Wednesday, May 30, 2018 | NHS
It's heartbreaking to watch: As a storm rolls in, otherwise calm and content pets begin to pace, pant, cling to owners and jam themselves behind the toilet.
Thunderstorm phobia in dogs is real, not uncommon, and should not be ignored.
Experts don't know all the triggers but suspect that dogs are set off by some combination of wind, thunder, lightening, barometric pressure changes, static eletricity and low-frequency rumbles preceding a storm that we humans can't hear. Some theories even surmise that dogs might experience painful shocks from static buildup before a storm. And the anxiety seems to get worse as storms become more frequent. While difficult to treat, there are some ways to minimize pet panic.
Practice "settling" all year long
Many owners make the mistake of trying to console and pet a fearful dog that's upset and climbing on them. But that can encourage panicky behavior. Scolding the dog isn't the answer either. Instead work on getting your pet to settle on command during calm times. Have the pet lie at your feet and reward that behavior. When a storm hits you can also try to distract the dog and replace the fear with a more positive experience by offering a favorite toy or game, or positive attention when the dog is calm.
Offer a "safe" place
That might be an open crate, an interior room or bathroom, or a basement where the sounds are muffled and the dog can't see the storm outside. Let your dog decide by noticing where he goes in a storm and then, if possible, allowing access to that area during storms. (One dog we know weathers all storms in the bathtub.) Be sure the dog can come and go freely as some pets become much more anxious if confined. You don't want him clawing through the drywall to get out. Again, offer frozen kongs, puzzle toys or other activities to take his mind off the storm.
Consider a swaddling garmet
Some dog owners have good luck with snug fitting shirts and wraps designed to calm anxious dogs. These coats have panels with velcro that tghten around a dog or cat's torso and work similarly to swaddling a baby. The pressure can comfort and make a dog feel secure. Thundershirts is one brand that will offer a moneyback guarantee if the product doesn't work for your pet.
Try pheromones or natural remedies
There are various pheromone sprays, diffusers, and collars available for both dogs and cats. These hormones are similar to the hormones a mother dog or cat would emit to calm babies. The spray can be used on bedding if a storm is approaching, the diffuser can be plugged in for a month and the collar will stay on your pet. Rescue Remedy is a natural supplement that can help. A few drops on the tongue can help calm pets. Melatonin is another natural supplement. But always check with your veterinarian before giving pets ingested remedies.
Talk to your veterinarian
If your pet is frantic and nothing helps, your veterinarian may prescribe tranquilizers or other medications. Your vet knows your pet and has the best advice on what will be a safae and effective treatment plan for your best friend.