Thunderstorm Season, Fireworks Can Cause Anxiety in Pets
Dogs who are terrified of thunder: As Springfield veterinarians we see plenty of them, because Ozark storms can be fierce!
In response to the thunder boomers, some dogs shake, some drool, some get clingy. Really frightened dogs may soil the house, or even become destructive. They hide under beds, in closets and sometimes in small spaces where they get trapped and even more frantic.
Once a dog has developed this fear, other loud noises – car backfires and fireworks, for example - can trigger anxiety responses. It’s been suggested that dogs can hear subsonic rumbles from thunder before humans can. That, and the change in barometric pressure, can be enough to set them off.
It’s also known that dogs who fear thunder may eventually generalize the fear to rain, wind, lightning or darkening skies –any indicator a storm might be coming.
Certain breeds seem most likely to develop this phobia: herding breeds like German Shepherds, border collies, cattle dogs and Shetland sheepdogs all fall in this category. It’s not certain whether these dogs have more acute hearing than other breeds, or just a genetic predisposition to anxiety. One thing is certain: once the dog displays this fear, you need to address it.
Treatment can help. Behavior modification training-- best done by a certified applied animal behaviorist—is usually successful. Medications can also be useful.
Word of warning, though: because the behavioral training is done using the sound the dog fears, it’s not a good idea to try and address this behavior during thunderstorm or firework season. The unexpected noise outside of training time may trigger the panic in the dog and worsen his condition.
Talk to our vet about medications, and let the vet’s advice guide your choices.
Luckily, there are several techniques you can use at home to help.
Calm Behavior Is a Year-round Goal
It’s a mistake to try and calm your fearful pet by petting or cooing at him while he's displaying his anxiety: he interprets that as positive reinforcement for the panicky behavior. Don’t scold or disciple, but don’t coddle.
Instead, practice all year round in calm weather and get your dog to settle on command. Provide a special "indoor" leash and have the pet lie at your feet as you praise his calm behavior.
Once the dog understands the routine, you should be able to attach the leash and tell the dog to lie down at your feet and be calm during a storm.
As long as he stays calm, reward the dog with a toy, playing, petting, or treats. This should distract the dog enough to get him quietly through the storm.
A Safe Haven in a Storm
Some dogs will settle if they can get into their crates with the door left open; others do better in a basement where they can’t see or hear the storm. A bathroom or other small room may also work, and playing cheerful, somewhat loud music can work as a distraction and cover up the noise. If your dog demonstrates a preference for a particular space during a storm, allow him to remain there without confining him. An already anxious dog may get frantic if it feels trapped during a storm.
Ask Your Veterinarian for Advice
Your vet may find other medical reasons for the dog’s anxiety; he can also tell you if he feels the pet needs to take anti-anxiety medication. Not all anxious dogs need it, but if your pet is bouncing off the walls in panic, it may well take the edge off and allow him to relax. Your vet can help you decide whether to medicate daily or just when you suspect it may storm. Together, you can come up with a treatment plan to keep your dog happy and calm, all year round.
Our Springfield Veterinarian Hospital staff is always ready to help your dog manage the Ozarks weather!