With summer fast approaching so is our thunderstorm season. Dogs often end up at animal shelters or vet clinics after having escaped or even injuring themselves during a thunderstorm. It is not uncommon for dogs to react to thunderstorms due to the loud noises that are heard from overhead in which dogs can’t decipher the origin. Whilst many dogs get accustomed to storms others may become more sensitive, resulting in additional fear with each exposure. Dogs may show a variety of anxiety signs during or before a thunderstorm such as panting, trembling, hiding, pacing, vocalizing, and being destructive. Some dogs are more anxious during thunderstorms when they are alone, and thunderstorm and noise fears are common in dogs with separation anxiety.
There are however, things that pet owners can do to reduce the likelihood of fearful reaction to the noises of thunderstorms. As a normal response many dogs will try to hide to avoid a thunderstorm. If signs of agitation or restlessness are seen you can help your pet by providing/finding them a secure place or safe haven. This place should be readily accessible, even if you’re not at home, and allow them to come and go as they desire this helping them to relax during storms. In addition closing doors and window and using white noise or music will help to limit the exposure to these fear-evoking elements by blocking out these sounds. Distracting your dog by implementing alternative and anxiety-incompatible behaviours such as obedience exercises, fun activities (agility or food puzzle toys) or relaxation responses may too be effective.
Obviously individual dogs and owners may need to employ different strategies based on their dog’s unique response. If your dog shows little or no response to storms, you need not do anything. Although if your dog does show fearful behaviours and is left untreated your dog’s problem is likely to become worse. Merely trying to prevent your dog from escaping or destroying things is not adequately addressing the problem. When a dog’s response to thunderstorms is extreme, it is considered a phobia. In some cases attempts to redirect or relax your dog are just not successful. Therefore some pets may need more extreme intervention were behaviour modifying techniques and/or behaviour modifying medication is required. If your pet’s anxiety seems extreme or you’re concerned your pet is at risk of self-injury during thunderstorms, come and see us at The Pines Vet and we can work out some strategies for the safety, health and well-being of your pet.