Does your animal get super nervous during a storm?
Storm phobia or anxiety is a very common problem, particularly in dogs. Phobias are an exaggerated irrational response to something that is often not dangerous. Storm phobias are often initially triggered by loud thunder. Affected animals become sensitised and start reacting to earlier signs that predict a storm, such as a change in barometric pressure.
Storm phobias often lead to many problem behaviours. Mildly affected dogs may tremble, hide or pace, whereas more severely affected patients may bark or try to escape and even injure themselves in the process.
What should I do with my anxious dog during a storm?
- Don’t leave your dog outside. Provide a safe hiding spot inside the house, such as a quiet room with the curtains drawn.
- Anything that reduces storm noise, such as ear covers or background noise, can help.
- Don’t worry about “rewarding fear” by comforting your dog. It’s not possible to make a fear worse by trying to help your dog cope better. If your dog responses well to strokes or body contact, keep it up to help your dog this way.
What about treatments for fearful dogs?
Dogs that are not severely affected often respond well to behaviour modification, with counter conditioning and desensitisation. To do this, the dog is exposed to a very low level of scary stimulus and often played with or fed at the same time. Once the dogs are comfortable the scary noises are very slowly increased over time. This process is best started before the storm season and with the help of an experienced trainer.
More seriously affected animals and acute situations often require anti-anxiety medications. The right medication will help your dog feel more relaxed and can also help them learn that storms aren’t that scary. Medication will need to be prescribed by your vet and is often needed before a dog’s behaviour can be changed with training.
If storm phobias are ignored and not treated, they will get worse as the animal gets older; dogs never “grow out of it”. Storm phobias are extremely stressful for our patients and many affected dogs risk injuries or worse by panicking and trying to escape. We often see animals that get out onto the streets during a storm and are injured.
If your dog is anxious about storms, we can help with behaviour modification and medication if needed.