Our dog suffers from thunderstorm anxiety and it is becoming increasingly difficult to deal with. Any advice of how to ease thunderstorm anxiety in pets?
Thunder Troubles in Timbergrove
Dear Thunder Troubles,
It’s very common for pets to have a reaction to thunderstorms–some more severe a reaction than others. Veterinarians don’t know all the triggers but suspect that dogs are set off by some combination of wind, thunder, lightning, barometric pressure changes, static electricity, and the low-frequency rumbles preceding a storm that humans can’t hear. According to one theory, dogs even experience painful shocks from static buildup before the storm.
What can you do to ease your pet’s thunderstorm anxiety? Experts recommend rewarding calm behavior year round. This means practicing getting your dog to settle down on command. Barbara L. Sherman, PhD, DVM, associate professor of veterinary behavior at North Carolina State University College of Veterinary Medicine and a past president of the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists, recommends putting a special “inside” leash on the dog and practice having the pet lie at your feet while praising the calm behavior. “They should practice when there is no storm, so the dog learns the routine,” she says. “When the storm comes up, then they put on the leash and say, ‘Come on and lie down here,’ and the dog still knows what to do.”
It’s also important to give your pet a safe place to go and hide during the storm, if that’s what she wants. Notice where she goes during a storm, and if possible, allow access to it. Be sure your pet can come and go freely, since some animals become more anxious if confined.
You might also consider purchasing a Thundershirt-type of garment for your dog. These snug-fitting shirts for pets have a calming effect similar to swaddling a baby. Providing a gentle “hug” for your pet, these compression garments have been shown to lessen anxiety for some animals.
If all else fails, consult your veterinarian. In extreme cases of thunderstorm anxiety, vets can prescribe medications to address the issue. Dr. Sherman adds, “We have our best luck with a management plan that includes changing some features in the environment, applying some behavior modification techniques, and often some anti-anxiety medication,” Sherman says.
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