How to calm a dog scared by thunder

Cómo calmar a un perro asustado por los truenos

In recent years the weather has behaved very changeably and presents electrical storms much more frequently that can scare your dog. We investigate what causes this anxiety and how to calm your feelings on rainy days.

Signs of anxiety in dogs are "ears back, tail down, wide eyes, panting, lip licking and yawning," says Terry Curtis, a behavioral specialist at the University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine.

"Sometimes his panic escalates to dangerous levels during thunderstorms. I've had cases where the dog has dug through walls, all the way through the drywall," says Curtis. "Another dog jumped through a sliding glass door."


Why happens?

The drop in barometric pressure, which dogs can feel, along with darkening skies, wind, and the sheer noise of thunder can cause fearful reactions in dogs.

Some dogs have an aversion to canine noise, which can make them uncomfortable or even phobic around loud sounds.

Static buildup in their fur is another likely explanation, says Nicholas Dodman, a veterinary behaviorist at Tufts University and scientific director of the Center for Canine Behavior Studies.

Large dogs and those with long or double coats easily collect static electricity, the same way we do when wearing a sweater and getting hit by a car door if we're not wearing rubber-soled shoes, he says.

A dog that is already nervous during storms can take another blow from touching its nose to a metal object. Then a mild annoyance could escalate to a full-blown phobia, Dodman says.

Kelly Ballyntyne, a clinical assistant professor at the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine, says it's hard to prove whether static electricity buildup causes anxiety in dogs.

Our canines' amazing noses may be "just smelling changes in the environment that predict a storm is coming," he says.

Additionally, "there is some evidence that there may be some genetic predispositions for animals to develop noise phobia," such as border collies and Australian shepherds.


How to calm a dog scared by thunder

While treating dogs with thunderstorm phobia, Dodman noted that many canines seek grounded hiding places from electrical shock, such as bathtubs, hot tubs or behind the toilet tank.

Curious about this strange behavior, he began informally asking owners where their dogs are hiding, with half of them saying the bathroom. An 80-pound German shepherd even throws himself down the sink, he says.


Ballyntyne suggests that dog owners videotape their dog while they're outside to look for signs like pacing, panting, and restlessness. These behaviors could reveal mild separation anxiety that is exacerbated by storms.

All the experts agreed that a vet can prescribe medication if necessary.

"If the dog panics," Ballantyne says, anti-anxiety medications "will go a long way toward improving that dog's quality of life."

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