Why Are Dogs Afraid of Storms?
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Many dogs have fears related to natural occurrences, but why are dogs afraid of storms? Many factors lead to this specific fear, but there are also some treatments available.
A few examples of causes are:
- Changing of familiar patterns
- Unknown sounds
- Sound sensitivity
- Atmospheric sensitivity
- Not enough storm exposure
- Predisposition to anxiety
Simple calming techniques can help ease your furry friend.
These techniques include:
Knowing the reasons behind the negative behavior is only half of the battle; it is also essential to understand the different treatment methods and use them together.
- Rewarding calm behavior
- A snuggle garment, toy, or blanket
- Create a safe space/place
- Play low storm sounds year-round
- Create distractions
- Storm anxiety vests
- Scent therapy
- Anxiety medication
Let us look a little further into the many causes of storm fears in dogs and some methods that you can try at home for treating each of these.
Changing of Familiar Patterns
Whether they are a pet or a stray, any dog can become accustomed to having everyday patterns. Once set in those patterns, anything new added to that routine can cause a dog to become nervous. Simple tasks like walking, sleeping, eating, and even barking are part of an everyday routine for dogs. With the introduction of a new sound (such as thunder), the pattern is broken and brings about a nerve response in many dogs. That nerve response is fear.
Treatment 1: Snuggle Garment, Toy, or Blanket
Your dog may have a favorite garment, toy, or blanket that they like to keep close at all times. These items can be used during storms to calm dogs. Have them handy each time a storm comes or at least laying in a visible spot for your dog if they have to be left alone for any period of time. Just the scent (or the ability to at least chew) one of these items may be enough to calm your dog through each storm. They are also everyday items, so they help keep to a specific pattern your dog already has.
Treatment 2: Storm Anxiety Vest
One wise choice for treating the fear of storms in dogs can be an anxiety vest. These types of vests produce a hugging sensation that is gentle enough to calm a dog experiencing any level of anxiety. It works much in the same way a weighted blanket works for humans. Constant gentle pressure is provided throughout the entire time a storm is present. The gentle pressure is especially useful when you must leave your dog home alone for any length of time. Thunder Shirt® is one manufacturer that provides several choices in anxiety vests, making it easier to find the perfect fit for your dog. The right fit is crucial when you want to make your dog comfortable enough to wear a vest.
Strange noises are another reason dogs may be so afraid of storms. Every day a dog is used to hearing specific sounds around them. Some dogs are naturally different from other dogs in that an unknown sound can easily break the usual pattern. Some do not enjoy having that familiar pattern broken.
Treatment: Create Distractions
If your dog can be easily distracted, you can use this as a way to keep their mind occupied during a storm. You can use anything like playing games, turning on the TV, or walking as distractions. You could even get creative and play games for animals on a tablet or touchscreen laptop. It can be calming for both of you.
The physical pain resulting from sensitivity to loud noises creates a panicked state in many dogs. Sound sensitivity can make everyday life difficult for dogs by causing certain sounds around them to become amplified. In this case, the sound of thunder, heavy rain, or even wind can trigger fear.
Treatment: Create a Safe Space/Place
Just like using garments, toys, or blankets, having a safe spot for your dog can help with sound sensitivity. It could be a deep corner or underneath a piece of furniture. Making this space extra special for your dog by making sure it is within a soundproof area helps alleviate the high-pitched sounds from the storms.
Include any toys that your dog finds calming. The type of space you create can include a dog bed, a small, tented area, or even an indoor doghouse; whatever you feel will make your dog calm and comfortable.
Like sound sensitivity, atmospheric sensitivity is another physical factor as to why dogs are afraid of storms. In some cases, dogs can feel their hair standing up on their necks from the static produced by a storm. They can even sense the slightest change in atmospheric pressure just before and during a storm. These atmospheric changes are why many dog owners may notice their pets acting “strangely” before they see an actual storm is approaching.
Another part of atmospheric sensitivity can show itself in a physical form. Dogs that suffer from arthritis (or any other type of bone or joint issues) will feel the change in pressure more than other dogs that do not have any of these health conditions. The pain that results from this change unknowingly creates a relatable fear. Dogs can start to associate this atmospheric change with that pain.
Treatment: Scent Therapy
Scent therapy can almost go hand-in-hand with creating a safe space. Within the space you create (or your entire home), you can create an aroma field that can calm your dog the moment they enter that space. There are calming scent sprays available in different scents, so you can find the perfect one that your dog will love.
Not Enough Storm Exposure
The simple fact that they have never been exposed to storms can be a contributing factor for some dogs’ storm fears. This could be because they live in an area not regularly exposed to any storms or (if they are exposed to them); it may only be wind or lightning. Sounds such as rain and thunder can be a completely new and scary experience for any dog.
Treatment: Play Low Storm Sounds Year-round
Playing thunderstorms sounds at low levels could be one way to start getting your dog accustomed to the sounds that come with a storm. It is an excellent idea to do this year-round and at random times. Over time, gradually increase the volume level of the storm sounds. This method will help desensitize your dog to the sound so they can remain calm when a storm is approaching.
You can also play storm anxiety music for dogs to help ease their fear of a storm. This music can be played in-between the low-volume storm sounds.
Predisposition to Anxiety
Sometimes, the only explanation as to why dogs are afraid of storms revolves around an anxiety issue. This can also be a hereditary disorder in certain dog breeds. If your dog is predisposed to storm anxiety, you might signs like:
- Heavy panting
- Heavy drooling
- Destructive behavior (Ripping clothes apart, biting, or gnawing on furniture)
- Nervous pacing
- Trauma that they inflict upon themselves
- Chronic licking
- Rapid heartbeat
If you notice any of these symptoms, it may be a good idea to visit the vet. To be on the safe side, they will be able to rule out any other health issues.
Treatment: Anxiety Medication
In extreme storm anxiety cases, medication use may be necessary to help your dog relax enough during a storm. Because drugs are not usually the first choice for storm anxiety treatments, it is good to try all other possibilities first. If all else fails, talk with your veterinarian about the types of anxiety medications available to dogs and the best choice for your dog.
There are also some OTC calming supplements for dogs that could be another medication option. Many of these supplements are entirely natural, with no side effects. These methods are a great and safe way to help your dog calm down when their storm fears kick in.
Signs of Storm Phobia
If you are unsure about your dog having a possible phobia with storms, here are some signs to look for:
- Pacing back and forth in the same area
- Whimpering or the sound of small cries that last for an extended period
- Hiding in unusual places
- Craving attention more than usual
- Low barking
- Low growling
Since these are the most common signs to look for (and because your dog may be different), be aware of any unusual behavior you notice in your dog. It can be essential to figuring out their storm fears and treating them quickly.
The fact is that there can be several reasons why dogs are afraid of storms, and every dog is going to be different. The most important part is to be attentive. Recognize the signs early on so you can help reduce the fear that storms bring. Keep in mind that not every fear-prevention strategy is going to work for every dog. If one method does not work, never give up. It may take some time to figure out what is best for your dog, but it will be well worth it when you can find the perfect option. Once that fear is treated, your dog can go about living their best life!