Thunderstorm anxiety is very common

For some dogs there seems to be nothing more terrifying than a thunderstorm. Whether it’s hiding in a closet, under a bed or between the owners legs there are many who seem inconsolable, and they often seem to sense the storm is before it arrives.

Thunderstorm anxiety is very common, and ranges from mild cases to severe phobias. The good news is there are a number of strategies to help your dog deal with the fear and emotion.

What can owners do?

Provide a safe, supportive environment

The best initial advice is to be there for your dog. Support them, console them and pat them. Give them a safe place such as their bed, a dog crate or a seat on the floor next to you. Even dogs with mild anxiety should be supported as thunderstorm phobia is often progressive, and can worsen over time if not helped. Leaving a dog to ‘toughen up’ won’t help with anxieties – in fact it will usually make them worse. Crates can work especially well with some dogs as they simulate a natural den, where a dog would instinctually seek to hide in the wild. A selection of good crates is available here.

Counter-conditioning

Counter-conditioning can also help. Try to associate the thunderstorm with something good. Find a treat your dog really loves and save these as a special reward for thunderstorms or anxious times. This can help slowly build a connection between a storm and a positive experience. Playing with a dog, inside of course, can also help great a good association, and may take their mind off the storm. Some owner further this training by coupling it with desensitisation – search for some thunderstorm sounds on the internet and play these at a low volume on a normal sunny day, whilst giving treats and pats. This can help a dog slowly ease into the counter-conditioning with only a mild anxiety.

Thundercoat

Some owners also find a storm jacket or thunder coat can really help. This is a fairly snug fitting jumper or vest that is worn by the dog, and the compression seems to make a dog feel safe and secure. 

Pheromones

Adaptil, a pheromone diffuser, can also help in some cases. Adaptil contains a special scent that is only detectable to dogs, and has no odour or effect on humans. It is bioidentical to the dog’s normal territory marking scent, and makes the dog feel comfortable, relaxed and safe. It is available as a plug-in pheromone diffuser, spray, or pheromone-impregnated collar. Adaptil is completely safe, does not contain any drugs and has no side effect, but can be a great aid in helping calm anxious dogs. Vetopia.com stocks a full range of Adaptil products here.

Medication

Lastly, in some cases medication such as Clomicalm can provide a real assistance to dogs with severe thunderstorm anxiety. If you feel that you pet is really nervous and is not responding to training, discussing clomicalm with your vet or an animal behavioural specialist may be a good idea. Vets and veterinary behavioural specialists are listed in our Useful Vet Contacts in Hong Kong section.