One of my dogs, Dudley, a cairn terrier, used to get so panic-stricken whenever there was a thunderstorm that he used to pace, drool, salivate–and then eventually calm down just enough to go into a room that had no windows.
Like many dogs who are afraid of thunder, Dudley was afraid of ALL noises, whether they be honking cars or fireworks. The July 4th holiday was always a nightmare; although I’d try to distract him with recreational bones and toys–and I’d always stay nearby–he’d become so anxious that he’d chew through anything, including one of my chairs!
My neighbor, Nemo, another cairn terrier, was once staying with me. One day there was a threat of a storm and, although the thunder, lightening or rain hadn’t even started yet, he must have noticed the darkening sky and raced over to the foyer and stayed by the door. He wouldn’t budge!
My Westie, Baxter, couldn’t have cared less about thunder. In fact, if he could have spoken, I always imagined him saying something like, “yeah, whatever.” Still, he loved his crate and saw it as his own room, a safe place–so I’d always put him in it just in case.
Do you have one of those dogs afraid of thunder? If so, here are some things you may try, from the newsletter of Dr. Karen Becker, DVM, resident proactive and integrative wellness veterinarian of HealthyPets.Mercola.com. You can learn holistic ways of preventing illness in your pets by subscribing to MercolaHealthyPets.com, an online resource for animal lovers. For more pet care tips, subscribe for FREE to Mercola Healthy Pet Newsletter
- Make a “safe room.” This is a place your dog can escape to when a storm is approaching, and it should be available to her at all times – especially when you’re not home. The idea is to limit her exposure to as many aspects of thunderstorms as possible. The room would ideally have no windows, or covered windows so the storm can’t be seen. If necessary, sound-proofing wallboard can muffle the noise of a storm. Put a solid-sided crate in the room with the door left open, along with a bit of food, water, treats and toys.
As part of your dog’s therapy, get her used to the room before she needs it by associating it with fun activities, food treats and gentle, soothing massage. Some owners use a head collar to calm the dog and more easily put her into a relaxed down position.
- Pheromone diffusers. Species-specific pheromones are chemical substances that can positively affect an animal’s emotional state and behavior. Dog-appeasing pheromone (DAP) is a synthetic form of a pheromone secreted by the mammary glands of nursing dogs. Studies have shown DAP diffusersiii are effective therapy for dogs with firework phobias and separation anxiety.
- Behavior modification. One type of behavior modification for storm phobias is to engage your dog in a behavior that earns a reward. Ask your dog to perform a command he’s familiar with and reward him if he does. This technique distracts both of you – the dog from his fear of the storm, and you from the temptation to inadvertently reinforce your pet’s phobic behavior by petting and soothing him while he’s showing anxiety.
Another type of behavior modification involves trying to get your dog busy with a more pleasant activity than storm watching. Play a game with him or give him a recreational bone to gnaw on. Be aware that if your pet’s response to storms is intense, you may not be able to engage him in another activity early in his treatment program.
- Desensitization. This therapy involves using a CD with reproduced storm soundsiv to attempt to desensitize your pet. It’s best to do this during times of the year when actual storms are few and far between.
Unfortunately, desensitization isn’t always as effective with storm phobias as it is with other types of anxiety disorders. That’s because it’s difficult to mimic all the various triggers that set off a fear response in a storm-phobic pet – in particular changes in barometric pressure, static electricity, and whatever scents dogs notice with an impending change in the weather. In addition, desensitization has to be done in each room of the house, because a new coping skill your dog learns in the living room will be forgotten in the kitchen. These problems make desensitization more of a challenge in treating storm phobias.
- Storm jackets. There are a number of different brands of storm jackets to choose from these days, and they have proved very helpful for some dogs with thunderstorm phobias. Storm jackets are designed to be snug-fitting to mimic the sensation of being swaddled, a feeling that is comforting to dogs. You might also consider a calming capv.
- TTouch and Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT). TTouchvi is a specific massage technique that can be helpful for anxious pets. EFTvii is a tapping technique that can be used to deal with a wide variety of emotional and physical problems.
- Natural supplements and remedies. Talk to your holistic vet about homeopathic, TCM and other natural remedies that may help relieve your dog’s stress. These should be used in conjunction with behavior modification. A few I like are the nutraceuticals l-tryptophan, valerian, GABA, homeopathic Aconitum and the TCM formulas that Calm the Shen.
A U.K. study evaluated a treatment program that used two self-help, CD-based desensitization and counter-conditioning programs, plus DAP diffusers, plus a “safe haven” for dogs with fireworks phobia. The severity of the dogs’ phobias was significantly improved, as was their generalized fear.
If nothing you attempt seems to help your storm-phobic dog, don’t despair. Talk to your vet about a temporary course of drug therapy (usually with anti-anxiety meds or anti-depressants) in conjunction with behavior modification and some of the other recommendations outlined above.