Thunderstorms in Miami are just one of the perks of life in paradise. While hurricane threats are few and far between, T-storms are a seasonal luxury we can always count on. Problem is, some of my patients don’t share my appreciation for a good storm.


Thunderstorm phobia is a common (and understandable) behavior malady for many dogs. Cats seem to weather them well, but there not exactly given to public display of emotion. And while most dogs don’t warm to even the gentlest rumbling Bob Seger sound of thunder, some special cases respond by giving new meaning to the term, freaked out.


This behavior problem is not like most others. It has truly severe consequences. In vet school, one of my classmate’s dogs jumped out a [closed] fourth storey window. Luckily, she landed on the balcony two floors down—only a couple of fractures. Last year, I saw one of my neighbor’s dogs hit and killed by a car after he scaled an eight-foot cinder block wall to escape the sound of thunder.


I have two of these severe cases under my care at the moment. During this season (August through October) I see them at least once a week. Despite heavy medication, they still manage to hurt themselves.


Torn claws and broken teeth are typical, especially when their moms haven’t managed to race home in time to prevent an all-out assault on the heavy-metal crates these pups need. One of these dogs was in two days ago to have his tail amputated after he chewed the end to a non-healing, bloody stump. That’s fear.


Both dogs receive clomipramine (Clomicalm) and fluoxetine (Prozac). They also receive alprazolam (Xanax) or acepromazine on an as-needed basis. We’re thinking of playing with our drug protocols again, or simply upping the Xanax to use daily during the worst weeks of the season. Considering the damage they do to themselves, it’s worth a try.


Before embarking on the medications, and now as an adjunct to medical therapy, I have the owners play thunderstorm CDs daily while stroking and feeding their dogs. Although owner compliance is low on this method, I always recommend this to all my thunderstorm phobia cases, not just my worst.


The biggest problem? Most owners just don’t take the condition seriously enough. Some even think it’s funny that their dog hides in the bathtub or in the closet during bad storms. Many would never consider medicating their dog but still refuse to play the CDs. They think I’m absolutely out of my mind to suggest these things. Yet they won’t shy away from remarking on the dog’s problem when they bring them in for the third time with ripped up pads. Lost causes—the people, I mean.


It’s so sad to think some dogs respond so disproportionately to what should be a normal instinct: hide when it storms. I always wonder what bizarre changes must have occurred in their brains for this self-destructive response to kick in. I guess it’s no different from what people do to themselves to escape their depressions or psychoses.


Hopefully we’ll have new and better drug protocols on the horizon. Every year it seems I read something new on the subject. Maybe after Katrina, people are finally starting to wake up to the reality of storm phobia.



Image: ttarasiuk / Flickr