Thunder Phobia

April showers may bring May flowers, but for some of our four-legged family members, storms also bring fear and anxiety.

Dogs and cats—and even humans—become afraid during storms with the deafening sounds and light displays.  If you have a dog or cat who hides as a storm approaches, trembles, seeks constant attention, drools, or otherwise becomes distraught, it is important to first recognize that this is not out of the ordinary.

Yet for some animals, storms can be debilitating.

Why do some pets get afraid? Is it the change in barometric pressure? Do they hear the storm long before we can? Nobody knows for sure. Many pets do not demonstrate these fears in their early years, but rather develop this anxiety over time. Indeed, one shih tzu in our family has been known to jump into a bathtub to wait out a particularly strong storm. And one of our cats immediately heads for far reaches under the bed, grooming frantically in an attempt to self soothe.

A certain level of vigilance appears to be a survivalist, evolutionary response. It is difficult to know for certain what causes this response to become exaggerated in some pets. This makes contending with it hard.

What To Do

The best recommendations that veterinarians and animal behavior specialists offer are:

  • Move your pet to a different area in the house where the sounds and sights of the storm are less pronounced. You can often take their lead by noticing where they go in a storm and enhancing that space with a blanket and water dish to make it their “safe zone.”
  • When your pet’s anxiety is just beginning, distract them with something fun and enjoyable, such as a game or special treat.
  • Try some sort of snug fitting shirt or jacket to help induce calm. These so-called “thunder shirts” (made for both dogs & cats) and like products have varying degrees of success but for some they can seem like a miracle.
  • Reward calm behavior all the time as this could help discourage fear during storms.
  • If the fear is particularly debilitating for your pet, consult your veterinarian. Sometimes medication is the most effective intervention.

What NOT To Do

When a dog or cat expresses these fears, however, it is important not to do certain things:

  • As hard as it is for us to resist, do not constantly pet or try to console your pet as this can be experienced as reinforcement that a fearful response is warranted.
  • Do not put your pet in a crate or punish them for being afraid.
  • Never try to force them to experience the sounds that are frightening.