You may have already experienced it with your dog; the flash of lighting, followed by a clap of thunder that leaves your dog feeling stressed and looking for a place to hide. Thunderstorm phobia can be found in both cats and dogs, but is more common in dogs.
If you have dealt with this problem before, you will know how difficult it can be to watch your four-legged pal suffer from thunderstorm anxiety. Luckily, there are several ways you can deal with the fear of thunderstorms in dogs. We discuss some of the remedies that will work best to help calm your beloved pet down.
What Causes Thunderstorm Phobia?
Thunderstorm phobia, or astraphobia, refers to the exaggerated and persistent fear of storms, or the stimuli related to these. Typically it is caused by a combination of factors. Stimuli can include thunder, rain, lightning, strong winds, low-frequency rumbles, and changes in static electricity and barometric pressure.
Typically, dogs that suffer from a storm phobia will also be frightened of other loud noises, including gunshots or fireworks. Dogs that suffer from other fearful behaviors, such as separation anxiety, are also more prone to suffer from thunderstorm anxiety. However, some pets are only afraid of storms.
There are a few common signs you can look out for that would indicate your pet might be suffering from thunderstorm anxiety:
Increased heart rate
Clinging to the owner
Abnormal or excessive vocalization
Self-inflicted trauma, causing sores or dermatitis
It is also not uncommon for storm-related panic attacks to seemingly arise out of nowhere. While your furry companion may not have displayed the same behaviors during past thunderstorms, it is something that can suddenly change. It is best to speak to your veterinarian, as there are other possible causes of similar symptoms. This can include other noise phobias or separation anxiety. To rule out other causes, your doctor will discuss your dog’s symptoms with you, and in some cases order standard lab tests to assess your pet’s overall health.
Why You Shouldn’t Ignore It
Owners often assume that fear of thunderstorms in dogs is common, but not something to be overly concerned with. They may believe that it is something that their pet will simply grow out of, given time.
However, experts advise that thunderstorm phobia in cats and dogs is something that should not be ignored. In fact, in many cases, it will get worse if the issue is not addressed.
Best Remedies for Thunderstorm Anxiety
As a pet owner, you often feel helpless and frustrated when your dog experiences these fears. Unless your pet is only mildly affected, there is no real easy fix for this problem and can sometimes be difficult to treat. However, there are lots of tools that can be used to help reduce the distress your dog will feel during storm season.
Desensitization and Counter Conditioning:
Before storm season hits, try and slowly desensitize your dog to the sounds of storms. You can play recordings of a thunderstorm at a low level that will not frighten your dog while playing a game or giving him treats.
Over the course of several months, you can gradually increase the volume to near-realistic levels, stopping if they display signs of anxiety. The aim is to get them accustomed to the sounds while teaching your pet to associate it with good things.
Use a snug garment:
Snug garments are a relatively low-cost, drug-free product to help anxious dogs and are designed to provide a gentle pressure, constant “hug”. Thundershirts work by lightly touching the skin from the back to the belly, which is thought to encourage the release of oxytocin. This hormone helps to induce feelings of closeness and calmness.
Give them a safe place:
When dogs are suffering from thunderstorm anxiety, they will often look for a tight space in which to hide. If you have previously noticed that your pet likes to go to a certain area of the home, for example under the bed or in the bathroom, then try and ensure they have access to this space during a storm. It’s best to let your dog decide where to go, as they may become more anxious if they feel confined and are unable to reach the place where they feel most safe.
In order to treat this common phobia in dogs, it is best to speak to your veterinarian and seek out an expert opinion. They can advise you on the most suitable course of action for your pet. In more severe cases, this may require prescribing anti-anxiety drugs or antidepressants.
If your pet is showing signs of anxiety or fear of thunderstorms, contact us at Village Vet Animal Clinic in Broken Arrow, OK (918) 258-0040.