Thunderstorm phobias in dogs
No one really knows why some dogs become afraid of fireworks and thunderstorms and they don’t seem to bother other dogs. It could be connected to a dog’s sense of hearing or to thyroid levels. Or it could be connected to socialization and general levels of anxiety. Sometimes an otherwise happy-go-lucky dog will become almost hysterical with fear when he hears the sound of thunder. If you have a dog with one of these phobias it can be both perplexing and frustrating.
There is actually a difference between being afraid of fireworks and being afraid of thunderstorms, although the two things are similar. Both involve loud, booming sounds and some dogs are afraid of both. If your dog is afraid of fireworks then he is likely afraid of the very loud noises. He may hide or try to climb in your lap, even if he is a very large dog. He may drool, pant or shake. Trembling is common. Dogs will often try to go to a safe place to try to get away from the noise.
Is it really the sound or is it something else?
If your dog is afraid of thunderstorms he could be set off by more than just the sound of the thunder. There is a theory that dogs who are afraid of thunderstorms are bothered by the buildup of electricity in the atmosphere. This is the same electricity that causes static electricity to build up in a dog’s coat. Your dog can tell when a storm is approaching long before he hears a clap of thunder or a flash of lightning and he may start showing his fear. Signs of thunderstorm phobia are similar to fireworks phobia: your dog may try to hide or climb in your lap. He may pant, drool or start shaking. He may try to seek out a safe place. Some dogs will try to climb in a snug place, such as a bathtub. The smooth sides of a bathtub will help dispel some of the charged electricity that they are feeling in their fur and provide them with some comfort.
Whether your dog is reacting to fireworks or to thunderstorms there are some things you can do to help him calm down. Some people like to try herbal remedies for their dogs. Valerian and scullcap have both been successfully used for these phobias. Other people have used diluted essential oils such as peppermint oil on their dog’s paws and pulse points. Flower essences such as Rescue Remedy are also popular.
Please remember that herbal medicines can still be dangerous. Just because something is “natural” does not mean that it’s safe. Many poisons come from plants, which are also natural. You should consult with your veterinarian before using any herbal medicine.
If you intend to use an herbal remedy you should allow plenty of time for it to work. Sometimes that’s not possible with unexpected fireworks or a sudden storm so these methods have limited efficacy at times.
If your dog has a serious problem and you need something that works quickly you should consult with your veterinarian ahead of time. He may prescribe a mild sedative for your dog in case of emergency.
For dogs with thunderstorm phobias there is also a garment that can be worn that has helped some dogs. It’s called a StormDefender Cape. This cape-like wrap goes around your dog and insulates him from the build up of electrical charge in the atmosphere. It can reduce some of the anxiety associated with storms. Your dog may still react to the sound of thunder but the cape may help.
You can make your own home version of this garment by wrapping your dog in a snug-fitting human tube top. A tube top can hold your dog’s fur close to his body and also help prevent the build up of static charge.
In order to help your dog in the longterm you can try to help desensitize him to the loud sounds that bother him so much. Some people have tried recording storms and firework booms on cassette and playing them for their dogs. You can increase the loudness until they are playing at full volume. This has helped some dogs become better at tolerating fireworks and thunderstorms.
It can also help to turn up the TV or music during fireworks and storms to try to drown out the outside noise. Do things to distract your dog. Try to play with him before he becomes aware of the noise outside. Do anything to keep his mind off the things he fears.