April Showers bring Thunderstorm Anxiety!
Does this scenario sound familiar: The weather channel is calling for sunny skies all day long, but the dog is hiding behind the toilet, shaking, drooling, and refusing to be comforted. Within an hour the sky darkens, the smell of rain is in the air, the first big drops of rain start to plop on the roof, and in the distance you hear that first peal of thunder.
Have you ever wondered if your dog is better at predicting a thunderstorm than the guy on the weather channel? Thunderstorm anxiety is a very common behavioral problem of dogs. They feel the pressure change, they hear those peals of thunder, and then they become inconsolable.
It’s so hard to watch your dog friends feel so much fear and anxiety! We want to just explain to them why being afraid isn’t necessary! Let’s talk about thunderstorm anxiety and noise phobia, and how we can help our canine housemates feel more comfortable.
Thunderstorm anxiety is just a more complicated form of noise phobia. The root of the fear is the noise phobia, but on top of that the dogs often really do feel the pressure changes, changes in wind, and changes in environment that signal an impending storm. Because they are so very aware of their environments, the fear actually starts long before that first boom!
Here’s the core to addressing noise phobia: Don’t over comfort. I know. It’s hard. Here’s the deal. If we sit with them on the bathroom floor saying “oh buddy, it’s ok, come here, it’s just a little thunder, it won’t hurt you” in your best squeaky, high, lovey voice, we inadvertently tell the dogs there is something to be afraid of! They think their comfort person is afraid too, and the fear is rewarded. Instead, make sure they are safe, make sure they know you are around, and confidently assure them that you’re in the next room if they need you! Gentle, calm, reassurance is the goal.
Once you’ve thought about how you respond to the fear, you can start to work on providing a safe, fear reducing environment. Implementing a combination of these suggestions below can help your dog to relax and be more calm during the storm.
- An interior room if possible
- In a covered crate, but only if he or she is used to being in a crate
- Provide somewhere to “lay low” until the storm passes- a laundry basket, bathtub, corner, or space between couch and wall.
- Classical music or other soothing sounds
- Thunder Shirts are effective for some pets (remember to supervise the first few times! Consumption of the thunder shirt can lead to worse problems!)
- DAP (Dog Appeasing Pheromone) or Adaptil is a calming pheromone
- Composure Pro, or another calming supplement
- A new bone or stuffed kong toy to provide some distraction and positive association
Positive experiences during storms can greatly improve a dog’s response to subsequent storms. Negative experiences, such as being caught in an unexpected storm, being left in a car during a storm, or having an alarm go off during the storm can set them back in their response to a storm.
Some dogs will not respond well to storms despite all of your efforts, and will actually experience worsening anxiety during subsequent storms. For some of these pets, a conversation with your veterinarian about medications to reduce anxiety may be in order. Your vet can discuss medication options with you, and can hopefully recommend a medication that will help your dog to be more comfortable during storms. It’s important to mention that even dogs who are taking medication are unlikely to enjoy or be perfectly relaxed during storms. The goal is to give them some relief from the panic, and allow them reduced anxiety. It’s also important to note that implementing all of the other suggestions in conjunction with starting a medication will usually lead to the best, most effective solution.
You’re not alone! Thunderstorm anxiety is the second most common behavioral concern of dogs, following separation anxiety. Knowing that other pet owners struggle with this stress may not alleviate the frustration and sadness you feel over your dog’s pain, but take comfort in knowing that this anxiety is not your fault. Like people, dogs all have individual personalities, quirks, and struggles. This is part of why we love them so much!