Solutions to Thunderstorm Anxiety in Dogs
Some people think dogs afraid of thunderstorms will figure out over time that the storm won’t cause dogs with thunderstorm anxiety any harm. But 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 use of products which can lower or even diminish anxiety.
Inconsolable is an accurate word to describe some dogs. Other dogs clearly don’t like storms, but manage their nervousness in their own ways. 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 spots 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. Be sure to pull down window shades and pump up music. Studies show that classical music, or music specifically created for dogs, may be relaxing. What’s more, the volume of the music may at least partially exceed the sounds of the crashing thunder.
Many of these dogs have figured out for themselves that the best way to ride out the storm is to “hide.”
Common hiding spots include under a bed or sofa, the back of a closet or a bathtub. Dogs often quickly figure out that in a basement, they can’t see the storm, including the lightening, or hear the thunder very well. Some dogs prefer the security of their crate when the storm hits, or to hide under a “tent” of blankets. Other dogs with mild anxiety will appreciate you helping them to find a place to feel safe if they haven’t done so on their own.
TOOLS TO MINIMIZE FEAR, ANXIETY AND STRESS
Today there are all sorts of tools to ease mild to moderate anxiety:
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).
Purina ProPlan Calming Care: This is all new, and quite remarkable technology; 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. Scientists have learned the same is true for people. What’s more, the probiotic is healthful. This product is so new that it may not be available until the fall or winter, and will be available only through veterinarians.
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. Grandma knew it all along when she said, “drink a glass of warm milk before bedtime to relax your nerves.”
Dogs can wear their anxiety protection as well:
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.
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 IF THE DOG IS TERRIFIED?
Some dogs are so inconsolable, pacing, salivating, losing house-training, and wanting to escape – that truly the right thing to do is to speak with your veterinarian or a veterinary behaviorist about a plan, which begins with a psychopharmaceutical.
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 fear. However, 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 OWNERS SHOULD NEVER DO
Never self-dose a dog with an anti-anxiety drug a human family 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.
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.