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Fear of Thunderstorms in Dogs and Cats

Like many pets, your fur baby may shake, whine or run and hide whenever a storm hits. Although it may not seem serious, thunderstorm phobia can get worse over time if not dealt with, and the subsequent stress can take a mental and physical toll on your pet, even leading to health problems. If you take the time to help your four-legged friend deal with their fear, you will both reap the rewards.

Why are animals afraid of storms?

Fear of thunderstorms is extremely common in pets, but the exact reason that the anxiety develops is somewhat complex.

The noise of a storm is a key factor of the anxiety. The sounds of thunder and rain are not only loud and unexpected, but the fact that your pet cannot identify the source of the noises can also make them much scarier. Behaviorists agree that other parts of a storm also contribute to anxiety, including the darkening skies, sudden flashes of lighting, and even the change in air pressure.

It’s true that not all dogs and cats suffer from thunderstorm phobia. Your pet’s personality will play a part in this – dogs that are nervous in general are obviously more likely to be afraid of storms. And animals that did not have much exposure to storms when they were young may react more negatively as adults.

Tips to reduce stress during storms

While many pet parents may feel that thunderstorm anxiety is just a normal part of life for their dog or cat, there are steps you can take to make the experience less traumatic for your pet.

Create a safe place

One of the simplest, yet still effective, things you can do is to make sure that your pet has a safe place to retreat to when a storm hits. If you have already noticed your dog or cat heading for a particular place when they become anxious, this will be the best spot for their ‘safe place’. You can make it more comforting by adding a bed or crate, along with food, water, toys, and treats. If the safe space is in a room with windows, cover them during the storm to lessen the noise and visual impact. Leaving the light switched on will also make lightning flashes less noticeable. Your pet should have easy access to space, even if you are not at home.

Behavior modification

For dogs in particular, behavior modification, desensitization, and counter-conditioning can all be good long-term strategies to change how they feel about and react to storms. One technique may include getting your dog to perform commands that will earn them a reward, which not only distracts them but also helps them associate the situation with a treat. Desensitizing them can be more complicated, as it is difficult to replicate all of the aspects of the storm, but for pets that are particularly afraid of the sounds of a storm, you may wish to try playing a CD or video of a storm at low volume while you play with them or give them treats. The most important thing, however, is to not punish your pet for any negative behavior they engage in while experiencing anxiety, as this will only make things worse.

Pheromone therapy

Pheromone therapy is an excellent way to positively improve your pet’s emotional state and behavior without medication. Synthetic pheromones replicate those released by nursing dogs and cats, giving your pet a sense of belonging. For cats there are also facial pheromones, those that they use when marking territory, letting them know they are in a safe place that belongs to them. Pheromone products come in many different formats including sprays, collars and plug-in diffusers. Be aware that pheromones will not have an instant effect, and may need 10-20 minutes to be to calm your pet.

Fear of Thunderstorms in Dogs and Cats

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