What To Do About Thunderstorm Anxiety in Dogs


Some dogs are better at forecasting the weather than the National Weather Service. They know a storm is approaching before we do. They pace, salivate, tremble, whine and become “Velcro dogs” (sticking to you like glue) even when a storm is an hour away or more. By the time the tempest arrives, the pet may be in full panic mode.

Some owners believe dogs frightened by storms will eventually realize that what’s happening outdoors won’t hurt them and, over time, their their anxiety will dissipate. Unfortunately, leaving a dog to figure this out on its own usually backfires, and the fear worsens rather than fades.

It’s not only rain that disturbs many dogs. Some learn to associate a storm with changes in the barometric pressure, and even with the smell in the air. With such keen hearing, dogs can detect far-off thunder. When storms are near, dogs also associate the sight of lightning with fear, and may even feel the electricity in the air.

Dogs aren’t alone in their fears, of course. Some people are also terrified of storms. They may have been struck by lightning or are especially sensitive to noise. In contrast, when a dog feels an electric jolt, no one can explain to the pet what just occurred. Also, dogs are more sensitive to sound than people. Some breeds seem pre-disposed for storm phobia, particularly herding dogs. In fact, fear of thunderstorms may be a vestigial means of survival left-over from long extinct relatives.

Some dogs may pace, hyper-salivate and act worried when the weather turns stormy. By “changing the subject” owners can sometimes calm their pet. If your dog fears storms, take puppy to the basement, close the shades to block out flashes of lightning, and pump up the music to drown out thunder. Music to specifically calm dogs is available from A Sound Beginning,  or Victoria Stilwell Positively Calming Music

You can also distract your pup with games, or toys that dispense food or treats. Dogs may be kept busy attempting to lick lowfat peanut butter or cream from toys. Kids can be great at keeping a dog occupied.

Some pets find solace in a hiding place, such under a bed, in a closet, or even in the bathtub.

Various products can also be helpful, all ideally used BEFORE the dog becomes anxious. Examples include:

Adaptil: A copy of a calming pheromone found in lactating dogs; available in a diffuser (that plugs into the wall) or a collar.

Anxiety Wrap. A vest-like “suit” that fits around the dog and uses acupressure to calm.

Anxitane. L-Theanine in a chewable nutritional supplement can help counter anxiety.

CALM: A prescription diet from Royal Canin for dogs under 35 lbs. The diet is formulated with milk protein hydrolyzed and supplemental tryptophan (sounds familiar because it’s also found in turkey meat) and nicotinamide which all combine for a calming affect.

Storm Defender; The super hero-like cape has a special metallic lining that protects from the static charge buildup that can bother dogs during a storm.

Thundershirt. A vest that uses gentle, constant pressure to calm a dog.

Zylkene: A nutritional supplement derived from casein, a protein in milk, and is used to promote relaxation.

For dogs who suffer more profound anxiety, contact your veterinarian. The old-school approach was to provide sedative (such as Benadryl or Acepromazine). You can do better today with anti-anxiety medications which adjust brain chemistry to lower fear, and at the same time make learning possible, or at least tone down the terror so a dog can be distracted.

If your veterinarian can’t help, and/or your pet suffers from fears in addition to thunderstorm anxiety (such as separation anxiety), consult a veterinarian with a special interest in animal behavior or a veterinary behaviorist. Learn more in “Decoding Your Dog,” authored by members of the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists (I co-edited with Dr. Debra Horwitz and John Ciribassi), Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, New York, NY, 2014; $23).

©Steve Dale Pet World, LLC; Tribune Content Agency