Tips to Calm Cats and Dogs During Thunderstorms
Even before the thunderstorm hits, your dog whines and paces around the room. Your cat has retreated to the back of the closet and hisses when you try to get close.
It’s going to be another long night, you think.
For pet owners, watching our furry friends experience thunderstorm anxiety is frustrating and leaves us feeling helpless. But is there anything we can we do?
Why are some pets scared of thunderstorms?
Some cats and dogs are unbothered by the sound of thunder, while others show severe anxiety. Why? Veterinary experts aren’t completely sure what causes these fearful behaviors, but they have some ideas.
Animals can sense atmospheric changes like barometric pressure, humidity changes and static electricity in the air before a storm starts. These changes sometimes make them physically uncomfortable, which can affect behavior.
Cats and dogs with arthritis may be especially susceptible to changes in atmospheric pressure, which can worsen arthritis pain.
Some animals have past trauma associations with bad weather. If something scary happened during a previous thunderstorm, that experience could still be causing fear.
Hearing is more sensitive in dogs and cats than humans. As a result, loud noises like the sound of thunder claps can be more disturbing to animals.
Some scientists believe there may be a genetic link, especially in dogs. Fear of thunderstorms could be a breed trait, according to a survey by Tufts University. For example, herding breeds like border collies are more likely to exhibit fear of storms.
What are the signs of storm anxiety in dogs and cats?
Common anxiety symptoms in dogs during thunderstorms are whining, panting, drooling, pacing, hiding or following the owner around.
Cats who are scared of storms often raise their fur and start hissing. Cats are more likely to retreat, hiding under furniture or in a small space like a closet. A scared cat may not want a human to help calm her down, and could act aggressively If approached.
Animals with severe noise phobia can destroy toys and household items, or even injure themselves. Some have destroyed rugs, scratched through drywall and even broken window glass in attempts to escape their fear.
How to help scared pets during storms
It’s best to address storm anxiety as soon as you notice a problem. Otherwise, the fear can progress into a more serious noise phobia with destructive behaviors. Fearful behavior can negatively affect the animal’s health.
A good first step is to stay calm and try to ignore the behavior. Be present, but don’t fuss. If you give too much extra attention, you may accidentally reward and reinforce the unwanted behavior.
Make sure you and other humans in your home don’t exhibit fear or stress during thunderstorms. Cats and dogs easily pick up on their humans’ anxiety.
Practice helping your dog learn the command “settle” when the weather isn’t stormy, so the desired behavior is learned in advance. This increases the likelihood that the dog will fall into routine when there is a storm.
During bad weather, go with your fearful pet to an interior room, if possible. Rooms without exterior windows and doors are less likely to experience barometric pressure changes and static electric charges that can upset animals. Interior rooms are also quieter and more protected from the sounds of thunder and flashes of lightning.
Create a safe space
Making a safe indoor space for animals during storms can help reduce anxiety. An open crate with soft blankets and a bed inside can help your dog or cat feel protected. Keep this space accessible so they can come and go freely, in case a storm pops up while you’re not home.
Pay attention to where your dog or cat chooses to go during a storm, and encourage open access to this spot if possible.
Some cats and dogs respond well to relaxing music or a white noise machine to block out noise from storms. Anecdotally, classical music may be especially effective.
Ask Your Vet for Help
If the fearful behaviors persist, it may be time to consult a professional. Work with your vet to find a trainer or veterinary behaviorist who is knowledgeable about helping reduce storm anxiety. Behavioral consultants use trusted behavior modification programs to desensitize pets to storms. Make sure your trainer’s methods include positive reinforcement, not punishment.
Supplements and homeopathy to reduce storm anxiety
Veterinary anti-anxiety medications exist, but be sure to talk with your vet about possible side effects. Natural supplements containing L-theanine, an amino acid, are also an option.
Popular safe, all-natural solutions include homeopathic medicine such as PetCalm™ for pet anxiety and Scare-D-Pet™ for fear of loud noises. Homeopathic medicines are safe, effective natural remedies made from homeopathic ingredients.
Pressure wraps to help pets with thunderstorm phobia
Anxiety wraps, also called pressure wraps, may help by producing light pressure that releases endorphins and calms the animal. The material wraps around the chest. These snug-fitting garments are available commercially, or you can DIY with an old t-shirt or stretchy material. When using snug garments, make sure your pet is actually calm and not just fearful or inhibited by the wrap. Relaxed breathing and soft eyes are two signs of calmness rather than fear.
To sum it up
Your pet’s storm fears are unlikely to get better without intervention. Their health and quality of life depend on you helping them keep stress levels under control. The sooner you address storm anxiety, the easier it will be to reverse.
Need More Help?
- “5 Tips to Calm Your Dog During a Storm.” The Parc. Accessed June 1, 2021. https://theparcvet.com/blog/5-tips-calm-your-dog-during-storm
- Sashin, D. “When Your Dog is Afraid of Storms.” Fetch by WebMD. Accessed June 1, 2021. https://pets.webmd.com/dogs/features/dog-storm-phobia#1
- Stregowski, J. “Dogs and Thunderstorm Phobia.” The Spruce Pets. Accessed June 1, 2021. https://www.thesprucepets.com/dogs-and-thunderstorm-phobia-1117896
- Florsheim, A. “Storm Anxiety.” TexVetPets. Accessed June 1, 2021. https://www.texvetpets.org/article/storm-anxiety/
- “Keeping Pets Calm During Thunderstorms.” Hill’s Pet. Accessed June 1, 2021. https://www.hillspet.com/pet-care/routine-care/pets-scared-of-thunder