Dogs and Thunder

Help! Dog afraid of thunder! At Pet Assure, we care about pets. We know you do as well, and we welcome your questions about giving your furry family members the best lives possible. Last month, one reader wrote to us about an issue with her dog.

Dear Pet Assure,

My dog is terrified of thunder. He shakes violently, cowers under the bed or in a corner, and appears absolutely panic stricken. So far, nothing I have tried to calm him has done a lick of good. I feel utterly helpless. Do you have any suggestions?

Thanks in advance,

A concerned dog mom

We can all certainly sympathize with your situation—nothing makes one feel worse than the inability to comfort a distressed pet. Many dogs have pet anxiety around thunder, fireworks and other loud noises so you’re definitely not alone in your experience. Fortunately, there are steps you can take that should help to eventually lessen your pet’s sensitivity.

1. Create a safe space
Watch where your dog goes when he’s frightened and make sure he has access to that place when thunderstorms are in the weather forecast. In this case, you’d want to leave your bedroom door open so your dog can retreat under the bed if he feels the need to escape. If you’d prefer to keep him out in the open, you can try to create a new safe space somewhere else in your home. Experts recommend choosing a location where the sounds of thunder will be muffled (such as a room with few windows), and running a radio or a fan in the area to further block the noise. Feed your dog in that area so he’ll begin to associate it with pleasurable events.

2. Provide some distraction
Determine your dog’s favorite in-house activity and use it to distract him. For example, if he’s crazy about tug-of-war, break out the rope or an old sock. If he loves to play fetch, toss the ball around. If he’ll do anything for belly rubs, give him plenty. Keep him engaged with attention and treats and he may ignore the noise that usually frightens him. Note: this method is unlikely to work if your dog is already in full panic mode. Bring on the distraction as he first begins to become anxious—perhaps as the wind picks up before the storm or you hear that first boom of thunder.

3. Reduce electromagnetic radiation
For some dogs, the electromagnetic radiation caused by lightning strikes is even more distressing than the thunder they create. Products like the Storm Defender cape are designed with metallic linings that discharge static electricity from your dog’s fur and prevent increasing static charge buildup. Put the cape on at the first sign of distress and they claim your dog will eventually become desensitized to the wind, rain, thunder and barometric pressure changes that accompany storms.

4. Talk to your veterinarian
Anti-anxiety medication may be warranted in cases of severe anxiety, so talk to your veterinarian about options. Some will advise keeping your pet on the medication throughout storm season while others may suggest medicating in the morning on days when storms are forecast. You may also want to ask for a referral for a board-certified veterinary behaviorist. In one 2003 study, 94 percent of the dogs had a significant improvement in their storm phobias when medication was combined with behavior modification and desensitization.

Is your dog scared of thunder? How do you calm him down? Share your tips with us in the comment section!

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3 Responses

  1. Steven B. says:

    My problem is the opposite I think from most dog owners issue with thunder. My incessantly barks at the thunder and is able to recognize that with the flash of light comes the thunder. She want to go outside when it is lightning and thundering. I have tried products like Thundershirt, but not Storm Defender. It has not really work and I know it probably may take more training with it to get her to calm down. I tried calming aids and they didn't work. I play with her during the storm and that seems to distract her for a few minutes, but that is not always possible nor do I feel like playing at 3 am! I have thought about moving somewhere (west) where storms are not common. But then again, she is not heat tolerant either. I still luv her though.

  2. Jeremy says:

    I use Canine Calm which is a product made by Earth Heart and it works wonderfully! I just spray a little behind his ears on his neck and then rub a little in on his ears and he is much better, still a little stressed but not like he used to be. I would recommend trying this.

  3. Steven B. says:

    @Jeremy. I will give it a try and maybe use it along with the Thunder Shirt. Thanks for the recommendation.

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