If you’re the owner of a dog who suffers from thunderstorm anxiety, you know it can be a stressful and heartbreaking incident to witness. Even before the first boom of thunder, otherwise well-behaved dogs begin to pant, pace, cling to people, and hide. In severe cases, some dogs will chew or claw through drywall, destroy carpet and other household items, and sometimes even break through windows in their panic. Fear of thunderstorms in dogs is not uncommon and shouldn’t be ignored according to veterinarians. “Most of the time they don’t grow out of it on their own, and many will get worse with time if nothing is done,” says Matt Peuser, DVM. Although it is not known exactly what specifically about thunderstorms causes anxiety for dogs, the general thought is that it is a combination of several triggers: wind, thunder, lightning, barometric pressure changes, static electricity, and low-frequency rumblings caused by the storm before humans can hear them. Storm anxiety will also often become increasingly worse as seasonal storms become more frequent.
So what can be done to help your dog manage his storm anxiety? Several options are available to owners, to choose the right route for your dog discussing the problem with your veterinarian is the best first step.
Behavioral conditioning/training: “Many owners make the mistake of trying to console and pet a fearful dog that’s whimpering or climbing on them, but that just encourages the panicky behavior. We absolutely don’t want owners to scold their dog, but we don’t want them to reward the dog for being clingy because that will increase the clingy behavior. Instead, practice getting your dog to settle on command. Clients can put a special “inside” leash on the dog and practice having the pet lie at their feet while praising the calm behavior. They should practice when there is no storm, so the dog learns the routine, when the storm comes up, then they put on the leash and say, ‘Come on and lie down here,’ and the dog still knows what to do,” advises Barbara L. Sherman, PhD, DVM. Offering your dog their favorite toy, playing their favorite game, or doing some other activity they love is a good way to distract them from the fear and anxiety they’re feeling and substitute in something positive.
Give your dog a safe place: A “bomb shelter” so to speak for you dog during a storm may be an open crate, a basement where the noises and other stimuli and lessened, and interior room with music playing, a bathroom, or myriad of other locations. Be sure that your dog can come and go freely from his safe location, as confinement can cause an increase in anxiety for some dogs.
Consider a Thundershirt or similar snug garment: Specially designed and produced pressure garments for dogs are believed to create the same soothing affect as swaddling a baby. Although their success has been largely anecdotal, most veterinarians recommend them before pharmacological therapies.
Anti-anxiety medications: While not every dog with thunderstorm anxiety is a good candidate for anti-anxiety medication or has a severe enough phobia to warrant prescription medication, the option is worth discussing with your veterinarian. Many studies have shown that when dogs suffering from storm phobia were medicated in conjunction with behavior modification or other therapy, the improvement was much more significant than with just medication alone.
To make the best decision on what treatment plan would be the best fit for your dog, contact Green Hills Veterinary Clinic at (660) 263-9797