Some dogs are better than the National Weather Service at forecasting atmospheric conditions.
They know a storm is approaching before we do. They pace, salivate, tremble, whine and become “Velcro dogs” (sticking to you like glue) even when a storm is an hour away or more. By the time the tempest arrives, the pet may be in full panic mode.
Some owners believe that dogs frightened by storms will eventually realize that what’s happening outdoors won’t hurt them and dial down their anxiety. Unfortunately, leaving a dog to figure this out on its own usually backfires, and the fear worsens rather than fades.
It’s not only rain that disturbs many dogs. Some learn to associate a storm with changes in the barometric pressure and even with the smell in the air. With such keen hearing, dogs can detect far-off thunder. When storms are near, dogs are not only affected by the sound of thunder but also by the sight of lightning, and may even feel the electricity in the air.
Dogs aren’t alone in their fears, of course. Some people are also terrified of storms. They may have been struck by lightning or are especially sensitive to noise. But when a dog feels an electric jolt, no one can explain to the pet what just occurred. Also, dogs are more sensitive to sound than people. Some breeds seem pre-disposed for storm phobia, particularly herding dogs. In fact, fear of thunderstorms may be a vestigial means of survival.
Some dogs may pace, hyper-salivate and act worried when the weather turns stormy. By distracting them, owners can sometimes calm their pets. If your dog fears storms, take the pet to the basement, close the shades in any windows to block out flashes of lightning, and turn on some music to drown out thunder.
Music to calm dogs is available from A Sound Beginning (asoundbeginningprogram.com) and Victoria Stilwell Positively Calming Music (positively.com/dog-wellness/dog-enrichment/music-for-dogs).
You can also distract your pup with games or toys that dispense food or treats. Kids can be great at keeping a dog occupied. Some pets find solace in a hiding place, like under a bed, in a closet or even in the bathtub.
Various products can also be helpful, all ideally used before the dog becomes anxious. Examples include:
Adaptil: A copy of a calming pheromone found in lactating dogs; available in a diffuser (that plugs into the wall) or a collar.
Anxiety Wrap: A vest-like “suit” that fits around the dog and uses acupressure to calm.
Anxitane: L-Theanine in a chewable nutritional supplement can help counter anxiety.
Calm: A prescription diet from Royal Canin for dogs under 35 pounds. The diet is formulated with hydrolyzed milk protein, supplemental tryptophan (sounds familiar because it’s also found in turkey meat) and nicotinamide, which all combine for a calming affect.
Storm Defender: The super hero-like cape has a special metallic lining that protects from the static charge buildup that can bother dogs during a storm.
Thundershirt: A vest that uses gentle, constant pressure to calm a dog.
Zylkene: A nutritional supplement derived from casein, a protein in milk, and is used to promote relaxation.
For dogs who suffer more profound anxiety, contact your veterinarian. The old-school approach was to provide a sedative. You can do better today with anti-anxiety medications, which adjust brain chemistry to lower fear and at the same time make learning possible, or at least tone down the terror so a dog can be distracted.
If your veterinarian can’t help or your pet suffers from fears beyond thunderstorm anxiety (such as separation anxiety), consult a veterinarian with a special interest in animal behavior (dacvb.org) or a veterinary behaviorist (dacvb.org).
STEVE DALE hosts the nationally syndicated “Steve Dale’s Pet World” and “The Pet Minute” and is a contributing editor to USA Weekend. Send questions to email@example.com. Include your name, city and state or visit stevedalepetworld.com.