Thunderstorm season approaches! Is your dog ready??
Perhaps it’s time I addressed this issue (again!), since so many of you are experiencing the same kind of storms I’ve been trying hard to sleep through for the past couple of nights:
Yes, it’s thunderstorm season. Yes, it’s great for your garden. And yes, it sucks for your thunderstorm-phobic dog.
She may take flight to the closet, bathtub or bed. He may quake and quiver by your feet. She may even claw through her crate. Maybe one year he even tried to fly through the window (while it was closed).
Thunderstorm phobia is a potentially serious behavioral “disease.” Though your friends, family (and maybe even your veterinarian) may make fun or minimize your dog’s suffering, those of you who have experienced the angst of a severe sufferer know better.
The crazed anxiety of an afflicted dog is hard to watch. I’ve lived with one moderate sufferer and currently live with one mildly affected version. But I’ve seen the videos...and the aftermath, of course:
- Bloody toenails torn or shredded to stubs on crates, windows, doors, walls...anything.
- Fractured teeth from gnawing at enclosures or flinging themselves at walls and windows.
- Bruises, broken legs, lacerations, eye injuries, etc.
I once even saw a neighbor’s dog hit by a car as he raced away from his home during a thunderstorm. He was notoriously thunderstorm phobic and was left outside for a few minutes when one of our fast-moving South Florida storms suddenly blew in. He died in the back of my car on the way to the hospital.
Then there’s the psychological damage:
Veterinary behaviorists preach the gospel of sensitization. They’ve studied these dogs and recognize that dogs become increasingly sensitive to storms. Each successive season brings with it a fresh round of fear as lightning crashes and thunder rolls, re-awaking an even higher level of alarm than they experienced the year before.
That’s why your dog seems to get worse and worse as he ages...until he begins to lose his hearing (which can be a blessing for these dogs).
The risk to the dog’s body is hard to deny. But sadly, the psychological aspects are too often swept under the rug. Unless the dogs violently react, dogs are not considered severely affected.
Yet I agree with the veterinary behaviorists on this one: The mental health aspects of this disorder generally proves a greater risk to any affected dog’s well-being––whether the disease means hiding under the bed in a quivering mass or hurling himself at the bars of his crate.
Then there are the misconceptions:
- That dogs suffering from storm phobia should not be “coddled” or reassured, as it “reinforces the behavior.”
- That nothing can be done for these dogs.
- That dogs must never receive drugs for this condition...
- ...or the reverse extreme: that they must be zonked with drugs.
Regardless of what you might have heard, there IS a prescribed way to treat this condition. I repeat it every year. In case you missed it the first three times, here it is again, lifted from a previous post:
1. Behavior modification, using storm-sound CDs (played at an increasing volume while providing a positive stimulus like petting and treats), is a great place to start for the vast majority of pets. Try to find a CD with sounds recorded in your area for maximum benefit.
2. Natural therapies like lavender oil (recently found to reduce car anxiety in dogs), ProQuiet (a tryptophan syrup), and canine pheromone sprays or collars (like DAP) can be helpful for the mildly affected.
Veterinary behaviorists also recommend blankets that work to shield dogs from the electromagnetic changes perceptible during electrical storms (Anxiety Wrap and Storm Defender are two brands available online). Alternatively, a double coating of aluminum foil over a crate (secured with and hidden by a blanket) can do the same job.
3. Pharmaceutical intervention, the most common approach for severe cases, is also the one most fraught with complications. Usually, this method is reserved for our most anxious and self-destructive patients, or for dogs at the outset of their behavior modification regimens.
Creative combinations of anti-anxiety drugs (like Xanax) with Prozac-like drugs (like Clomicalm or Reconcile) seem to help many of our most serious sufferers. But remember, no drug is a substitute for behavior modification.
4. Reassurance and safety through crating (if you're not home) or providing a positive stimulus (like petting and treats) can be helpful. Try also drowning out sounds with a radio or white noise machine.
Describing the symptoms of thunderstorm phobia to your vet should elicit more than just sympathy. Ask about the above-mentioned therapies and how best to implement them. Remember, addressing the problem earlier generally means less stress, fear and pain later.
So here’s where I ask: Is YOUR dog ready for thunderstorm season?