiety in Dogs
No one is really sure what causes thunderstorm anxiety in dogs, but the following may be triggers:
- The loud noise: Dogs can hear the noise of an approaching thunderstorm before we can. Some dogs are sensitive to loud noises in general, and these dogs may display thunderstorm anxiety.
- Electricity in the air: It is unknown whether the electricity in the air surrounding the development of a thunderstorm could cause the anxiety that thunderstorm-phobic dogs display. It is possible that dogs may find the sensation unpleasant.
- Air pressure changes: Dogs have sensitive ears, and it’s possible that the pressure changes involved with a coming thunderstorm are uncomfortable or painful for some dogs.
- Family fear: Dogs are quite sensitive to the moods of the people around them, especially those of their family. If a person in the home feels fear or anxiety during a thunderstorm, his or her dog may react the same way.
- Genetics: Some researchers believe that there is a genetic component to thunderstorm anxiety in dogs.
- Past experience: If a dog has had frightening experiences during storms, such as being left outside, these can cause an ongoing fear of the storm phenomena.
Signs of Thunderstorm Phobia in Dogs
The following signs may be seen in dogs with thunderstorm anxiety. Dogs may exhibit some or all of these signs:
- Crying and whining.
- Dilated pupils.
- Rapid heart rate.
- Becoming very clingy.
- Hiding in a closet or bathtub.
- Digging at doorframes in an attempt to escape.
- Jumping through windows to get away.
Conventional Treatment of Thunderstorm Phobia in Dogs
The conventional treatment for dogs with thunderstorm anxiety involves administering anti-anxiety drugs such as clomipramine or valium or sedatives such as acepromazine. These drugs can help storm-phobic dogs, but there are some drawbacks. Anti-anxiety medications must be routinely used for several weeks before you can tell how well they will work. Sedatives work best when they are given about an hour before you need the desired result, which can be difficult to achieve in the case of storms. These medications all carry possible side effects as well.
Pairing the anti-anxiety drugs or sedatives with desensitization training techniques that provide the dog with a positive association to the storm may be effective in decreasing or eliminating the phobia over time. Training should begin with low-level thunder sounds. This can be done by providing treats and praise when your dog doesn’t react the thunderstorm sounds played from a recording. These sounds should be started at a very low level and increased as your dog develops resistance to the anxiety.
Desensitization techniques do not always work as well with thunderstorm anxiety as with other causes of fear in dogs. This is probably because only the noise can be effectively replicated, not the other conditions, such as air pressure changes, that surround the development of thunderstorms.
Alternatives to Drugs for Treating Thunderstorm Anxiety in Dogs
From the holistic side, there are many alternatives to try with a thunderstorm-phobic dog. These include:
- Providing your dog with a dark, quiet shelter during storms. Bathtubs, closets, dog crates, and basements are all spots that work well for some dogs. If your dog finds a spot that seems to work on his own, make sure that it is always available to him during a storms.
- Dog-appeasing pheromones help some anxious dogs deal with thunderstorms. These pheromones are calming to dogs during stressful times, and they are available as sprays, collars, and diffusers.
- Anxiety wraps, ThunderShirt® dog jackets, or storm capes have been used in thunderstorm-phobic dogs, with success occurring in approximately ⅔ of them. These wraps have been reported to help with other forms of anxiety as well.
- Herbal supplements for dog anxiety and stress can be very effective for some dogs. Pet Wellbeing’s Stress Gold works quickly when there is an impending storm or other trigger event.
- Melatonin is a natural remedy that can be used to treat anxiety.
- Natural medications made from calming milk protein and L-Theanine are used for stress and anxiety in dogs.
- Chinese herbs can be formulated for your dog’s specific needs, including relief from the anxiety of storms.
- Acupuncture is helpful for stress-relief in many dogs.
- Massage therapy can be done in a specific pattern for relieving stress in some dogs.
- Music therapy can be effective in helping some dogs during storms. Play calming music at a level that will just drown out distant thunder sounds.
- Herbal calmers containing chamomile, hops, or valerian may help to reduce your dog’s stress level.
Prevention of Thunderstorm Anxiety in Dogs
If you have a rescue dog or a puppy, be sure that you don’t do anything to trigger thunderstorm phobia yourself. Use the following tips to decrease the chances of your dog developing a storm anxiety:
- Don’t take your dog outside during storms if you can avoid it, and never leave him alone outside during one.
- Develop positive associations by giving treats and playing with your dog when storms occur.
- If your dog shows anxiety during the storm, don’t reward it. This includes petting, praising, and/or speaking with a pitying voice. These behaviors come naturally to us when our dog is afraid, but they can reinforce his fearful behavior.
- Stay as relaxed as possible. Calm and happy body language and tone of voice help your dog stay relaxed, too.
If your dog suffers from thunderstorm anxiety, there are many options to help him feel better. Be sure to talk with your veterinarian to explore which combination might work best for your dog. Be prepared to try different methods to find the one that works best for your individual dog.
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Janice Huntingford, DVM, has been in veterinary practice for over 30 years and has founded two veterinary clinics since receiving her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine at the Ontario Veterinary College, University of Guelph. She has studied extensively in both conventional and holistic modalities. Ask Dr. Jan