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Pets can sense a storm coming long before their human caretakers. For those of us who have pets with storm phobia, it can be heart wrenching and nerve wracking to watch a usually calm companion suffer when a storm rolls in. Symptoms can be mild to extreme.
Common storm phobia symptoms:
There are different theories on exactly what is triggering these reactions. It could be from changes in barometric pressure, the loud boom of thunder, the disorienting flashes of lightning or the build-up of static electricity delivering painful shocks to our pets. Experts advise not to ignore these symptoms in your pet. Storm phobia is something that can get worse over time if nothing is done.It is important not to scold the behavior. This can make the anxiety worse. It’s also not advisable to console your pet during a storm with attention. Your dog may find this as rewarding the behavior and may become clingier during storms.
So, what should you do?
Here are some tips from our veterinary technicians:
Give your pet a safe place to go during the storm. This could be a certain room or crate, but basements are preferable. Your pet may already have a preferred spot they go when a storm is approaching. Work with them and ensure the space is available to them. Do this by making sure the door is open and access is not restricted on the days a storm is expected. Provide your pet with food and water in their safe place. Also leave a couple of toys.
Block windows with heavy curtains or cardboard. You could also leave the lights on as this might make the lightning flashes less obvious and stressing to your pet.
Give your pet a soothing herbal remedy. Consult with a holistic veterinarian regarding recommendations for storm phobia. Bach Rescue Remedy and Jackson Galaxy’s Spirit Essence Storm Soother are two products preferred by holistic vets seeking to ease storm stress and anxiety in pets. Dog Appeasing Pheromone is another common option and can also be used in a diffuser in your pet’s safe place to help achieve a more calm state.
Work on behavior modification with your pet. Begin by rewarding calm behavior in the absence of a storm. This will help reinforce acceptable behavior. You can also teach your pet the “settle” command. This command goes by several different names such as “calm” and “chill” — whatever you decide to call it, you will be helping an anxious pet reach a more calm state on command. You’ll want to begin teaching this command when it’s not storming. It’s not practical to expect your pet to “settle” during a storm if you haven’t worked on the command in the absence of a storm. This will take time and patience, but the goal is to gradually build up to help your pet’s behavior during a storm. The VCA Hospital published a great guide on training the “settle” command.
Desensitize your pet. Play a CD or use an app that replicates the noise of a thunderstorm at a low volume and gradually increase the volume over a period of several months. You should immediately stop the CD if your pet becomes anxious. Some experts feel this may not completely help your pet acclimate as you are only recreating the noise of the storm and not the other environmental changes that occur.
Swaddle your pet. There are many products on the market that simulate swaddling for your pet. These garments like Thundershirt, Storm Defender and Anxiety Wrap have all provedeffective in reducing a pet’s thunderstorm anxiety. These garments have a similar calming effect to that of swaddling a newborn in a blanket. Some of the products also contain elements to help reduce static shocks. Training guru, Cesar Millan, recommends having your pet wear the garment when it’s NOT storming so they will associate feeling calm and happy when placed in the garment later when a storm is approaching.
Discuss prescription options with your veterinarian. Lastly, there are prescription anti-anxiety medications such as Xanax (Alprazolam), Prozac and Clomicalm which can help ease your pet’s stress when a storm rolls in. Your veterinarian can discuss the pros and cons of each and can help you make the best choice for your anxious companion.
If you’re having little to no success with the above recommendations, or your pet’s symptoms are severe, we recommend consulting an animal behaviorist. The American College of Veterinary Behaviorists’ website has a provider directory so you can find an animal behaviorist near you.
Please remember that pets experiencing storm phobia are not being disobedient. They are in a state of panic and anxiety. Remaining calm and patient with them, and yourself, will go a long way in helping your pet.