How to calm your dog during a thunderstorm

dog thunderstorm 1000There’s no such thing as a perfect storm if you've got four legs and a tail. It can be very upsetting for pet owners to watch their loved ones stress and fret during a storm so what can you do to ease your dog or cat's suffering? Let’s take a look at what makes them so anxious and steps you might take to help your pet manage their stress.

Why does my dog hate thunderstorms?

lighting 325Scientific studies have proven that “storm phobia” is a genuine condition. Dogs that are typically calm and placid can become increasingly agitated, panting and pacing around the house, and becoming extra clingy. This has been attributed to various factors:

  • Shocking stuff
    Dogs can actually suffer painful shocks from the build up of static in the run up to a thunderstorm.
  • Boom boom shake the room
    The loud persistent hammering of heavy rain and thunder combined with flashes of lightning can be very frightening to dogs and cats.
  • Achy joints
    Changes in barometric pressure can trigger joint pain and stiffness in older, arthritic dogs just like us humans.
  • Animal instincts
    Dogs relate closely with their owners so if you yourself become nervous and anxious during a storm your dog might mirror this behaviour.

How can you make your dog more comfortable through a storm?

Aside from moving overseas there’s little we can do about the weather but here are eight things you can try which should help reduce your dog's anxiety levels:

  1. Give your dog a safe place to go during a storm
    This might be a basement or internal room without windows. Wherever this place might be, don’t lock them in so your dog is free to choose for himself. There was a case in the US where a retriever locked in a garage during a storm was so stressed it escaped by scratching its way through the wall. Some dogs hide behind toilets or climb into bathtubs, theory being this is their way of discharging static build-up and avoiding painful shocks. Aren’t they smart?
  2. Try to be at home
    Ideally you can be with them for company, especially important if your dog is prone to separation anxiety. And who wants to be travelling during a storm warning anyway? If you can’t be at home, then a familiar dog-sitter is the next best option.
  3. Use diversionary tactics
    Divert the dog’s focus from what is happening outside. Play a game, give them a favourite toy, play some music.
  4. Bring pets indoors
    If your dog normally lives outside try to make an exception if the storm is particularly brutal and let them shelter somewhere inside.
  5. Wear them out
    In the lull before the storm treat your dog to a long walk and tire them out. Ensure they take care of their toilet business too otherwise you might have a messy problem to deal with later on in the house.
  6. Try a snug-fitting jumper
    Whilst not scientifically proven it is thought that a snug, close-fitting dog jumper or dog coat can reassure and calm an anxious dog. It's a similar principle to swaddling a baby.
  7. Business as usual
    Dogs are highly intuitive and will pick up on your stress too - if you can remain calm this will also help your dog. Try not to make a big deal of the storm. We normally close the curtains, grab a favourite snack and hit the couch with our dog and a movie (possibly not “The Perfect Storm” or “Twister”).
  8. Ask your vet
    In extreme cases of highly stressed dogs your vet may offer additional ideas on how to manage your dog’s discomfort which could include anti-anxiety medication

None of the above come with any guarantees but if any or all of them contribute in some small way to helping your dog cope that has to be a good thing. Over time you’ll no doubt discover which work best for your dog. Good luck and stay safe.

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