Many dogs show signs of extreme fear (phobia) during thunderstorms. As the barometric pressure starts to change and even before the first clap of thunder, you may witness your dog panting, pacing, whining, trying to hide in small spaces (like closets or under stairways) or shadowing your every step as they attempt to seek safety.
Experts aren’t sure of the exact reasons why dogs have this phobia, some believe it’s a combination of wind, thunder, changes in barometric pressure and static electricity that dogs can feel before a thunderstorm actually arrives. Others think that they may be simply frightened of loud noises or may experience physical shocks from static build-up before the storm. A phobia of loud noises has been scientifically linked to pain in dogs, so it is important first and foremost to get your veterinarian to perform a health check if your dog shows a sudden fear of loud noises- including storms.
It can be very distressing to see your dogs in a state of fear- especially when the dog seems inconsolable. The severity of your dog’s storm phobia will determine what the best course of action is to alleviate your pooch’s suffering.
- Consult with your vet: This should be the first step for dog’s that suddenly develop a phobia or if your dog is showing extreme signs of fear and anxiety during storms (such as injuring themselves). There are several medications available to that can help to calm your dog during stressful events- talk to your vet for more info!
- Provide your dog with calming activities: Providing calm social support by being there with your dog is much better than over exciting your dog with high energy games. Punishing or ignoring your frightened pet will not work and will only exacerbate the situation. Instead, help by giving your dog opportunities to lick or chew (such as by providing them with Kongs or long lasting treats), can allow them to soothe themselves by alleviating muscle tension.
- Provide a safe zone: Put your dog’s bed in a quiet room with limited outside noise and lights. A quiet room with the blinds/curtains drawn and some soft music to cancel out the rumbling thunder can provide a safe space for you and your dog to chill out in.
- Desensitise your dog: This method is best for those dogs who only show minor signs of fear or those working under part of a veterinary behavioural modification plan. Playing recorded noises of thunderstorms at a low volume can help to get your dog used to (habituate) the sound. This only works if your dog is calm and not showing any signs they are uncomfortable. The volume can gradually get increased over the course of several days, weeks or months depending on the dog’s behaviour.
There are also over the counter products that can facilitate a calming effect on your dog. Adaptil collars, Adaptil spray or the milk by-product Zylkene have been shown to lower a dog’s overall anxiety and may be of use during thunderstorms.