The scene is all too familiar – the loud and raucous thunder accompanied by flashes of lightning…and some poor dog whimpering and scrambling for cover under the bed or sofa. Every dog-parent can recount word-for-word the same exact story about Rover, Fido, Spot, or Pepper. What is it about thunderstorms or a dog’s anatomy that makes her so fearful?
Dogs are known to be sensitive to elements that are unseen or unheard by humans. They can hear frequencies that we can’t hear. They can smell things we can’t smell. Their sensitivities are still in the realm of things unknown so researchers have had to make some educated guesses on what exactly sets a dog off during thunderstorms.
If you’ve ever lived in an earthquake-prone area, you may remember your dog getting very agitated before you felt any shaking. This may be due to a dog’s heightened awareness of lower and higher frequencies. As with earthquakes, the sound and the reverberation of thunder seem to affect the average dog more than the average human.
Thunderstorms aren’t the only loud events to make dogs nervous – loud crashes, running vacuums, and fireworks also set dogs on edge. Even though there may be an underlying scientific reason why loud and prolonged noises affect dogs physically, the most explainable reason is that the noises are unfamiliar to them. They are not desensitized to the frightening noises that are made by thunderstorms and the like. Much like children, dogs are scared by unpleasant events they don’t understand.
How Do I Comfort My Dog?
Comforting your dog is important but it’s even more important to make sure your dog is safe. Thunderstorms and fireworks can usually be predicted ahead of time so prepare accordingly for these occasions.
Don’t put your dog outside when you know a thunderstorm is going to occur. She may become so agitated that she might escape. Keep her inside with family members until the episode passes. Massaging and holding your dog will help calm her down. If possible, dogs with severe storm anxiety should not be kept in a room with windows – they may break glass in attempting to escape their confines.
If you don’t think your dog will be manageable during a thunderstorm or Fourth of July, visit your veterinarian. The vet may prescribe medication for her. Some anti-anxiety medications for humans also can be given to dogs but your vet should consult you first. There are pet supplements aimed at calming dogs down but some human-grade medications such as Benadryl are safe for most dogs. Your vet should advise you on the appropriate dosage which would be different from the dosage for a human.
Fortunately, noninvasive ways to treat anxiety are also on the market. There are pet collars much like flea collars which release soothing pheromones for those dogs who won’t take pills. For a completely non-chemical way of reducing anxiety, consider purchasing a vest made for stressful ordeals. These vests “hug” your dog thereby providing her with a sense of security. Keep in mind these calming vests may not work for many dogs but they can be used in conjunction with medication.
Safety Is Key
Although it is tempting to let your dog out when she is running around in distress, this is the worst thing you can do for her. Shelter populations spike dramatically on Fourth of July and during thunderstorms. The importance of keeping your dog in the house cannot be stressed enough. However, an escaped dog is an unavoidable occurrence bound to happen at some point. Equipping her with ID tags and an embedded microchip will help ensure that you find her in the event she runs away.
By Gabrielle Allemeier
Pets WebMD: When Your Dog Is Afraid of Storms
The Humane Society: Fear of Thunder and Other Loud Noises
Psychology Today: Can Dogs Predict Earthquakes?
About the Author
Gabrielle Allemeier volunteers her free time as an animal rescuer and foster pet parent. As an animal lover, she enjoys sharing the knowledge she has gained from her experience with a variety of animals. Along with being an animal lover, Gabrielle is a globetrotter. She lives in Los Angeles, California with her terrier, Thisbe.