Why does my dog hate thunderstorms?

Summertime means sunshine, road trips, picnic, and boat rides. Unfortunately for dogs, it also means thunderstorms, which can upset many dogs to the point of panic. According to one study, roughly 1/3 of dogs have anxiety, and thunderstorms are at the top of the list of anxiety-inducing situation.

Changes in the barometric pressure, darkened skies, humid air, the smell of ozone, wind and rain, lightning and thunder (including thunder so distant humans cannot hear) can all be a bit overwhelming for your pets! All animals fear things that can harm them. Storms are dangerous: getting wet can lead to hypothermia, flash floods and of course being struck by lightning. A quick escape to shelter increases the odd of survival. A phobia of thunderstorms makes evolutionary sense. Unfortunately this phobia is not only easily developed, but it’s hard to shake.

The standard therapy for behaviours that are fear-driven includes desensitization. But thunderstorm phobia is an exception because it is difficult to mimic all the different triggers that set off this fear.  Do everything reasonably possible to limit your dogs exposure to storms.

Find a “safe place” your dog can go to avoid all aspects of the storm. A basement, if available, is a great place to start! Basements have the advantage of being semi-subterranean, insulating against sounds by thick concrete walls and surrounding soil. Your dogs “safe place” should preferably have small or no windows so the storm cannot be witnessed. When a storm is approaching, turn on the lights in the room so any flashes of lighting that make it through the window coverings won’t be too obvious.

Playing calm music may also help drown out some sounds. Spend some play time with your dog in the room when it’s not storming, this can help associate the room with a positive experience.

Some pets benefit from storm jackets! Thundershirts Anxiety wraps and Storm Defender (just to name a few) are designed to help easy your dogs anxiety during storms. Some of these wraps have anti-static linings; all are designed to be snug-fitting to give your dog a feeling of being swaddled that is comforting to them.

Calming pheromones can also help! Nursing mothers naturally release pheromones of comfort and security to their puppies, Adaptil mimics this pheromone and helps dogs of all ages feel safe and secure when they encounter new or challenging situations. If you find nothing seems to help easy your dogs stress during storms, you may need to consult with your veterinarian about introducing other supplements or medications.

By Leanne Radcliffe