Dr Terri's Home Vet Visits

0430410283

Carters Ridge Sunshine Coast, QLD,
After Hours : (07) 5353 7005

Storm Phobias

dog and storm phobia
"The sky is falling!!" 

If your dog is escaping or damaging itself, furniture or property while worried about storms, this is potentially life-threatening.  Medication to reduce anxiety is most likely required - please contact your local vet (or me) for assessment and treatment if needed. 

Being afraid or anxious about storms is one of the most common fears we see in dogs.  Your dog may also react to other noises in its environment. Storms are unique in that they affect all of your dogs' senses and they often know they are coming long before you do.  Dogs are able to pick up changes of pressure in the air around them and with a sense of smell 40 times greater than ours they can smell a storm a mile away.

How does a storm “assault your dogs senses?   

              -  They can feel rain and wind 
              -  They smell rain and scents in the wind 
              -  They see darkening skies, rain, objects in the wind and lightning 
              - They hear thunder, rain and wind 
 
Bringing your dog inside ideally before a storm is close, if possible, will immensely reduce how much your dog senses a storm.  

Watching the weather forecast, particularly throughout summer, is the best way to predict a storm.  The Australian Government Bureau of Meteorology has a great website where you can watch the weather radar over Brisbane, or you can download their app, BOM weather.   

 

If it is at all possible, be home with your dog when there is a thunderstorm.  Move your dog into the most sound-proof area in your home. This is somewhere where your dog cannot feel, see or hear the storm.  Walk-in wardrobes are ideal for this purpose, they often have 3 walls, are ‘insulated’ by clothes and smell of you. If possible create a space for your dog in the bottom of your wardrobe with comfortable bedding, a familiar toy or blanket.  You should allow enough room for your dog to lay down and turn around but not much more. Close your curtains to reduce any vision of the storm and to reduce sound. Having a radio or TV on can also help to mask the noise of a storm.

 

Getting mad at your dog for being scared is only going to make things worse.  IT IS OK to SOOTHE your dog when he/she is nervous, assure them that the “sky is not falling”.  If your dog will allow it, sometimes giving your dog a bear hug – tightly squeezing them when they are anxious will help calm them down.  If this helps see below about the Thundershirt®.  The most important thing is for you to remain calm, speak to your pet slowly, in a quiet tone and when looking at your pet, blink your eyes like you are falling asleep to let them know there is nothing for them to be concerned about.   
 

 

Thunder-shirt, anxious dogThundershirt® is a product based on weighted blankets used for children with autism suffering from anxiety.  The Thundershirt® provides even pressure across your dogs’ torso, creating a sense of comfort and security.  It does not work for every dog however, I would recommend testing the concept using towels to wrap your dog or giving your dog a big bear hug and seeing if this helps to calm your dog.

 

If it is not possible for your dog to come inside, you need to create a sound-proof ‘den’ to act as your dogs ‘safe place’ outside.  Ideally, the den should have 4 walls with an entrance to one side, the roof should be a secondary roof – that is a roof underneath a roof, such as a patio, so that the force of the rain is not hitting the roof or walls of the den.  Speak to your local hardware store about materials that they would recommend to help make the den as sound proof as possible. If your dog is not one to destroy bedding, have a comfortable bed and blanket inside the den along with a toy.  Start feeding your dog in the den when there are no storms, so that they associate the ‘den’ with favourable things. Until your dog gets used to using the den, you may need to gently take your dog to the den and sit with them for the first storm or two (if possible of course). 

 

Pheromones or natural remedies may be helpful if your pets’ anxiety is mild when combined with the strategies above.   
Adaptil® is a synthetic version of a pheromone that is released by the mother soon after birthing, which creates a sense of comfort and sanctuary for the puppies.  This works in a similar way for adult dogs as well. Adaptil® is available in various forms, such as a plug-in device, spray or as a collar to be able to suit individual situations.   
 
Homeopet® has a formulation which works similarly to rescue remedy in people that is specific for storm stress.  This comes as a drop to add to water or directly into your dog's mouth to try and create a sense of calm using a mix of herbs and minerals. 
 
zylkene anxious dog

Zylkene is a natural supplement that you can add to your dog's meal.  It is based on a milk protein, that helps to create calm and a feeling of ease - similar to a baby wanting to sleep after drinking milk.  The studies they have done show that it has a similar effect on the brain to some anti-anxiety medications.  

 

No matter what you do for your dog, their level of anxiety may be so high that they still require medication to help them feel more at ease while there is a storm around.  There are 2 main types of medications used, one creates sedation, and the other is a more specialised anti-anxiolytic, targeting the brain to reduce the over-reaction to the storm.  To be effective, both need to be given 30 minutes before your dog is worried, which is why watching the radar and knowing when storms are coming before your dog is particularly important.   
Note: The way that your dog responds to the medication used is very individual and needs to be tested before you really need them.