My dog is scared of thunder – what to do?

Many dogs are scared of thunder so never think you a alone when your dog climbs the walls, howls, paws at the doors or ties to crawl into the hall linen closet. Thunderstorms and the accompanying electrical energy disturbs dogs on a level most of us do not understand. They sense them coming from miles away and the pacing begins before you may even know there is a storm on the horizon.

How to help?

But how do you help them? Much of the time it does not seem as though they want to be calmed or even understand your desire to help them. Your efforts are shunned and their anxiety worsens.

Working your dog through thunder and lightning anxiety is not easy and it takes time. Part of the work is to desensitize your dog to the noise and the rest is to make them as comfortable as possible throughout the storm.

There are CDs and DVDs available that emulate the sounds of a thunderstorm. These can be played as often as possible with each time increasing the volume a fraction. Eventually your dog will no longer be aversely affected by the loud noises of a storm – that does not help with the electrical disturbances but every bit helps.

During a storm, closing the two of you into a room with no windows or thick curtains to block the flashes of lightning and turning on the TV or radio to help block the noise will keep the dog calmer. They may still pace and whine but there should be slack moments where they are almost normal. Talking to them in a clam voice helps as does giving them something to distract them – a bone or a chew. Distraction is an excellent way to work the dog through the anxiety as they may still be a ball of nerves but they can focus that energy on the bone versus pacing or whining.

Natural remedies that can help

There are natural remedies on the market that can help with anxiety issues. Kava Kava is often recommended for dogs and ‘Rescue Remedy’ is a homeopathic formula that helps with acute distress such as anxiety or shock. Talk to your veterinarian as natural remedies are potent and even though they may seem innocuous, most have side effects or a ‘kick’ you should be aware of before administering to your pet.

If the anxiety level is very high, the most humane thing might be to sedate your dog. It may sound a little drastic but a portion of dogs that suffer from thunder and lightning may hurt themselves or destroy a house in an attempt to get somewhere ‘safe’. If you have a multi-dog household, the dogs will feed off each others anxiety level, escalating the stress level of each pet. Veterinarians often recommend sedation as a treatment for working through storm anxiety as the drug takes the edge off the stress and, in time, the dog should become accustomed or desensitized to the storms.

A combination of all of the above is really the best plan of action. Between storm fronts, desensitize the pooch to the sounds of the storm with the storm CD. If you know a storm front is coming, sedate your pet so you know that they will not be suffering from acute distress. Make the dog as comfortable as possible throughout the storm so they begin to realize they are safe and the storm will not hurt them.

Keep them inside!

Most important, keep your dogs and cats inside the house during a storm! Emergency hospitals and clinics see more injured and stray animals during a storm (or fireworks) then any other time. Animals bolt in an attempt to get away from the storm and end up lost, injured or worse. Keep them inside and safe until the storm is well past and the sun is shining once again.