What are Thunderstorm Phobias?
While most cats do not respond to phobias with destructive behavior, you may note your cat in a great panic to hide whenever a storm approaches. Extreme phobias can be bad for a cat’s health, as high stress causes the production of excess cortisol hormones in the body. This is very hard on the entire body. In rare cases, prolonged heightened cortisol levels can lead to a condition called hyperadrenocorticism (Cushing’s disease), which wreaks havoc on the skin and the adrenal glands. Recurring high stress is something to be avoided for any cat.
A phobia of thunderstorms, sometimes called astraphobia, is an irrational and extreme fear response to the presence of a storm. This phobia can be seen in some cats. It can be harmful to the cat as the phobias can turn into terror, abnormal reactions, and high stress levels. Thunderstorm phobias may intensify with each storm experience.
Symptoms of Thunderstorm Phobias in Cats
You may start to find that your cat is presenting erratic or fearful behavior in the hours before a storm arrives. It may be best to keep the cat indoors to prevent it from running away in a panic. Symptoms of phobia are as follows:
- Dilated pupils
- Hiding in basements or under furniture
- Scratching at doors
- Urinating outside of litter box
Causes of Thunderstorm Phobias in Cats
Different aspects of a thunderstorm may induce phobia in cats. It can be the unusual sounds associated with a storm or the flashing of light. Limited exposure to storms while the cat is young is thought to have an impact on the development of thunderstorm phobias. Possible phobia triggers include:
- Darkened skies
- Heavy rain
- Lighting flashes
- Sound of thunder
- Loud winds
- Drop in barometric pressure
- Odors outside before rain
Diagnosis of Thunderstorm Phobias in Cats
If your cat’s reaction to thunderstorms is severe enough to cause worry about your cat’s overall health, a vet appointment may be necessary. After going over all of the phobia symptoms that the cat is showing, the vet may want to complete a physical examination to assess the cat for any signs of abnormal stress.
The diagnosis itself is fairly simple to make. The vet will guide you through the best next steps for your cat at this point, often referring the cat to a behaviorist or animal trainer. Another appointment will be scheduled to meet with the cat behavior expert.
Treatment of Thunderstorm Phobias in Cats
There are several different methods or therapies to treat a cat who is experiencing extreme thunderstorm phobias. You may have to keep trying different options until you find one that your cat responds favorably to.
Desensitizing is the gradual retraining of a cat to become familiarized with storm sounds. Recordings of storms may be played from time to time in each room of the home. If the cat remains calm throughout the storm noises, reward it. This therapy works if the phobia has to do with the sounds of the storm only.
Antianxiety or Antidepressant Medication
If the phobia is extreme enough, and if your area experiences frequent storms for a long duration, medication may be recommended. Medications such as fluoxetine or clomipramine may be prescribed. These medications can have harsh side effects, so the benefits and risks need to be weighed.
Certain products, such as collars or diffusers, emit scents that mimic calming cat pheromones. When a storm is coming, turn the diffuser on or apply the cat collar. Both of these products can be found at specialized pet stores.
A cat anxiety wrap is a tight, coat-like piece of clothing that acts in a similar way as a swaddle blanket. Some cats respond well to physical pressure when scared. You'll know that your cat is calming down if once the wrap is put on, the cat’s muscles begin to relax.
Recovery of Thunderstorm Phobias in Cats
It may take a long time of behavioral therapy to help ease a cat of its phobia of thunderstorms. A great help to this process is when the owner can also remain calm and relaxed during a storm. Cats pick up on the subtlest of changes in their owner’s emotions or behaviors. It is also important not to cuddle and “coo” at the cat when it is displaying fearful behaviors, as this can be taken as a reward and reinforce the phobia.
Some cats may respond very well to a designated hiding area for thunderstorms. This can be a cozy bed or crate in a protected room. The cat may feel less stress if it has a safe spot to run to when a storm comes. If the cat has been taking anti-anxiety or antidepressant medication, monitor it for side effects and get periodic checkups to ensure no bodily damage is occurring after continued use.