Thunderstorm Phobias in Dogs

Thunderstorms can be an extremely stressful time not only for dogs but for their owners alike. Having owned a dog “Sami” who was extremely fearful even when a thunderstorm was brewing & hadn’t even arrived as such. It a terrible thing watching a dog go through such high levels of stress.

Sami had never shown sign of stress or fear until she turned 3 years old. At the time I couldn’t understand what on earth made her so fearful out of the blue.

It was thanks to Sami that I researched this sudden onset of her fear of thunderstorms.

There can be a few factors that can contribute to a dog being fearful of Thunderstorms (some are touched on further down in this blog). Some dogs can learn through mimicry, that is learning/following the behaviour from another dog, a real or perceived threat of danger or genetic. As a general rule, a dog doesn’t reach it’s full genetic potential until it is 3 years of age, so alas my dog Sami’s fear was put down to genetics

Thunderstorm phobia or anxiety in dogs is a fairly common and very real problem for many dogs. Dogs with thunderstorm phobia become extremely frantic and overwhelmed with fear during storms. Astraphobia is the technical term for this: the fear of thunder and lightning. Owners who see their dogs experiencing this fear usually feel helpless and frustrated. Find out what causes thunderstorm phobia in dogs and learn how to manage it for the sake of your dog and your own peace of mind.

Causes of Thunderstorm Phobia

There is no way to know for certain what causes a dog to become afraid of thunderstorms. However, based on what we do know about dogs, we can speculate. There are probably multiple reasons for thunderstorm phobia, and the reasons vary from dog to dog. The most obvious reason is due to the loud noise of the thunder. Many dogs suffer from noise phobia, and the thunder is just one of several frightening noises (others include fireworks, gunshots, etc). However, the cause of fear may not be limited to noise. Changes in barometric pressure and humidity can affect your dog’s senses and possibly even cause discomfort in the ears. Arthritic dogs or those with orthopedic disorders may experience more pain than usual. Another possible reason for thunderstorm phobia is association with a traumatic experience. You may not know what happened, but it is possible that something very stressful or frightening occurred in your dog’s past during a thunderstorm. Finally, genetic make-up may be a contributing factor to fear of thunderstorms, or even the sole cause.

Thunderstorm Phobia Signs

If your dog seems anxious, hyperactive, destructive or reclusive during storms, you are probably dealing with thunderstorm phobia. The signs are usually quite obvious, so you probably already know your dog is phobic of storms. Many dogs will pace, pant or quietly whine. Some are clingy and seek attention. Other dogs will hide, frozen with fear. All of these signs can go unnoticed at first, and you may be unknowingly encouraging the behavior. Your dog’s fearful behavior may be subtle at first but can become worse with time, eventually becoming full-blown panic attacks that are very dangerous for your dog. It is not uncommon for dogs with thunderstorm phobia to urinate and/or defecate inappropriately. Telltale signs of anxiety and fear can begin long before the storm arrives, so take note of signs that occur during normal weather. Your dog is probably the best weather forecaster you can find.

Preventing and Treating Thunderstorm Phobia

There are some things you can do to prevent your dog from reacting adversely to the triggers of thunderstorms, or at least minimize the reaction. First of all, never leave your dog outside during storms. Next, examine your own behavior and that of other people in the home. Your dog will react to human anxiety, fear and stress, even if it is not related to the storm. Do your best to remain relaxed and upbeat. Perhaps the most important thing you can do is to go about your usual routine. Do not pay special attention to your dog when he is exhibiting signs of fear or anxiety. Though it may seem like your dog needs comforting, coddling and praising your dog reinforces and rewards the unwanted behavior.

There are ways you can indirectly comfort your dog during thunderstorms (or other sources of fear and anxiety). One thing you can try is to provide a comfortable hiding place in the quietest part of your home. A crate with a soft bed inside and covered with a sheet might make your dog feel safer. Try playing music or white noise to drown out the noise. Some dogs benefit from a type of wrap, like the Thundershirt, that is believed to provide some comfort during times of anxiety, stress and fear.If your dog does calm down and stops reacting to the storm, respond with calm praise and rewards. Consider distracting your dog from the remainder of the storm by practicing basic commands or playing a game of tug-of-war or playing with a ball. Because thunderstorm phobia is likely to become worse over time, it is important to take action when you first notice the signs. Do not wait to address the phobia until it is very severe – it will be that much harder to reverse. Just as stress is a health risk for humans, the same applies for dogs. Thunderstorm phobia can become a very serious problems that will adversely affect your dog’s health and quality of life. Act now for the sake of your dog.

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