Pet thunder or thunderstorm noise phobia creates anxiety & trauma for many pets.
Today it was storming here in the mountains. Lightening strikes and the thunder that comes with it are not a problem for most animals but there are those who do suffer from noise phobia.
This problem escalates over time and it is thought that some dogs learn the behavior others of their species.
However in most of the cases I have seen, it is the humans who accidentally reinforce the behavior over time.
Just the other night a pet owner asked me what he could do for his dog to help with this issue.
In some cases desensitization works but in other cases psycho-pharmacology might be needed.
There is also a correlation between noise phobia and thyroid or adrenal issues.
So, once again get the pet checked out prior to any attempts to address a dog’s thunder phobia or noise phobia.
Cats also fear thunder but I see less cases in felines than I do dogs.
A pet owner might first see symptoms of noise phobia when they are triggered by thunder, lightning, or a change in barometric pressure.
In some extreme cases wind or rain can create problem if the animal associates this weather with the traumatic noise that so often follows intense storms.
There are desensitization disks with noises from thunderstorms or fireworks that can be used in attempts to desensitize the thunderstorm phobic pets.
These tools should be used under the supervision of an animal behaviorist as part of a program to address the issue.
Ideally the compact disks will be played during non-thunderstorm season at the lowest volume where there is no reaction from the dog.
Calm behavior can be rewarded with treats and the volume gradually increased over time. This is an effort that must not be rushed.
Just this morning I stopped by to see a neighbor’s dog and turned on the radio to drown out some of the thunder.
The dog only recently began to react to storms and the owner accidentally reinforced it. The canine was running frantically around the house when I arrived but settled down quickly.
When dogs fail to react to the desensitization efforts, in many cases the cue (discriminative stimulus) is more than just the noise of the thunder and may be linked to lightning or changes in barometric pressure or electromagnetic radiation.
The key to solving an pet behavior problem is to identify the trigger and avoid accidentally rewarding the phobic behavior by physically comforting or reassuring your dog during fearful episodes.
In addition, avoid punishing, yelling, or getting upset since these actions only escalate the pet’s anxiety.
One strategy that can help is to teach a replacement behavior or get the pet distracted into play or other activities.
I had to do this during aftershocks with a tremor phobic animal…and soon he associated the tremors with positive activities and treats!
We just ran through obedience behaviors and his focus shifted to performing and getting the rewards.
Animals that are really crazy for a particular toy (such as a ball) can be enticed to play with their favorite during storms–if they are not into total overload. In that state the animal usually cannot respond.
You can also provide a safe haven for your pet. Some dogs will hide under beds, under covers and similar places.
Closets, bathrooms, basements and crates are areas you can use for confinement and to provide an area they consider safe because it is snug. I happen to prefer those locations because it limits escape options and destructive behavior.
I know of dogs who have plunged out windows and off decks in response to thunder storms–their panic propelled them.
In addition, avoid punishing, yelling, or getting upset as it will only make the situation worse.
One strategy is to teach a replacement behavior or get the dog distracted into other activities. Natural disasters of all types can bring rise to phobic behavior. Techniques are the same and if you do this early with professional help, a phobic animal will soon associate the tremors with positive activities and treats!
Animals that are really crazy for a particular toy can be enticed to play with their favorite toy during storms–if they are not into total overload. He or she should see the ball
Be sure to provide a safe haven for your pet. Some dogs will hide under beds, under covers and other similar places. Closets, bathrooms, basements and crates are other areas you can use for confinement and to provide an area they consider safe.
Dog Appeasing Pheromone (DAP) is another tool that can help calm a dog (there is also a cat product) and it is available in a few ways.
HomeoPet Thunder Fireworks Loud Noise (TFLN) Anxiety drops is a specific formula for thunder phobic pets but other homeopathic products such as Rescue Remedy can help, too.
A few people have found their pets improve when given Melatonin.
ProQuiet is another option which comes in both tablet and liquid form and contains L-Tryptophane, Taurine, Hops, Chamomile, Brewers Yeast, Vitamin B3, Vitamin B6, Ginger, Vitamin B12, and Folic Acid.
Although drug therapy and sedation can work, the pills must be administered in advance–and in most cases this is not something that can be done far enough ahead of a storm.
However, you can crush the pills and make them into a liquid to help with faster absorption but many of the psychotropic medications need to be administered on a daily basis for up to take 3-4 weeks before they are effective.
Ask your veterinarian about some of the following medications used to manage noise phobia. Each animal may need a customized approach or combination of drugs before the right mix is found.
- Buspar (Buspirone)
- Clomicalm (Clomipramine)
- Diazepam (Valium)
- Elavil (Amitriptyline)
- Inderal (Propranolol)
- Paxil (Paroxetine hydrochloride)
- Reconcile aka Prozac (Fluoxetine hydrochloride)
- Tranxene (Clorazepate)
- Xanax (Alprazolam)
There are also natural remedies that include aromatherapy oils such as lavender which has a calming effect when used topically.
Newer products on the pet market may actually shield dogs from the electromagnetic changes that come with (and probably signal the impending arrival of) electrical storms.
Some of these products for sale online include:
However, if you want to do it yourself, use a light spray leave-in coat conditioner on your pet, rub in, and then crate.
Next, cover the crate with two layers of aluminum foil and cover that with towels or blankets.
Make sure the “den” is encased so that it becomes like a cave.
Read the rest of this series for a look at CDs that can help you with counterconditioning and desensitization.
There are also two other products you may find useful–a general noise phobia CD available by Gentle Leader, and StarFire Rapport has offered a noise shy pet series of CDs since 1985.
Finally, please, please, PLEASE get professional help with noise phobia and dog thunderstorm phobia.