thunderstorm-fireworks-phobia dogs

Easing the Phobia of Thunderstorm and Fireworks

Thunderstorm and fireworks or noise phobia are similar, but slightly different disorders. The treatments, however, are virtually the same. Some dogs suffer from fear of thunder or other loud noises. This fear seems to get worse with age, and the dog doesn’t get over it. Lightning storms are not the only time for loud noises, though. Loud celebrations like those for the Fourth of July, New Year’s Eve, and even Halloween can be frightening to your dog.

If your dog is terrified of loud noises, keep him inside in a crate during thunderstorms and during celebrations such as the Fourth of July. Dogs that are afraid of loud noises are likely to try to escape and may try to hurt themselves. Dogs have been known to jump out of closed second-story windows in sheer panic. If your dog  continues to become panicked or fearful even when crated, talk to your vet. Your vet may be able to prescribe medication that will help calm him.

Can Your Dog Predict the Weather?

If your dog starts worrying and displaying nervousness — panting, shaking, pacing, trying to escape or hide — long before you hear the first rumble of thunder or see a drop of rain, your dog is probably suffering from thunderstorm phobia. If, however, the storm comes and he gets nervous only when the lightning really starts cracking, there’s a good chance that he has a fear of loud noises. Some dogs are only afraid of specific noises, while others worry about every noise louder than their comfort level.

Dogs that are noise phobic for only one or two sounds are usually easier to treat than dogs that are thunderstorm phobic or that have generalized noise phobias. It is impossible to control the weather, and it’s pretty tough to control everything that makes your dog nervous, if she’s afraid of everything, too. True thunderstorm phobia is very dangerous, as dogs can and will injure themselves to horrifying extremes in their frantic attempts to escape. Some dogs are so sensitive to storms that they start to panic when the barometric pressure starts to drop.

What Works

Desensitization combined with counterconditioning certainly works to improve noise sensitivity. If noise is the only part of storms that bothers your dog, you can buy noise tapes made specifically for desensitization purposes. It is important to eliminate your dog’s exposure to his panic triggers during the behavior-modification process.

Many thunderstorm-phobic dogs attempt to hide behind the toilet, or in the bathtub. One theory is that the tile surfaces are insulation from electrical shock. Whatever the reason, if it makes him feel better and he’s not doing damage to himself or the bathroom, let him ride out the storm wherever he feels safe. You can’t make him feel better, so let him be.

If your dog is really thunderstorm phobic, you will probably have to use one of the pharmacological or alternative antianxiety treatments available. Melatonin, at a 3 mg dose, is commonly used, as are custom-blended flower essence remedies. You will need to work with your vet to determine the best treatment to try, but if something doesn’t work, don’t give up; try something else. There is a good deal of anecdotal evidence that body wraps made from athletic bandages, or vests made for this specific purpose, are very beneficial in reducing panic disorders in many dogs. The concept is borrowed from T-Touch, a type of therapeutic touch originally developed for horses, then modified for dogs.

Readers Respond: Noise Phobia Experiences and Solutions

Daisy Storms
We tried all of the usual treatments for our Daisy and her terror of thunder. Our vet suggested we try her on Valium. Works like a charm. It takes about 20 minutes for the Valium to kick in and then Daisy is calm during the bad weather. Her stress levels without the valium are so high that she’s a danger to herself. – —Guest Loni

My female Papillon lily was never afraid of thunderstorms until lightning hit the foundation of the house. Fortunately no one was hurt, but now she is very afraid of storms. If I know one is coming I will give her children’s Benadryl, which my vet recommended. —juleshawk

Thunderstorm Phobia
When ever there was a storm, I would leave work early, because I knew Sweetie, my 15 year old Golden would be afraid. Usually by the time I got home, she wouldn’t be waiting in the hall by the door. You could find her upstairs in the bathtub. This would happen even at night if there was a storm. Sweetie had never been kennel trained. —Guest SWEETIE

Jessie and her fear of thunder
My dog Jessie is 13 and 1/2 years old and has been afraid of thunder since she was a small pup. She begins to act very distressed hours before the storm and becomes more and more distressed as the storm draws nearer. By the first clap of thunder, she is drooling, shaking, and trying to dig her way behind every chair, into every wall, and is inconsolable. I finally began to put her in the basement about a year ago. The basement is well sound proofed and she lays behind a chair and stays there until the storm passes. I have tried stress tablets, Dramamine, and other sedatives prescribed by my vet. None of these seem to help, even if administered long before the storm begins. I am lucky to have a sound proofed room in which she can stay. I wish there was a way to help her overcome this fear. If anyone can suggest a plan that has worked for your dog, I’d be very glad to hear about it.  —Guest OJ Bly

Thunder Phobia
My 3 year old carin terrier whines, pants and shakes all over. She doesn’t want us to hold her and comfort her but to find a small, safe place where it is quiet. She gets so worked up that I think she is going to have a heart attack. I try to down play the situation by telling her to go lay down and stop whining, it’s just a storm. The fourth of July Holiday is the worse. She will not go outside in the evenings or night. Will medicine help her nerves? Or will she outgrow it eventually? —Guest Linda

Really Works
Static electricity seems to be a component of the fear of a thunder storm. I’ve found that rubbing my dog’s fur with a dryer sheet,or spraying static guard on my hands and then rubbing his fur, calms his trembling.  —murrayziggy

My dachshunds behavior
My dachshund hates the sound of thunder. He spends a lot of time looking for a place to hide in the house and refuses to go outside during a thunderstorm. He usually settles in under the computer desk or the area underneath our reclined recliners. We try not make a big deal of the thunder or his phobia. We tell him he is a good boy and not to worry. Fortuately, the thunderstorms pass and we can get back to normal.  —no_hassles

soft talk
When Buddy found us their was a thunderstorm he was so scared. Soto this day when it storms he runs to me puts his head under my arm. I talk softly to him to take his mind off of the storm. A lot of he times it works.  —jdolson41

Frantic Behavior
Our dog started being afraid of thunder storms and lightening about age 8. (She is now 12 years old.) She chewed through every cord of ever piece of machinery (thankfully all unplugged) in our garage. I read and tried several things and for her, it takes a combination of several methods. We leave the light on in the garage where they go in bad weather. We This makes the lightening not seem like such a contrast in the night sky and not so fearsome. We also leave a radio on so that the noise from the thunder is lessened. Last but not least, per our veterinarian’s instructions, we give her a prescription tranquilizer. Of course, when we are not home and a storm hits, we find a mess in the garage, a deeply scratched door and a stressed out dog when we arrive home. But we try to listen to the weather and put the 3 methods mentioned above into practice when we leave if the forecast is gloomy. Any other suggestions would be welcome from other readers.  —Guest Pat

Storm Phobia
Our dog Jake (minpin) had thunderstorm phobia when we rescued him 12 yrs ago. We provided a covered crate for him and ignored his behavior. He soon grew out of the phobia and doesn’t even respond to fireworks any more. He just goes in his warm safe little crate and looks out at us as if to say, “why aren’t you in your crate?” —cooper70

Thunderstorm Phobia
My dog couldn’t get close enough to me during a storm. I don’t agree that comforting a dog at this time is wrong. I found it calmed her & was a good bonding time. —Guest Iris

Been There, Done That?
Over the years I’ve had several dogs with thunderstorm phobias. I currently have 2 lab mixes (Border Collie X Lab and Aussie Shep X Lab) that panic and shake when they hear (or even sense) thunder. Ever had a 60 lb and a 100 lb dog in your lap at the same time? I stay calm and tolerant and we ride the storm out. Ten years ago I had 2 shepherd mixes that nearly broke through the wall into the house from the garage during a bad thunderstorm while hubby and I were at work. They must have been terrified. I would like to hear about how others handle these phobias, and what the experts say to do. —Guest Gretchiesmom

Thunderstorm Phobia
Both my dogs have thunderstorm/ fireworks phobias. Luckily, they can be comforted by either me or my husband. I once had a dog that could find no comfort anywhere or with anyone, so I figure I’m ahead of the game!  —Guest Merlinsmom

Thunderstorm Phobia
Our late dog, Teddy, was terrified of storms. We live in the midwest where summer storms are the norm. I didn’t even need the weatherman, Teddy would start pacing before we could even hear the first thunder clap. He would incessantly wander throughout the house looking for someplace to hide – behind the couch, in the bathroom, in a closet. He was a big guy, 86 lbs., so finding a place to go was a challenge! He would settle down some when I put him in our bedroom with the radio or tv on rather loudly to mask the thunder. Usually, I just stayed with him to comfort him through the storm. Yes, that meant some sleepless nights, but it tore my heart out knowing that he was so scared and I couldn’t comfort him. Teddy lived to be almost 15 years old, and I’m glad now that he is where the thunder and lightening won’t scare him anymore. —sopranogardener

thunderstorm phobia in dogs
We rescued our poodle at one year old and so we don’t know the cause of her phobia other than those mentioned. She tucked her tail and headed for under the bed at the first sign of thunder. I repeatedly got her out from under the bed, calmly reassured her, and let her sit with me. Today she is still slightly fearful (looks around with those big puppy eyes) but sits with me and “chills” until it’s all over.  —Guest mhl

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