A Fear of thunderstorms is common for dogs. Similar to fireworks, which many dogs are also afraid of, the loud, unpredictable sounds and flashes of light can be stressful for dogs because they don’t understand why it’s happening. Some of the most frequent symptoms of dog storm anxiety include restlessness, shaking, panting and hiding. It can be heartbreaking to see your dog so fearful and agitated, but as a dog parent there are things you can do to help calm your dog before and during a storm.
9 Ways to Calm Your Dog During Storms
If your dog is afraid of thunderstorms, there are a few things you can try to help soothe them when stormy weather rolls in.
Plan Ahead & Act Early
Compared to humans, dogs are much more sensitive to the signs that a storm is coming. Dogs can sense barometric pressure changes, feel static electricity in the air, hear the low-frequency sounds of distant thunder before you can, and smell when rain is on the way.
If a storm is coming and your dog is showing early signs of anxiety, don’t wait for them to start freaking out before you take action! Getting ahead of storm anxiety can make the symptoms less severe. Use these tips to create a “storm action plan” and monitor the weather forecast so you can be prepared.
Create a Safe Space for Your Dog
When dogs are afraid they may want to hide somewhere they feel safe. That could be their crate, under a bed or covers, or in a closet. Consider setting them up with their dog bed and/or some blankets and giving them a treat-filled toy to try to make the event more positive. If you have a basement it could be an ideal safe space since the noise from thunder, wind and rain will be more muffled. Consider closing the windows and blinds to help reduce anxiety-producing sounds and lightning flashes, even if it’s not raining yet.
Try an Anti-Anxiety Shirt
Snug shirts that wrap around your dog have a calming effect for some dogs, similar to swaddling a baby. When possible, put an anti-anxiety shirt on your dog before their storm anxiety acts up.
Anti-Static Jackets Might Help
One of the reasons dogs get anxious before and during storms is the static electricity in the air. Dogs can feel the electric charge through their fur, and this is especially true of dogs with long fur or a double coat. Dogs may also feel static electric shocks during a storm, which is understandably terrifying if you don’t know why it’s happening!
Static electricity is a big reason why some dogs try to hide in grounded places like in a bathtub or behind a toilet—ceramic material doesn’t conduct electricity. Some dog parents swear by anti-static jackets or capes to reduce storm anxiety. They have a metallic lining that shields against static charge buildup, and work best when put on at the first sign of a storm to reduce sensitivity to static.
Your dog looks to you for reassurance. Show your dog that you are calm and there is nothing to fear. When you remain calm, your dog has a model of the behavior that’s expected of them. Dogs are very sensitive to human emotions, especially the emotional state of their favorite human. If you’re giving off a stressed-out, frustrated vibe your dog will pick up on it and mirror it.
Babying your dog with too much soothing attention or fussing over them during a storm could actually make things worse. It can confirm that yes, this situation is very scary. The extra attention could also unintentionally reward them for anxious behavior. Be there for your dog during the storm, but try to convey ‘business as usual’ with your tone of voice and body language.
Distract Your Dog
Turn on music, the TV, or white noise to try to drown out sounds from the storm. Make sure you pick a soundtrack or show without loud noises! Other options include a white noise machine, relaxing dog videos on YouTube, and smartphone apps with content designed to provide anxiety relief for dogs. If your dog isn’t too scared yet, try engaging them by playing a game. Reward your dog with a treat for playing and staying calm.
Desensitize Your Dog to Thunder (When It’s Not Storming)
Desensitization training involves exposing your dog a little bit to the thing that scares them, and gradually increasing the stimulation over time. You should start desensitization in a season without thunderstorms so you have more control over your dog’s exposure to thunder.
Start by playing thunderstorm noises at a low volume in the background when your dog is happy and calm. Stay with your dog and be reassuring if they react nervously. You can give them a treat-filled Kong or play with their favorite toy to add a positive association.
Repeat this process over months, and raise the volume a little bit each time as your dog gets used to the storm noises. Thunder isn’t the only aspect of storms that dogs react to, so while desensitization training can help your dog feel less afraid of thunder, it may not erase their storm anxiety altogether.
What Can I Give My Dog for Anxiety During Storms?
If nothing else seems to work, you can explore different supplements and medications for dog storm anxiety.
- Synthetic dog-appeasing pheromones can help ease stress by mimicking the natural pheromones a lactating mother dog produces when feeding her puppies.
- CBD can reduce anxiety and promote a sense of calm in both people and dogs. Dogs are more sensitive to CBD than humans, so make sure to choose a CBD product designed for pets and follow the dosage instructions.
- Antihistamines (like Benadryl) cause drowsiness, which may help an anxious dog rest.
- Melatonin can have a sedative effect that reduces anxiety symptoms in dogs.
Always discuss your dog’s symptoms with your veterinarian before giving your dog any over-the-counter medicine, and follow the dosage and frequency they recommend.
Consult Your Vet
Your dog’s veterinarian is a great person to talk to about your dog’s fear of thunderstorms and can provide personalized advice on how to calm your dog during a storm. They may be able to recommend OTC or prescription anti-anxiety medications (like Trazadone) that can help your dog with severe or persistent storm anxiety.
What If I Can’t Be With My Dog During a Storm?
No dog parent wants to leave an anxious dog alone when severe weather is predicted, but sometimes it’s inevitable. In that case, the best approach is to set things up for your dog as if you were there: make their safe space available, close the windows and curtains, put on white noise or other masking sounds, and have fresh water and toys available.
If your dog’s safe space is their crate you should make sure it’s accessible, but don’t confine your dog to their crate or in one room. If their storm anxiety gets overwhelming they may panic and hurt themselves trying to escape. Dog parents should stay up to date with the weather if they know their dog is scared of storms, in order to be prepared as possible. Some pet parents get Trazadone from their vet and give it to their dog on storm days. Storms are a common anxiety trigger for dogs, but they’re not the only source of stress. Learn more about the signs and symptoms of dog anxiety so you can help your pet feel better in any situation.
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