Thunderstorm Phobia in Dogs
Many dogs suffer from thunderstorm phobia in some way. However, it can be difficult to help our furry friends overcome this fear. Why does it develop, and what’s the best way to help our phobic dogs?
Dogs can display a variety of symptoms when they are afraid of storms, ranging from mild to extreme. They could include:
Shaking or trembling
Seeking out contact with owners
Sitting or laying in bathtub
In some extreme cases, dogs can panic and jump through glass doors or windows. Some dogs may only display one of the above behaviors, or multiple, or maybe your dog does something unique to them. My dog Meera pants and paces between our bedroom and the main area where we are hanging out. If it’s the middle of the night, she jumps up into our bed. My first rescue dog, Bauer, a large black and tan mutt, would squeeze himself behind the toilet in a tiny(ish) ball.
There is likely more than one cause of thunderstorm phobias in dogs. Some scientists believe one possible explanation relates to the static energy that storms bring on. Dogs may feel affected by static electricity during a storm and seek out a place where they can feel less discomfort1. Another cause may stem from the noises during a storm — wind, rain coming down, and loud thunder. Then there is simple evolution: storms are scary because they can be deadly. An animal’s instincts kick in and for some dogs, despite being in a safe place, the stress response may be negative enough to quickly form a fierce aversion. A dog’s history could also play a part, of course — for example, if he was ever actually caught outdoors during a thunderstorm.
Over time, there have been different methods introduced and tested to help dogs overcome their storm phobias. Whether it can be “cured” or not might depend on the dog and the cause. The best outcome to hope for would be a reduction in the dog’s fear.
There are several products on the market to help dogs get through their storm phobia. Wraps or shirts that hug the dog tightly may help alleviate some of their stress. The Anxiety Wrap, Thundershirt, and Storm Defender all utilize gentle pressure to help calm anxious dogs. The Storm Defender was designed with anti-static properties as well, which may help dogs who are affected by the static energy during storms. They have each shown some efficacy and so can be useful tools in combating storm phobia.
Other remedies include products like Adaptil, which uses dog appeasing pheromones (DAP) to reduce stress levels in dogs. Dog appeasing pheromone is secreted by female dogs after giving birth to a litter of puppies. DAP products use a synthetic form of this pheromone and are available as a spray, a diffuser, and a collar. There are a number of studies that have shown DAP to be effective in reducing stress in a number of situations. It’s available under a number of brand names.
Anti-anxiety medication is also an option to help dogs (and their people) deal with the stress brought on by storms. A Veterinary Behaviorist is the best person to speak to about what may be appropriate for your dog.
These remedies seem to be the most effective at this time to have in your “storm phobia fighting” toolbox. Every dog is different and may respond better to one product over another, and it may take time or a few storms to figure out which is most effective. Remember, the goal in this area is going to be to reduce your dog’s stress — it may never completely go away. Helping our dogs feel safer during storms, even if not fully “curing” the phobia, can still improve their quality of life — especially during these stormy summer months.
Have you had success with another treatment? What have you found to help your dog during stressful situations? We welcome any feedback since this is a widespread phobia that can be difficult to deal with.
Learn more about us at www.behaviorunited.com
Dodman, Nicholas. “Thunderstorm Phobia in Dogs.” Psychology Today, Sussex Publishers, 24 June 2016, www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/dog-days/201606/thunderstorm-phobia-in-dogs.