From a dog’s perspective, there are not many things scarier than a thunderstorm. If you are a dog parent, you are familiar with the scenario – if it thunders, your dog is shivering and hidden under the table. Keeping your dog safe and comfortable is part of your parenting responsibilities. In the case of thunderstorms, it is up to you to keep your dog calm.
How do you calm a dog during a thunderstorm? The best way of calming your dog during thunderstorms is making sure there are background noises that can cover the thunder and distracting your dog by playing with it. Too much comforting is counter-productive as it encourages fear. Alternatively, in extreme cases talk to your vet about using calming medications or CBD oil.
If your dog is suffering from astraphobia and you want to learn how to be supportive and calming in times of need, keep reading. This article will tell you everything you need to know about managing your dog’s fear of thunderstorms.
WHY ARE DOGS AFRAID OF STORMS?
The fancy scientific term for fear of storms or thunder is astraphobia. Astraphobia is a common condition not just in dogs but in people too.
Dogs are afraid of storms because they do not understand what is going on. All they perceive as extremely loud and unpredictable noises that are sometimes accompanied by unexpected light flashes. Confusing, right?
BREED PREDISPOSITIONS TO ASTRAPHOBIA
Based on statistical records, astraphobia is more likely to occur in dogs with anxiety issues. Experts claim that certain dog breeds are predisposed to developing anxiety and thunder phobias. The list of astraphobia predisposed breeds includes:
- Australian Shepherds
- German Shepherds
- Border Collies
- Labrador Retrievers
- Havanese dogs
- Bichon Frises
- Shih Tzus
- Shorthaired Pointers.
CAN A DOG DIE FROM FEAR OF THUNDER?
It is improbable for a healthy dog to die from fear of thunder or any other loud noise. While it is true that over 60% of dogs are scared and feel stressed during thunders, dying is rarely an option.
However, young dogs with congenital cardiac issues and old dogs with chronic heart conditions might experience a heart attack due to fear.
Additionally, if extremely scared of the thunders, some dogs might try to escape and injure themselves in the process. If they manage to escape, they risk being hit by cars or getting lost.
Finally, during thunderstorms, dogs may revert to self-mutilation – excessive licking or chewing of their paws, tail, ear, or whatever body part they can get hold of. In some cases, the licking/chewing can be severe and followed by infections.
Just because astraphobia is not a life-threatening condition per se, it does not mean it is not potentially dangerous.
HOW DO YOU CALM A DOG DURING A THUNDERSTORM?
There are several important steps for keeping your dog calm and comfortable during thunderstorms.
You cannot provide good emotional support if you are panicking too. Therefore, the first thing you need to do is stay calm and in control of the situation. If you are scared, your dog will sense the insecurity and feel worse. Your dog looks up to you and needs your reassurance – make sure you provide it.
Create a safe environment
Dogs have strong denning instincts, meaning they are most comfortable when they have somewhere to hide – a crate, a bed, or even the space beneath the table. Make sure your dog has its safe den, not just during thunderstorms but in general.
Keep your dog distracted
Once the thunder starts and your dog crawls into its den, give it a chew toy or treat to keep it focused. It is also helpful to close the curtains and turn on the TV or radio to mask the thunder-related noise.
Alternatively, before the thunder starts, engage your dog in an interactive game and try not to be cheap with the treats. That way, your dog will associate the thunder with positive experiences – play and treats.
Desensitize your dog
Depending on the dog, this can be easier said than done. The concept is to expose your dog to thunder noises frequently until it learns to adapt and accept them as usual.
It is advisable to play thunder sounds in the background while doing something your dog enjoys – mealtime, playing, grooming, or preparing for a walk. As your dog is getting used, you can gradually increase the sounds’ volume.
The desensitization process is efficient but slow – it usually takes several months for the dog to link the thunderstorm noise with positive outcomes.
Plan in advance
Consider the first few thunderstorm experiences as test drives – they will give you an insight into what to expect and show which management tricks work and which do not. If your dog preferred hiding in its den, make sure all its toys and blankets are inside waiting for it. On the flip side, if it is preferred to play with you, make sure you have new and exciting toys ready before the next thunderstorm starts.
WHAT CAN I GIVE MY DOG FOR ANXIETY DURING STORMS?
In more severe cases, when the techniques mentioned above do not work, you will have to arm yourself with medications. In general, dogs with noise phobias benefit from two types of drugs – sedatives and antidepressants.
Sedatives need to be prescribed by a vet and administered at least an hour before the thunder begins. If given after the dog starts feeling anxious, their efficacy is not entirely reliable.
Sedatives can keep your dog calm and less aware of what is going on around, including noises and sights. Some dogs may feel particularly sleepy and sleep through the storm.
Anti-anxiety drugs decrease the anxiety’s intensity, but sometimes they may not be sufficient if used alone. Plus, for these drugs to work correctly, they need to be administered daily.
Some vets recommend using anti-anxiety drugs during thunderstorm season and boosting their effect with additional sedatives on days when the thunders are expected to be particularly strong.
Alternatively, you can talk with your vet about using natural products like melatonin, natural calming chews, and dog-appeasing pheromones. Lately, the popularity of CBD oil is on the rise.
CBD oil can be used to manage phobias and anxieties of different natures. It is straightforward to administer – just drop it directly in your dog’s mouth or mix it with its food. Also, there are CBD-infused treats that can provide good calming effects.
CBD oil and products are readily available. However, before adding this herbal supplement to your management strategy, talk to your vet. CBD oil is not recommended for dogs with chronic health issues receiving specific drugs.
Thundershirts and calming caps are particularly popular calming tools. Vets and dog trainers are recommending these somewhat fashionable accessories when dealing with anxiety. These accessories work by pressuring the right points and promoting an overall sense of calmness.
HOME REMEDIES FOR DOGS SCARED OF THUNDER
If you prefer a more holistic solution you can always try some of the following anti-anxiety home remedies:
- Herbs – chamomile, valerian, and St. John’s Wort
- Essential oils – lavender, violet leaf
- Flower essences – Cherry Plum, Rock Rose, Impatiens, Star of Bethlehem.
Keep in mind that exercise, music, and massages are excellent, drug-free ways of managing your dog’s stress during thunders.
From our perspective, sometimes it is hard to understand the dog’s fear of something natural as thunderstorms. However, considering that there are people and children afraid of thunderstorms, we should understand our dogs.
Luckily, there are many ways of calming your dog during thunderstorms. Depending on the intensity of your dog’s astraphobia, you can try to drown the noise by turning the radio on, engage in an interactive play with your dog or use a calming medication prescribed by your trusted vet.
Regardless of which method you use, it is vital to allow your dog to feel scared and not be too soothing as your dog may react to your insecurity and feel even more nervous. Finally, if your dog’s way of coping is staying under the table, keep it company. After all, there are many games you can play under the table.
Why is my dog panting during thunderstorms?
Dogs pant when they feel emotionally challenged – either too excited or frightened. In the case of thunderstorms, dogs with phobias pant due to fear and stress.
Are Thundershirts for dogs efficient?
Thundershirts are a trendy tool for calming dogs suffering from anxieties and phobias. Many veterinarians and dog trainers recommend them as they offer a drug-free solution. However, every dog is different, and you need to try these shirts before evaluating their efficacy.
Can I use CBD oil form to calm my dog during thunders?
Yes, CBD oil promotes relaxation, and it is suitable for dogs with noise or other forms of phobias. However, although CBD oils are available over-the-counter, do not start using these products without consulting with your trusted vet.
Can thunder trigger seizures in dogs?
Yes, in dogs suffering from epilepsy, loud noises can act as seizure episode triggers. If noise is a determined trigger for your dog, you should be prepared for a possible seizure (preferably give your dog a calming medication before the thunder starts).
Are all dogs equally scared on thunder?
No, according to experts, certain dog breeds that are more likely to develop other forms of anxiety, are also more prone to astraphobia. The list includes German and Australian Shepherds, Vizlas and several toy dog breeds.