Why Are Dogs Scared Of Thunder?
And how to help your pet through the thunderstorm 🌩
If you have a dog, you’ve definitely seen it before — as soon as a storm starts to roll in, your dog hides. At every clap of thunder, he’s cowering in the corner.
Seeing your dog so scared is an awful feeling, and it’s even worse when you don’t know how to help him.
Lots of dogs get super stressed out and are afraid of loud noises, but why are dogs scared of thunder? And how can you help your pet?
To find out why and to give you tips on how to help your dog, we spoke to Dr. Stephanie Austin, a veterinarian at Bond Vet. (So next time it storms, you and your pup will know how to relax.)
Why are dogs scared of thunder?
Lots of dogs are scared of thunder simply because they don’t know what that loud noise is.
“For most dogs, fear or anxiety during thunderstorms is associated with the noise of the thunder,” Dr. Austin told The Dodo. “These dogs might have similar responses to other loud noises, such as fireworks.”
Dogs are more sensitive to loud noises than people because their hearing is more developed than ours. Thunder in particular can seem threatening since they don’t know what it is or where it’s coming from.
Dogs are also more in touch with other changes that happen when a storm comes, like changes in air pressure, increased static electricity and low-frequency sounds of thunder that people can’t hear.
“Sometimes any part of the storm (barometric pressure changes, rain, strong winds) can trigger a fear response because a dog will associate these things with an oncoming storm,” Dr. Austin said.
Even though we may not be able to sense when the air pressure and static electricity change before a storm, dogs can (almost like a sixth sense) — which contributes to making them scared!
How to help a dog who's scared of thunder
It’s not fun to see your pup scared or anxious, but there are some things you can do to try to ease his anxiety.
Socialize your dog
If you have a new puppy, try to expose him to as many new things as possible early on.
“One way to reduce the chances of a dog developing anxiety is by socializing a dog at a young age,” Dr. Austin said. “This means exposing a young dog to all different stimuli — new places, smells, people and noises.”
If your dog isn’t used to experiencing new things, he may be more likely to get scared when he hears a new sound, like thunder. So let your dog get as many new experiences as possible when he’s a puppy so that new sights, sounds and smells won’t send him running later on.
Give your dog a safe space
If your dog is scared of thunder, you might have seen him hide during a storm before. This is part of the “fight, flight or freeze” response, Dr. Austin said.
“A dog might hide in a place where they feel safe because it makes them feel more comfortable and secure,” Dr. Austin said.
You can help your pup feel safe by making sure he has his own designated place to go when he gets anxious.
“Give your dog access to a place they feel comfortable, where they will be safe if they get startled,” Dr. Austin said. “This could be a small room with a dog bed, or even a closet — see where your dog naturally goes during a storm.”
Also be sure that your dog is safe inside during a storm.
“It’s important to remember the ‘flight’ part of the fear response is also a possibility, so it’s important to make sure a dog can’t run outside and get lost or injured when they’re startled,” Dr. Austin said.
Lots of dogs run away when they get scared (July 4th is the most common day for dogs to go missing because of the fireworks), and you don’t want your pup to go missing during a storm!
Make sure he’s microchipped, just in case he ever does escape.
Don’t make a big deal out of the storm or your dog’s anxiety — if you fuss over your dog, he’ll think there’s a good reason for him to be scared.
“Be calm yourself, as dogs can pick up on our emotions,” Dr. Austin said.
If your dog has any accidents when he gets scared, don’t yell at him or scold him because that will only make him more anxious.
Basically, if you freak out, your dog will freak out, so set a good example. Staying calm will show your dog that there’s nothing to worry about.
Distract your dog
Try to distract your dog so he doesn’t even realize there’s a storm! Play music or put on the TV to drown out the noise.
You can also play with your dog if he’s feeling up to it — toys that require some mental work can be especially helpful to draw his attention away from the thunder.
This puzzle toy earned The Dodo’s Paw of Approval, and may keep your pup so busy that he’ll forget there’s a storm. You can get it from Amazon for $13.
You can also just pet your pup and give him treats! Make sure he has positive associations with thunderstorms.
Talk to your vet
If all else fails, talk to your vet!
Your vet will be able to recommend some ways to help your pup’s anxiety. Some options are natural calming remedies, like pheromone diffusers (DAP or dog-appeasing pheromone) or a ThunderShirt, Dr. Austin said.
A ThunderShirt is a vest that fits snugly to ease anxiety. You can get this ThunderShirt from Chewy for $45.
If your dog has severe anxiety, and nothing seems to be working, your vet might give you a prescription medicine.
“Talk to your vet about whether your dog could benefit from a supplement, or even from a prescription medication if their symptoms are severe,” Dr. Austin said.
Seeing your pup scared or anxious is sad, but with these tips and some time and patience, you can help him feel safe (and even a little brave) next time there’s a thunderstorm.
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