Dogs and Cats Fear Thunderstorms – How to Help

August 14, 2011 Ashley Klein Uncategorized

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A pet’s fear of thunderstorms can stem from multiple causes. The noise, a previous negative experience, et cetera. These fears can quickly develop into phobias where pets repeatedly exhibit an irrational fear response. It is less common in cats, but is hardly unusual in dogs.

Not only are pets afraid of storms afraid of the sound of thunder, but associate other events with it; rain, lightning, change in barometric pressure, and even the smell of a storm. That is why dogs and even cats often exhibit signs of distress long before a storm has reached them.

So how can you help? First, owner’s attitudes may directly influence pet’s fears. Worriedly comforting your pet may reinforce the behavior, telling a pet that there really is something to fear. Owners may be positively reinforcing the fear reaction! Likewise, if owners are genuinely afraid during storms, a pet’s fear is reinforced. For that reason, you should instead reflect a calm, positive attitude.

What are the symptoms of a storm phobia?

  • Panting
  • Hiding (most common of these in cats)
  • Pacing
  • Chewing
  • Escape attempts
  • Seeking the owner (laps, legs)
  • Shaking, tremors
  • Barking or Mewling
  • Urinating
  • Defecating

Few animals display every sign, so knowing your cat or dog and watching your pet for signs of distress is crucial.

How is a thunder phobia treated?

First, know that there is no end-all cure for thunder phobias. However, lessening a pets fear can make the experience less negative overall.

Medication / Homeopathic Drugs
Quiet Tea calms dogsMost medications are given through guidance from a veterinarian. Some may be only be given right before a storm and others are administered throughout entire storm seasons! There are many pet sitting clients that receive amitriptyline throughout the season and valium directly before a storm.
Homeopathic remedies are not uncommon and flower essences have been used with success. A popular example is Bach Flower Remedy. Owners put a little of the ointment just inside pets’ ears or the tip of the nose about 30 minutes before a storm. I’m unsure of any local vendors, however. Another example is The Honest Kitchen’s “Quiet Tea” specifically made for dogs and cats. Unlike Bach Flower Remedy, there is a local vendor that I would recommend:
Passion for Pets, a Newton pet boutique.

Environment
One of the best “tricks” for helping calming a pet is to drown out the sound outside. That isn’t to say crank up the heavy metal. Just provide some white noise, such as turning up the television or radio.
Keep pets toward the interior of the building where outside noise is decreased. Never leave a pet with a fear of storms outdoors during a storm. In fact, most pets begin to become effected early on and it is best to get them in at least thirty minutes before a storm.
Finally, allow your pet to hide in a small, safe area. Closets and bathrooms (tubs/showers) are both great options. Pets may naturally seek these places out. If you have kennel trained your dog, always leave the door open for him to enter. Also, putting a blanket over the kennel may also help!

Exercise
Pets should receive daily exercise. Vigorous exercise the day of a fear trigger will help tire a pet out mentally and physically as well as raise natural chemicals which act as relaxers.

Conditioning
Rather than comforting an animal during a storm, give him his favorite toy before it starts! Or favorite catnip mouse or whatever activity he truly loves. Eventually he will associate the storm with something positive.

Thunder T-Shirts
The final assistance I would recommend would be the Thundershirt. There is a large amount of research behind the idea of compressing the nervous system to calm not only pets, but humans as well. I have long admired this product and I was ecstatic to hear that Passion for Pets began stocking Thundershirts last Friday. As far as I am aware, they are the only vendor in the area. The Thundershirt website has a 100% satisfaction guarantee, so the makers of the product truly believe in it; in fact, they have 85% success in calming dogs with it!

Here’s a video I found on the Thundershirt Official website from Fox News coverage:

Conclusion
Thunderstorms are a real problem for a lot of animals. The information above may also apply to animals with general noise phobias. A pet afraid of the sound of a gun, for instance. We can do a lot to help them, though, and these are just a few ideas. I hope it helps ease your pet’s distress!

Ashley Klein
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