You may have noticed that your dog exhibits some odd behavior during storms, especially thunderstorms. They may suddenly disappear and you find them hiding somewhere. Or, perhaps, they suddenly stick to you like glue and demand neverending cuddles. Animals tend to hunker down and wait out storms instinctually and your dog is no different. However, for some dogs, storms can create a lot of anxiety and even become like a phobia for them. Here’s what you need to know about “thunderstorm phobia” and how to calm your dog during a storm:
What is “Thunderstorm Phobia”?
“Thunderstorm phobia” is a term that is sometimes used to refer to storm anxiety in dogs. This can be exhibited as a general or overwhelming panic that some dogs will start showing before, during, and even after thunderstorms. Most dogs don’t particularly like storms in general and may show some signs of being anxious because of it, but this doesn’t necessarily mean they have thunderstorm phobia.
Severe storm anxiety or thunderstorm phobia is marked by the overwhelming and seemingly uncontrollable behavior caused by an overwhelming or sudden panic. Essentially, the storm or thunderstorm triggers the dog’s fight or flight response and may cause them to injure themselves as they desperately try to soothe their anxiety or get away from the storm. Not all dogs will have a severe reaction to storms right off the bat, but, if left untreated or left to their own devices, the anxiety over storms will often get worse over time.
So, it’s important to pay attention to how your dog behaves as a storm is brewing, during the storm, and in its aftermath. If you notice them exhibiting anxious behaviors, you can step in to help keep them calm. If they already have severe anxiety or thunderstorm phobia, then it’s time for more involved treatment like desensitization, medication, or a different plan that you and your vet have decided upon.
Why are Some Dogs so Scared of Thunder?
There isn’t a hard or fast reason why some dogs are so scared of thunder. It could be something they learned from their mom or from their owners. It could be that they are more susceptible to anxiety around change and sensitive to noise anyway. Dogs also have better, more highly-tuned senses than we do, so storms can be a much more intense experience for them.
In general, dogs don’t tend to like loud noises. Oftentimes, the sheer loudness of the thunder is enough to cause a fear reaction in dogs, or at least make them uncomfortable. Most dogs don’t like fireworks due to the loud, booming noise and vibration and thunder is similar, so it causes a similar reaction.
Signs of Storm Anxiety in Dogs
Dogs will usually show signs of storm anxiety as puppies. If you catch it early enough, you can start helping to keep them calm and make positive associations so that they are better able to handle storm activity. If left untreated or ignored, it tends to get worse as the dog gets older. Knowing what to look for can help you determine whether your dog has storm anxiety, how bad it is, and even specific approaches you can take to help. Here are some signs of storm anxiety in dogs:
Dogs exhibit fear in a variety of ways. If you notice them trembling or shaking leading up to or during a storm, it’s a sure sign that they are afraid. They could also exhibit fear in other ways like drooling far more than usual or having accidents. Whether due to fear or panic, or to just distract themselves, dogs may also start to exhibit destructive behavior like chewing, scratching, and more when they are experiencing anxiety during storms.
Your dog may also show signs of panic, especially if their storm anxiety is more severe. They may run through the house wildly attempting to escape or find a safe space. Your dog could constantly bark, whine, or howl or just show general signs of restlessness, like pacing. Dilated pupils and a rapid heartbeat are sure signs of anxiety or excitement in your dog and you may notice them panting or hyperventilating as well.
Dogs may also exhibit comfort-seeking behavior or attempts to self-soothe when they are anxious. This may manifest as your dog becoming increasingly clingy as the storm draws closer. They may be seeking comfort from being close to you and may stick to your side while demanding cuddles. They may also attempt to lick you or their paws as a self-soothing mechanism.
Your dog could also simply disappear from your side and search your house for a safe space to hide. You might find them hunkered down behind a couch, under a bed, or in some enclosed area where they feel secure. They could also attempt to flee the house if you open the door or seek to escape to another room within the house to try and feel safer.
How to Calm Your Dog During a Storm
Knowing your dog is anxious and uncomfortable, or even terrified, during a storm is one thing. The next step is doing whatever you can to help calm them down and make them more comfortable until the storm is over. Here’s how to calm your dog during a storm:
1. Have a Plan
You will want to take the time to create a plan during storms that will make your dog as comfortable as possible. It’s also helpful to try and create a relaxing routine that you can follow each time a storm is brewing. Make sure to take your dog outside well before the storm so they can go to the bathroom. Then, spend more time outside playing with them and letting them get out some extra energy. If it is close to feeding time when you come back inside, give your dog plenty of food and water.
This can help prevent accidents and can help them feel less anxious and cooped up during the storm. Plus, they won’t have any anxiety related to lack of nutrients and they won’t be dealing with extra stressors like thirst or hunger. Essentially, you want to make sure you take care of all of your dog’s basic needs, so the only thing their body needs to do is get through the storm.
If you have a herding dog, try to get everyone in the same area. Herding breeds tend to get nervous during storms because they are afraid they will lose their pack or their herd in the chaos. By keeping everyone in the same area, your pooch may pace less and feel more comfortable being able to keep track of everyone.
2. Create a Safe Haven
If your dog has a favorite dog bed or has a crate or kennel, they should already associate that space with safety and security. You can make it a complete safe haven by adding their favorite pillows, blankets, and toys. If possible, sit with them in their safe spot or stick nearby so they do not feel alone during a stressful time. They will be much calmer knowing they are safe and you are near.
When possible, create a few comfortable safe spots for your dog. Having a safe place where they can go in the living room, bedroom, and even the mudroom can make your dog feel safer and happier because they will be closer to you no matter where you are in the house. Plus, by establishing these safe spots early, your dog may feel calmer in those areas even if you are not home during the storm. However, if your dog suffers from storm anxiety, especially if it’s more severe, it’s usually a good idea not to leave them alone during storms as this can increase their anxiety further.
3. Think About Using a Compression Shirt or Vest
Storms often make dogs feel nervous and anxious. By putting on a compression shirt or vest, they can feel more secure and grounded. These types of compression shirts or vests, or the branded Thunder Shirt or Thunder Vest, can be bought online or at many pet supply stores. You will want to make sure to take good measurements of your dog before purchasing a shirt or vest so you know it fits properly. The last thing your dog needs is to be in pain or have something else causing them to be even more uncomfortable during a storm.
4. Bring Plenty of Patience
It’s easy to get frustrated with your dog when they are constantly barking or causing trouble during a storm. But, it’s important to stay patient and be understanding when they are scared or anxious during a storm. Any frustration, harsh correction, or anger you show them during a storm only adds more negative associations with it and can make their storm anxiety even worse. So, take a deep breath and focus on making your dog more comfortable, so you can both weather the storm together and, hopefully, handle the next one better.
5. Consult Your Vet
You can consult your vet before putting a plan together for some good tips to help your dog through a storm. If what you’re doing doesn’t seem to help, or your dog already seems to have severe storm anxiety, it’s a good idea to visit the vet anyway. Depending on the behaviors your dog exhibits and how bad their storm anxiety is, your vet can help create a plan to help you and your dog handle their storm anxiety.
There are always ups and downs in life and with any pet. Storm anxiety or thunderstorm phobia can be a challenging process to go through with your dog. With these tips, you can help your dog stay calm during a storm and help them feel more secure and comfortable when life throws surprises their way.