Thunderstorms and dogs make a bad combination. It’s common for dogs to suffer from thunderstorm phobia or anxiety if they live in a part of the country subject to summer storms with thunder and lightning.
Dogs with thunderstorm phobia become extremely panicky and overwhelmed with fear during loud thunderstorms. The technical term for this is Astraphobia: the fear of thunder and lightning. Owners who see their dogs experiencing this fear usually feel helpless and frustrated.
Causes of a dog’s phobia of Thunderstorms
There is no way to be certain what causes a dog to be afraid of thunderstorms. There are probably multiple reasons for thunderstorm phobia, and the reasons may even vary from dog to dog. The most obvious reason is the loud noise of the thunder and the bright flashes of lightning. Many dogs suffer from noise phobia, and the thunder is just one of several frightening noises besides fireworks and gunshots that can cause panic in dogs.
It’s also possible that the cause of a dog’s fear may not be limited to noise. Changes in barometric pressure and humidity can affect your dog’s senses and even cause discomfort in its ears. Arthritic dogs or those with other degenerative joint diseases like hip dysplasia, may experience more pain during thunderstorms than they normally do at other times.
Another possible reason for thunderstorm phobia is that the dog associates the thunder and lightning with a traumatic experience it has had. It is possible that something very stressful or frightening occurred in your dog’s past during a thunderstorm.
Signs of Thunderstorm Phobia
If your dog seems anxious, hyperactive, destructive or withdrawn during thunderstorms, it’s probably suffering from thunderstorm phobia. The signs of Astraphobia are fairly obvious and easy to spot in a dog with this phobia. Many dogs will pace, pant or begin whining. Some will stay right by your side seeking your attention. Other dogs may hide and become frozen with fear. Your dog’s fearful behavior may be subtle at first but can become worse with time, eventually becoming full-blown panic attacks that are very dangerous for your dog.
Thunderstorm phobia can cause a dog to urinate and sometimes defecate inside the house out of fear during a storm. Telltale signs of anxiety and fear may begin long before the storm arrives, so take note of any of these signs you may see in your dog during normal weather when the forecast is for stormy weather ahead. Your dog is probably a better weather forecaster than the meteorologist on TV.
Preventing and Treating Dogs With Thunderstorm Phobias
If your dog has a thunderstorm phobia, there are some things you can do to protect it during thunderstorms, or at least minimize its responses to the thunder and lightning.
The most important of course is never leave your dog outside during storms.
Be aware of your own behavior and that of other people in your home. Your dog will react to human anxiety, fear and stress, even if it is not related to the storm. Do your best to remain relaxed. Go about your usual duties. Don’t pay special attention to your dog when it is exhibiting signs of fear or anxiety. Even though your natural instinct is to want to comfort your dog, coddling and praising it only reinforces and rewards the unwanted behavior.
There are ways you can indirectly comfort your dog during thunderstorms. Find a comfortable hiding place for your dog in the quietest part of the house. If you have a dog crate, place the dog’s bed inside and cover the crate with a blanket or sheet to make your dog feel safer.
If your dog does calm down and stops reacting to the storm, respond with calm praise and rewards.
Dogs with severe thunderstorm phobia may benefit from prescription medication used in conjunction with desensitization or conditioning training. Your vet may prescribe an anti-anxiety medication like Xanax (alprazolam) or Valium (diazepam) that can be given at the first sign of a storm.
Because thunderstorm phobia is likely to become worse over time, it’s important to take action when you first notice the signs. Don’t wait to address your dog’s phobia until it is very severe. That simply makes it that much harder to reverse the phobia.
Just as stress is a health risk for humans, the same applies for thunderstorms and dogs. Thunderstorm phobia can become a very serious problem that will adversely affect your dog’s health and quality of life.