What is Thunderstorm Phobia?
Thunderstorm phobia is a very real problem for many dogs and their owners. Because there are so many factors that make up a thunderstorm, it’s hard to know if your dog is only reacting to one thing, or if the whole host of elements is causing the anxiety. Many times dogs that exhibit thunderstorm phobia are also fearful of other loud noises, like fireworks. Thunderstorm phobia can have extreme effects on the physical well being of a dog as the panic can produce rapid heartbeat, hyperventilation, and a fight-or-flight response so urgent the animal can injure itself. If your dog is exhibiting signs of thunderstorm phobia, there are many options for treatment, from psychological behavior modification techniques to sedatives and anti-anxiety medications. If left untreated, this phobia has a tendency to only worsen over time.Thunderstorm Phobia is the term used to describe the overwhelming panic and anxiety some dogs exhibit before and during a thunderstorm. It is different from a fear, as the fear response is usually brought on by real danger, and the phobic response is due to perceived danger.
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Symptoms of Thunderstorm Phobia in Dogs
- Hiding in a confined space
- Trembling and shaking
- Barking, howling and whining
- Restlessness and pacing
- Destructive behavior
- Clinging to humans nearby
- Dilated pupils
- Rapid Heartbeat
- Panting and hyperventilating
- Seeking an escape
Causes of Thunderstorm Phobia in Dogs
Many factors contribute to thunderstorm phobia. Dogs who exhibit a fear of other loud noises will often react negatively to thunder, too. The bright flash of lightning, the sound of high wind and rain, smell of ozone from lightning strikes, change in barometric pressure, and even the static charge built up during a thunderstorm can bring about panic in dogs susceptible to this phobia. Dogs may even start to show signs of a fear reaction before a thunderstorm starts, as their ears are much more attuned to low-frequency noises that humans aren’t able to hear.
Many times this anxiety is evident in puppies, and will only worsen over time without proper treatment. There may even be a genetic element to thunderstorm phobia; if one of the puppies’ parents exhibits phobic anxiety, it’s likely that the offspring will have the same issue. It has been demonstrated that herding breeds may have more of a genetic predisposition to this issue than other dogs.
Diagnosis of Thunderstorm Phobia in Dogs
As this is a situational issue, your veterinarian will rely heavily on history and your observations of your dogs’ behavior during storms for a diagnosis (unless your appointment just happens to coincide with a thunderstorm). They can do some in-office tests to check the dogs’ fear response to noises and other unusual stimuli. Your veterinarian will also likely do a quick physical exam to ensure the dog has not harmed itself or experienced any physiological complications from the intense fear reaction.
Treatment of Thunderstorm Phobia in Dogs
Dogs should begin treatment as soon as this problem is recognized, as it will only get worse as they age. Your veterinarian can recommend a course of behavior modification and desensitization to lessen your dog’s anxiety during thunderstorms. Playing the sound of storms at a quiet level while giving the dog treats has been known to work in some cases. As the dog remains relaxed and has a pleasant association, the volume can be increased, and treats continued until they are no longer fearful of loud noises.
Your veterinarian may determine that your dog could benefit from anti-anxiety medications or a sedative to be used when a thunderstorm is eminent. Some owners have also had success with dog “wraps” that can comfort the dog by giving them a sense of being swaddled in a protective way. These products are available through many retail outlets and can even have the bonus of offering your dog protection from a static buildup in their fur.
Recovery of Thunderstorm Phobia in Dogs
The best management of this condition is being attentive to it. If your dog seeks shelter, make sure it has access to a safe place to hide at all times, like a covered, padded crate that always stays open. When the threat of thunderstorms is in the forecast, give your dog any medication that has been prescribed beforehand, and go ahead and get them in a dog wrap if you find it works for you. Turning on all the lights and covering windows will lessen the effects of lightning flash indoors. Lastly, it’s best not to try and confine the dog, as this can exacerbate a panic response and cause them to possibly injure themselves or damage property trying to escape.