Last night’s supposed “scattered showers” turned out to be some really loud thunder and lightning action from outside our window (at least from where we were seated!). Were you and your dog just as surprised as we were?
For many dogs, a thunderstorm is terrifying even when they are safe and dry indoors. Your dog can become anxious, clingy, and agitated when her high sensitivity to barometric pressure warns her of a coming storm. When a storm hits, she paces, drools, barks at cracks of thunder, hides under things or cowers and shakes. After the storm, she may have trouble settling down; some dogs can be restless for hours, or even days. Thunder rumbles can make dogs panic and engage in behaviors ranging from excessive panting to eating through drywall. Desensitization training can calm some of these but such training takes time. For storm-phobic pooches who need a quicker relief for unexpected rain and thunder like last night, the following measures may be able to help:
Food – see if your dog will eat high value foods during storms. High value foods are treats your dog likes so much, she will do just about anything to score one. For some dogs it’s a tasty piece of chicken, for others a warm hotdog bite will do the trick.
Complementary Therapies – sprays or diffusers that contain dog-appeasing pheromones, which are similar to the pheromones released by nursing mother dogs, are complementary therapies. Having a pheromone plug in, or spraying pheromone on a bandana and putting that bandana on your dog often helps. It’s never a bad idea to try spraying your dog’s bed with calming pheromones, or even ordering a pheromone diffusing collar that your dog can wear on a daily basis, so that when a storm hits, your dog is already equipped. Another simple and easy therapy is rubbing a dryer sheet on your dog’s fur prior to a storm. I know what you’re thinking — weird… yes, but sometimes it works! The static build up in their fur irritates many dogs. An alternative over the counter complementary therapy is Rescue Remedy (www.rescueremedy.com) which can be mixed into your dog’s water.
Other Products – If using high value food and complementary therapies aren’t enough, there is still hope for the storm-phobic canine. The Anxiety Wrap, Thundershirt, or the Storm Defender cape are some products that may reduce thunderstorm anxiety in some dogs, but experts suggest acclimating your dog to such products before a storm rolls in so that they do not associate these products with an oncoming storm which could make them even more anxious and stressed.
Pharmaceutical help – some dogs are so afraid of thunderstorms that pharmaceutical help becomes necessary. If your dog is one, your veterinarian may prescribe anti-anxiety medication. “Most vets carry alternative herbal medicines that can lower anxiety,” Dr. Robert Pane of South Kendall Animal Clinic. How and when do we know when we need to seek medical help, you ask? Dr. Pane recommends dog owners seek help from a veterinarian when a dog is causing physical damage to itself or severely damaging your property. “We frequently recommend multi-modal treatments, meaning that we prescribe a medication to help ease a dog’s anxiety so that s/he responds better to desensitization programs.”
It is usually better to do more than one thing to alleviate anxiety. Simply medicating an animal does not and will not solve the root problem. From calming music for dogs to placing your dog in a dark and quiet room away from the windows, there is a lot more we can do to help get our dogs through life with South Florida thunderstorms.
Good luck, and happy training! 🙂