Thunderstorm phobia unfortunately is an all too common condition in many dogs and cats. According to Dr. Parrish Tanner of Quail Hollow Animal Hospital in Wesley Chapel, FL, “The adverse reaction to a storm usually begins early in life, and often symptoms worsen with each storm season. There is likely a genetic component to storm anxiety, and pets often times have other anxieties as well, such as separation anxiety. The more sensitive senses of our pets heighten the noxious stimuli of thunder, wind, barometric pressure changes, and static electricity.”
Treatments for storm phobia vary with the severity of each pet explains Dr. Tanner, but it is of great benefit to begin at the first sign of anxiety because the condition most likely will worsen over time. Storm phobia can also be a learned response from person to animal or from animal to animal. The most important thing to do at the first sign of storm anxiety in our pets is to remain calm and not to reinforce the anxious tendencies. Our animals look to us for guidance in stressful situations, and we need to reassure them with calm upbeat behavior not anxious or pitying actions.
Developing safe areas for our pets to seek refuge in during storms can lessen their anxiety greatly. An interior room or closet with no windows is an ideal safe room. This room should be available to our pet at all times. A light should be on in the room to negate any flashing from lightening. Soft music or white noise can be played to drown out the noise of thunder. Crates or bedding, food and water should be in the room as well. It is important that our pet sees this room as a safe haven, so interact and play with them in this room at times other than while a storm is in progress.
Once your pet is reassured by your calm behavior and has access to appropriate safe refuge other treatments may still be needed. Pheromone therapy with DAP or Feliway collars and diffusers can be beneficial for some of our pets. Thundershirts that provide a pressure/swaddling effect can lesson some patient’s anxiety as well. In many cases patients will continue to show significant anxiety no matter what we do. Medication for anxiety is often needed to combat storm phobias. In mild cases a quick acting medication can be given at the time of a storm. In more severe cases we often will start the patient on a daily medication for the entire storm season and medicate with quick acting medication at the time of the storm. Our goal with medication is to lessen the anxiety not to sedate the patient. We want to lessen the anxiety so that our pets can then learn through all of the other modifications that we have done that every thing will be ok.
Storm phobias are a very common problem for many of our animals. Remaining calm and providing upbeat reassurance at the first bout of anxiety is very important. Hopefully, we can reduce the anxiety early in a pet’s life so that they can enjoy many stress free years to come.