Behaviorists aren’t exactly sure what part of thunderstorms frighten dogs most, but we know you’ll do whatever it takes to calm your dog. Read tips and find the best resources for caring for dogs scared of thunderstorms.
July 4th fireworks are over, but the booms of summer aren’t up yet. It’s summer thunderstorm season after all and nobody hates thunder more than storm-phobic dogs. Whether they hide under the bed, whine, leap into your arms, or positively destroy everything they see, most dogs respond woefully to each deafening clap.
Behaviorists aren’t exactly sure what part of the storm frightens dogs most – whether it’s the sounds, the sight of lightning, atmospheric changes, or other stimuli that we can’t sense. And many researchers believe there’s likely a genetic component involved since certain breeds are over-represented among dogs who suffer from this phobia – specifically herding dogs and hounds along with sporting and working breeds.
Thunderstorm phobia is a serious concern
Patty Khuly, VMD, MBA of the well-read Dolittler.com vet blog for “pet lovers, vet voyeurs and the medically curious” takes the situation very seriously. She explains, “Thunderstorm phobia is a potentially serious behavioral “disease.” Though your friends, family (and maybe even your veterinarian) may make fun or minimize your dog’s suffering, those of you who have experienced the angst of a severe sufferer know better.”
If your dog can’t stand the thunder without trembling, whining, hiding or even hurting himself, this tip’s for you. Read on for Dr. Khuly facts on helping your best friend wait out the storm. There’s no single treatment that works for all dogs and it may involve a combination of tactics, so speak with your vet about the ideas below and how to implement them.
Myths about Dogs & Thunder
Dr. Khuly’s heard them all before, but these common misperceptions only stand in the way of effective treatment.
- You reinforce fear behavior by coddling a dog who is frightened by thunder
- There is no remedy for thunder phobia in dogs
- Dog should not receive drugs for thunder phobia
- Dogs must be drugged to remain calm during thunderstorms
Four things you can do to help your dog ride out the storm:
By gradually introducing your dog to the sound of thunder before the storm, you can help him become more relaxed about it. Start by playing a storm-sound CD at low volume while feeding your dog treats and petting him. Then, over time, gradually raise the volume of the CD and keep the treats and pets coming. Eventually, many dogs will associate the sound of thunder with a positive experience, replacing the fear the response.
For dogs that are just a little bit afraid of thunder, certain natural therapies can help. Lavender oil, which has been found to reduce canine car anxiety, ProQuiet (a tryptophan syrup), and canine pheromone sprays or collars such as DAP may help set the mood for a calmer response to thunder. Dr. Khuly also recommends special blankets “that work to shield dogs from the electromagnetic changes perceptible during electrical storms (Anxiety Wrap and Storm Defender are two brands available online). Alternatively, a double coating of aluminum foil over a crate (secured with and hidden by a blanket) can do the same job.”
Very severe cases of self-destructive thunder phobia may require pharmaceutical drugs in addition, but these are not to be used as a substitute for behavior modification. A combination of anti-anxiety medications such as Xanax and “Prozac-like” drugs such Clomicalm or Reconcile may help.
Reassurance & Safety
Love and support for make a big difference to frightened dogs. Try providing treats and petting when you’re home during the storm. When you’re away, crating can help with the calming sounds of the radio or white noise in the background.
Read the full article about treatments for thunderstorm phobia from Dr. Patty Khuly. Note the Dolittler blog is now part of PetMD.com.
Renowned Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist Patricia McConnell, Ph.D. also summarizes many thunder-phobia treatments that may help your pup.
Thank you to Katie and Ellie for the photo.
Originally published June 2009; reviewed and updated July 2016.