Fear of thunderstorms is very common among dogs, and even some cats. While the exact source of the fear can be difficult to pinpoint, it may be one or a combination of storm-associated events including: sound of the wind, rain or thunder, lightning, change in barometric pressure, electrostatic disturbances, smell, or even low-frequency rumbles preceding a storm that humans can’t hear.
Fear can also manifest in different ways including:
- Hiding (most common sign in cats)
- Trying to escape (digging, jumping through windows or going through walls, running away)
- Seeking the owner or clinging
- Expressing anal glands
- Not eating
- Not listening to commands
- Trembling or shaking
- Dilated pupils
- Vocalizing (barking or meowing)
Pets that have other behavioral concerns such as separation anxiety, fearful behavior, or aversion to loud noises like fireworks, tend to be more likely to be affected by storms.
There are a number of things that can be done to help lessen these pets level of anxiety and make them more comfortable during a storm. It may take a bit of trial and error to see what works best for a pet.
Do not over praise/comfort or punish a pet for showing fear during a storm. Too much praise/comforting encourages and rewards the behavior, and reinforces that the pet should be fearful during a storm. Punishment however, will only act to increase a pets anxiety level. Ideally, show your pet attention in other ways during a storm, such as grooming, or playing. You may choose to provide a favorite treat, toy or activity, only during a storm.
Another method of behavior modification includes desensitization. First you must teach your pet to relax when there is no storm. When they are able to successfully master a “relax” command, obtain a storm recording and see if it is enough to simulate a storm, so your pet is fearful.
For some pets a recording (sound) may not be enough to stimulate their fear response. If it is, play it at first quietly, just loud enough so your pet becomes aware of it – their ears may cock up, but not loud enough for them to be fearful, and practice your relax command. Train in short 5-10 min. sessions and work on gradually increasing the volume the recording is played, then work on different rooms of the house as well. When you have worked up to a storm level volume and your pet is still able to relax, you can try leaving the recording on while you leave the house for short periods. Once a pet appears to have lost their fear, a weekly session should be enough to maintain the practice.
Talk to your veterinarian at Chestermere Veterinary Clinic (403) 272-3573 for medication recommendations that can help with your pets anxiety during a storm. Some medications can be given on the day of an expected storm, while others may need to be taken for the duration of the storm season. Another more natural option that may work for some pets is pheromone therapy. Pheromones such as Dog Appeasing pheromone or Feliway for cats can be purchased in diffuser, spray or collar form, and can help instill a feeling of calm.
Change of Environment
For some pets, simply taking them downstairs is enough to help reduce the sound of the storm and make them feel more comfortable. Others may enjoy a crate set up in an interior bathroom in the house, away from windows, and a blanket put over to help muffle the sound. White noise such as a fan or radio, may also help.
Daily vigorous exercise, and good health and nutrition help all pets to be less irritable and better cope with anxiety.
Projecting a calm and confident attitude yourself, can help your pet feel more at ease and likely to follow your lead.
If you have questions, contact us at Chestermere Veterinary Clinic 403-272-3573, or visit us on Facebook!
Drs. Foster & Smith. Fear of Thunderstorms, Fireworks, and Noise Phobias. Pet Education.com. Web August 15, 2014. http://www.peteducation.com/article.cfm?c=1+2174&aid=2545.