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Dealing with Thunderstorm Anxiety in Dogs


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Some people think dogs with thunderstorm anxiety will figure out over time that the storm won’t to them any harm. That hardly ever happens. In fact, often, without intervention, the fear can worsen.

I argue it may be inhumane to merely let even mildly anxious dogs deal with storms without any effort to diminish that anxiety.

Inconsolable is an accurate word to describe some dogs. Other dogs clearly don’t like storms, but manage their nervousness devising their own strategies. I believe, these are two entirely different categories.

For dogs who are anxious but find their own ways to deal with storms there are tools to use to lessen anxiety.

Finding a Hiding Place

Many of the somewhat fearful dogs are able to find a reasonably comfortable “hiding spot.” Typical locations may be under a bed, in the back of a closet or in the bathtub. The basement is also a common place, as dogs figure out quickly that they can’t see or hear the storms very well down under. If the dog appears moderately content or at least able to cope with the storms by hiding, you should still help out with some basic actions and products below. It’s best if you have a plan you create in conjunction with your veterinarian.

Actions

Be sure to pull down window shades, helping the dog out so the storms can’t be seen.

Pump up music. Studies show that classical music, or music specifically created for dogs, may be relaxing, such as tunes available at icalmpet, Victoria Stilwell Positively Calming Music or A Sound Beginning. Of course, the volume of the music may at least partially exceed the sounds of the crashing thunder.

And who doesn’t like to watch TV? Check TV for dogs and for their parents.

And give your dog something else to do. Stuff amazing treats inside a Kong toy or use a food puzzle – successful distraction may be difficult to achieve, but if you can have your dog focus on one thing, your dog isn’t focused on the terror of storms. Play is certainly another form of distraction – but in order to minimize that anxiety for your dog to feel comfortable enough to eat or play, you may require one or more of the products listed below.

Products to Minimize Fear

Adaptil: When lactating mother dogs deliver milk to puppies, it contains a calming pheromone. Adaptil is a copy of that pheromone, which comes as a plug in diffuser or a collar (obviously the dog collar will go everywhere the dog goes).

Calmer Canine: Though this product was developed for separation anxiety, it can treat other anxieties. The Calmer Canine fits like a halo above the dog’s head. As the fight or flight center, the amygdala is the area in the brain responsible for producing fear and emotional responses, which express themselves as the signs of anxiety. An anxious brain is out of balance, not only hormonally, but also with overactive brain cells that produce harmful substances causing inflammation.  Calmer Canine’s treatment is called targeted pulsed electromagnetic field (tPEMFTM) signals. (The same technology is effective in treating humans with mood disorders such as depression and anxiety). The signals are invisible, sensation free and safer than meds (which, of course, may have adverse reactions). There are no known adverse reactions to the Calmer Canine.

Purina ProPlan Calming Care: A probiotic to help dogs to maintain calm behavior. The notion is that what’s in a dog’s gut is related to neurotransmitters in the brain. Think about it, if you’re really nervous before a big exam, you might feel those “butterflies” in your tummy or your stomach may respond in other ways. It’s the same for dogs. And the reverse reaction can occur by impacting a dog’s gut, a dog’s brain can respond and actually lower anxiety.

Zentrol: A nutritional supplement chewable tablet for dogs exhibiting stress-related behaviors, particularly noise phobias (like the sounds of thunder). The tablets are composed of novel natural ingredients, Souroubea spp, containing betulinic acid, and Platanus spp. Studies have shown that Zentrol interacts with the GABA-BZD receptor to safely reduce stress-related behaviors.

Zylkene: A nutritional supplement derived from casein, a protein in milk. Zylkene helps balance reactions in some situations so dogs go “over-respond”

Wearing Protection

Thundershirt: A snug vest that uses constant pressure to calm during storms (like swaddling a baby) and can also be used for other anxiety related problems, such as separation anxiety. And  Thunder-Ease is a Thundershirt infused with Adaptil.

Anxiety Wrap: A vest-like suit that fits around the dog, using acupressure to help calm.

Storm Defender: This super-hero-like cape, with its special lining, can bring relief to anxious dogs, producing a calming effect.

DIY: The do-it-yourself (or dog-it-yourself) version is to take an old t-shirt and fashion it so if fits snuggly (but not too tight) around your dog.

What Everyone Wants to Know

CBD: Does it lower thunderstorm anxiety? Anecdotally, CBD (cannabidiol, is a non-psycho-active chemical compound from the Cannabid sativa plant) has shown to relieve anxiety, and even help some dogs deal with separation distress, and potentially thunderstorm anxiety. However, to date, there’s no science to specifically demonstrate this use. And please be warned that not all CBD products are equal. Contact your veterinarian before trying.

What is the Dog is Terrified?

Some dogs’ thunderstorm anxiety responses are so inconsolable, pacing, salivating, losing house-training, and wanting to escape –truly the right thing to do is to speak with your veterinarian or a veterinary behaviorist about a plan, which begins with a psychopharmaceutical which can impact your dog now.

These dogs are typically more efficient at predicting storms than the National Weather Service. The dogs are so very terrified that without the appropriate drug, Adaptil or nutritional supplements in of themselves can’t touch the high level of sheer terror. Given time the Calmer Canine sure might make a significant difference, but then why allow your dog to suffer while this takes full affect. Under direction of a veterinary behaviorist or a general practitioner veterinarian, the additional support of these products is helpful when used in conjunction with pharmacological intervention.

What Dog Parents Should NEVER Do

Never self-dose a dog with an anti-anxiety drug a human family member may be taking, or with Benadryl (which won’t touch the terror, but merely makes your dog a bit sleepy).  Always do speak with a veterinary professional.

When a storm is approaching, never tie out dogs outside. This should be common sense, but every year some terrified, not to mention rain-soaked dogs escape from yards.

Busting Myths

It’s just silly to believe that the dog wouldn’t be fearful if you demonstrate that you’re “the boss,” as one TV dog trainer once contended.

It’s untrue that comforting the dog will worsen the fear. Dogs are not terrified of thunderstorms because they seek your attention. Providing some comfort may make us feel better, as well as the dog – because it allows us to express our love.

Learn more about thunderstorm anxiety (and other canine anxiety issues as well) in the book Decoding Your Dog, authored by the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists and edited by Dr. Debra Horwitz, Dr. John Ciribassi and myself.

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Steve Dale is a certified animal behavior specialist who has been a trusted voice in the world of pet health for over 20 years. You have likely heard him on the radio, read him in print and online, and seen him speaking at events all over the world. His contributions to advancing pet wellness have earned him many an award and recognition around the globe.

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