Thunderstorm fear in Dogs

Thunderstorm fear in dogsFor dogs with a fear of thunderstorms, spring and summer can be very trying times. Fear reactions can range from a mild case of nerves and unease to a case of sheer panic. Conventional options tend to rely on sedatives or antianxiety medications to get the dog through the storm. In theory, this is a great solution, but problems tend to arise this time of the year when storms are predicted every day and when they sometimes pop up without warning. These medications generally need some time to enter the system before they are effective and often by the time this happens the storm has passed.

Storm phobias are very difficult to treat behaviorally. It is all but impossible to actively simulate a storm. The rain, lightning, thunder and barometric changes can all be triggers for the dog’s fear. For some dogs with mild issues, positive conditioning can be effective. Every time it storms, you get out a very special treat which is given regularly for the duration of the storm thus conditioning the dog to associate the storm with treats and pleasure. A rawhide bone or kong, squeaky toy or ball can often be used similarly.  For dogs with more severe fear issues, this is unlikely to make much of an impression. Even so, you want to try to provide any comfort you can.

Be sure that your demeanor does not heighten the feeling of panic. If you get tense over the expected reaction from your companion, they will not only pick up on this but feed off of it. Try to remain calm. Take deep breaths. Close curtains or go to an internal room to try to avoid experiencing the flashes of lightning and dampen the sounds of thunder as much as possible. Turn on some white noise or soothing music. Finally, watch that the attention you are giving to your pet is not reinforcing the behaviors. Be supportive and attentive but do not reinforce the belief that something bad is happening. Let your dog know that there is nothing to be worried about.

Many dogs seem to find comfort in a tight space. Bathtubs are a favorite refuge. They are seeking the security that a small or covered space can offer. For many dogs, you can provide comfort by putting them in a tight shirt or leotard, providing the sensation of being wrapped and protected. There are commercial variations on this theme. Many have magnetic properties or other special features which set them apart. What they generally have in common is that they are expensive. I generally recommend that owners start by putting an old shirt on the dog. You can snug it tight with rubber-bands and see if this helps calm the fears. If this provides some relief, you can feel more confident that the purchase of an anxiety wrap will be of benefit to you. I have many clients who just continue with a shirt and others who try the commercial products. For those who buy, there are a percentage who seem to improve further and then of course there are others who did as well with the shirt. I used to be surprised by the effectiveness of such a simple concept until I thought about the difference in laying down yourself with no covers or blankets- it is a feeling of exposure- which goes away quickly and irrationally if you just pull up a sheet.

For dogs who need more support than this, I recommend we begin trying a variety of natural remedies to determine how to best support the particular dog.

The DAP diffuser releases a canine calming pheromone into the air. It plugs into a standard outlet, and for some dogs it does provide relief. Plug it into an area where the dog would be comfortable. There are no negative side effects from this product and thus it is definitely worth a try.

Homeopathic remedies can also offer some relief and have the advantage of generally being fast acting. Phosphorous in the strength of 30c can be dosed to be absorbed in the dogs mouth every 15 minutes until you see an effect. You can re-dose if you see the fear returning. The standard pill size that you find in health food stores is meant to be placed under a person’s tongue and held in the mouth. Since this is not practical for dogs, I find it best to crush the pill and then dump the powder into the dog’s mouth. This is best done without touching the pellet as homeopathy is energy medicine. All organic beings have their own energy and it is possible that you will make the remedy less effective by transferring your energy to it.

If the Phosphorous remedy doesn’t work, try Aconitum Napellus 30c for the next storm. Homeopathy will generally either work or not. Side effects or negative effects are generally not noted.

Flower essences are dilutions from botanicals used to treat a wide variety of emotional disturbances. Remedies need to be matched to the patient and can be mixed together. Again, this class of remedy should have no side effects. Rescue remedy or Five flower essence (depending on the company you use) is generally a good starting remedy to check for effect. Single remedies which are often helpful in thunderstorm fears include Rock Rose which works for terror and panic or Mimulus which is for fear of known things. You can dose these directly in the mouth or mix with water to administer. I generally use 2-6 drops to make up a dose, administered directly into the dog’s mouth. You can also add 5 drops or so to the dog’s drinking water two to three times daily to give some low level effect through thunderstorm season. Dose directly as needed in addition to this. The dosage in the water should be safe for all pets in the household.

If these measures do not help, some people do have to resort to prescription medications and for some dogs, these will prove effective. Be sure to check with your veterinarian before trying any of these remedies to be sure that they should be safe for your particular pet.

15 Responses to “Thunderstorm fear in Dogs”

  1. dorothy b says:

    dear dr. lord thank you for youre info how to administer holistic pills to dogs under the tounge as my holistic vet failed to tell me how to do it he is always out of town and hard to reach this holistic meds are all new to me and not easy to understand he mailed me allergy med for my dog and said put under the tounge not a very easy job and i dident know if i could crush them or not to do this so thank you for the answer dorothy

  2. Jeanne-Marie Maiale says:

    We have used Rescue Remedy to calm our border collie/fox hound mix during thunderstorms and fireworks. It seems to wear off very quickly and I’ve been reluctant to keep administering additional doses. I give him 6 drops on a piece of bread, which works well for about 30 minutes. Should I be giving him a larger amount (he weighs 58 pounds), or repeat doses each time it wears off?

    I’ve heard that rubbing fabric softener dryer sheets on the dog’s fur can reduce the static electricity that adds to their anxiety. Any truth to this rumor?

    FYI, he used to get anxiety only during the storm (ie. when we could also hear the thunder), but as he ages, he seems to respond much earlier than anyone else can hear the thunder. Makes me believe that the other environmental factors (static, barometric pressure) play as big a role as the noise itself.

  3. Anna says:

    We have a 90-lb wolfhound mix who is terrified and quite destructive during even the lightest thunderstorms. We have tried the storm defender cape, the dap difuser, Acepromazine, and Xanax (which made her more destructive). 25mg of Ace used to help her somewhat, but even it doesn’t help her now. She keeps us up all night because if we don’t attend to her she will tear things up and urinate all over the house. Does anybody have any suggestions? Right now we have to lay in a small brick-floored closet with her until the storms end, which is generally a long time since we live in somewhat of a tornado belt. Honestly, since we’ve tried nearly everything, I can’t see phosphorus or drops of flower essence helping…Please help!

  4. Karen says:

    Anna, I have a 8 y/o Brittany who is terrified of t-storms to the point of destruction. She will try to tunnel through walls and floors when it’s really bad. She is worse at night or before dawn, and often sleeps through storms during the day if humans are with her. The flash of lightening without thunder is enough to set her off, and she can sense a storm up to 50 miles away. Rescue Remedy has never worked for her. I tried phosphorous once, but likely didn’t administer it properly. I’ve had the best luck with Aconitum Napellus. I put one pellet in her water bowl when I have to leave the house on every day that there is even the slightest risk of a t-storm. Getting the remedy into the dog’s system well before the storm seems to work best. I have seen her sleep through some of the worst storms when using Aconite in this manner. You might try putting one 30c pellet in your Wolfhound’s bowl every day; there’ no harm in it. I also had very bad luck with human sedatives; Sadie Mae actually became aggressive towards our other dog on Valium. BTW, the article above mentions a bathtub for refuge. One of the worst places to be if lightening strikes the house.

  5. catherine says:

    The drier sheets work great on my Papillion. She was a rescue from a puppy mill and was about 7 when I got her last year. I felt so bad for her every time a storm was coming as she looked like she was having a panic attack, panting and pacing.
    It took a few times with the sheets but now I don’t even need them! You must rub them all over and repeat every so often during a prolonged storm. It takes the static electricity out of their coat. Best part is they smell good!

  6. Anna says:

    Karen,
    Thank you so much for the recommendations. Fiona (wolfhound mix) kept us up for 5 hours last night during an especially bad storm, and she seems to be getting worse. She is now thrashing around uncontrollably to the point that we have to pin her down, and she also becomes aggressive toward our other dog during storms. I will try to find the aconitum napellus and get it in her system asap. I will let everyone know how it works. Thanks!
    Anna

  7. Kimberly says:

    Anna,
    You may want to consider The Anxiety Wrap – one of the commercial treatments that I believe Dr. Lord is referring to in her article. My business partner, who is a veteran (20+ yrs) dog trainer, invented it to help calm her client dogs. It uses a technique called “Maintained Pressure” which is the principle behind the hug vest that helps calm autistic children. While there’s no “magic pill” out there, The Anxiety Wrap has helped thousands of dogs over the past 7 years overcome thunderstorm fear, separation anxiety and many other fears and anxieties.

    It operates on a totally different principle than the Defender Cape, is easy to use, and you can leave it on your dog when you leave the house. Whether you decide to give it a try, I hope you can find something (or things) that help your Wolfhound!
    Kimberly

  8. Sylvia says:

    We have experienced the same problems listed in the postings above with our ~7yr old lab mix. She is extremely scared of thunderstorms and, like so many other owners have mentioned, she keeps us up all night. If we are not home, she is extremely distructive. We mistakenly tried putting her in her crate during storms, only to realize that made her anxiety worse. She has chewed through numerous metal crates out of pure anxiety…I’ve ready so many postings over the years and have tried so many things with little to no improvment. In fact, things seem to be getting slightly worse. One thing I’ve never heard mention of is this–has anyone ever tried actually taking their dog outside during a thunderstorm? I have taken our dog outside in the middle of the night and sat on our screened-in porch. I was able to get her to stay calm during a few crashes of thunder and bolts of lightening. I’m wondering though, if I should even try taking her on a walk during a storm, so that she will get the full effect, rain and all. This seems to me one of the only ways to really “face” her fear. Just wondering–has anyone else given this a shot and how did it go?

  9. Julie says:

    Ive tried walking our pit during the first part of storms, seems to work sometimes, most times not. He is an outdoor dog and will do anything to get out of his yard and in to the house. Oddly enough, he is usually happy sitting under an awning…..in a cushioned yard chair, as long as he is out of the rain and by the house. We can not bring him into the house because he has a history of eating cats and tries and will probably hurt our small dogs. This dog will move large rocks somehow to dig out of his yard. We are going to try the aconite, after lots of research I just dont think tranqs are the answer for his drive and personality.

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  12. Rose Greene says:

    My German Shepherd was freaking out this AM and we couldn’t figure out what was going on. We turned on the TV and heard there was a severe thunder-lightening storm 30 miles away going on. She is notoriously afraid of T-storms. Is it possible she heard or felt the storm so far away?

    She is most comfortble under the dashboard of my car during bad storms.

    Thanks for ALL responses!

  13. I’ve truly in no way taken that point of view on it. I suppose its excellent to research and study up on these kind of things occasionally to ensure that way one is in no way out of the loop. thanks a lot!

  14. Tom hanks says:

    Homeopathic remedy to thunderstorm fear. never though about that. Thank you

  15. Joan says:

    My dog was never afraid of thunderstorms till I got a plug in carbon monoxide detector. Every time the power went off then back on it would beep loudly. Now she is afraid of any kind of weather that can knock the power out. High winds OR thunderstorms, but thunderstorms are the worst. Iff I’m not at home, she tries to dig through the floor. She does well if I bring her to work and leave her in the car….she sleeps through the storm then…..not gonna work now that the weather is getting warmer though.

    I’m hoping flower remedies help.

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