Ask the Vet: How to calm your dog when it thunders
Q: My dog has a terrible time dealing with thunderstorms. He gets very anxious and hides under the bathroom sink. Is there anything I can do to help him?
— Kristin, Gloucester, Mass.
A: Many dogs have a tough time during rain or thunderstorms and develop potentially harmful behaviors.
For some dogs, it’s the clap of the thunder that’s upsetting (even if it’s too far away for people to hear). In this case there’s an actual sound phobia, similar to dogs that react badly to fireworks or if a pan is dropped in the kitchen. The loud noise triggers an anxious, fearful response resulting in distressed behavior.
For dogs with a true sound phobia, desensitization training can be very helpful. Exposing the dog to distant, low volume noises and rewarding him/her for staying calm and following commands (sit, stay, give paw) is a good start. As the training progresses, the sounds need to get closer and increase gradually in volume. Helping to create a calm, safe, rewarding environment during this process will help minimize the impact of loud noises for your pet.
Another popular theory regarding why some dogs develop bizarre behavior during thunderstorms is that they are reacting negatively to the electrostatic changes that occur in the air. Some veterinary behaviorists theorize that dogs attempt to ground themselves during the storm and thus seek out objects such as plumbing or radiators.
In response to this, a variety of items have been developed for dogs to reduce static buildup on their fur. One of the more hopeful inventions, a metallic lined wrap that dogs can wear during a storm, has shown a promising response.
Other approaches that can be considered to reduce storm-related anxiety include background “white noise,” the use of dog pheromones, anti-anxiety drugs, mild tranquilizers and nutritional supplements that contain calming agents such as tryptophan.
As always, consult your veterinarian to help diagnose your pet and before starting your dog on a desensitization program, medication or nutritional supplement.
Dr. Cahill owns and operates SeaPort Veterinary Hospital in Gloucester, Mass. Submit questions to email@example.com.