Helping Your Pets through Thunderstorm/Noise Phobias

Preparing for the Rain. 

May showers may be known for bringing May flowers as the saying goes, however, for some pets it brings along with it thunderstorms and ultimately high levels of anxiety. Common signs we see in fearful pets include hiding under furniture or unusual places, pacing, howling/crying, trembling, destructive activities or aggression. If your pet is among those terrified of thunderstorms, loud noises or fireworks, here are some useful tips to help reduce your pet’s anxiety.

It is normal for pets to be nervous of loud noises and flashes the first time they are exposed to a thunderstorm or fireworks. Pets may react to these high-pitched noises for many reasons, such as the noise is hurting their ears, they are unsure where the noise is coming from, and these noises often lack pattern and predictability.

However, it is not normal for a pet to become more fearful to each additional thunderstorm. Normally, a pet should adjust to these noises and become less fearful with repeated exposure. This is especially true if each reaction to the thunderstorm becomes worse than the next. Unfortunately, if this is true for your pet, this phobia or fear of thunderstorms can ultimately affect your pet’s quality of life. Addressing your pet’s fear is important for your pet and possibly your household as well, as furniture and items can often be destroyed.

According to the University of Pennsylvania, there are several measures you can take to help with noise sensitivities to help your pet feel a little safer and less fearful during the storm:

  1. Try and have a safe place your pet can go. Ideally, an interior room without any windows. Have your pets’ typical bedding and toys available in this room to ensure they feel comfortable and not isolated. If your pet prefers to be with the family, join the pet in these areas. Isolating them from the family may actually increase their anxiety. Avoid crating them unless the crate would be their preferred safe place.
  2. Don’t force your pet out of hiding, this can create confusion and scare them more.
  3. Play calming music or white noise in the background throughout the house to reduce the perceived amount of noise from the storm.
  4. This may come as a surprise but your behaviour around your pet can affect your pet’s anxiety during the storm. Avoid punishing your pet, stay calm to avoid adding to your pet’s anxiety.
  5. In milder cases, you can try offering their favourite toy or peanut butter stuffed Kong as a distraction.
  6. Try a pheromone spray called DAP, commonly sold under the name “Adaptil”. This can be sprayed on a bandana and tied to your pet’s collar during the storm. This is a synthetic dog pheromone that works by communicating with your dog in their language. This pheromone is similar to pheromones released at birth to help their puppies feel safe. Alternatively, using Feliway would be the cat version of the above.
  7. A newer product, called “Thundershirts” can be applied to your pets a few hours prior or during the thunderstorm/fireworks. This works similar to swaddling a baby, where light constant pressure over your dog’s torso helps to relieve anxiety.

If you have tried some or all of these suggestions and are not seeing any improvement in your pet’s anxiety, don’t hesitate to discuss suggestions with your veterinarian. There are medical therapies such as anti-anxiety medication that can help.

Written by Dr Meagan Barrett, DVM