Are Cats Afraid of Thunderstorms?

Janelle Priestas, DVM
Written by:
Published: June 27, 2022
Are Cats Afraid of Thunderstorms?

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What Is Thunderstorm Phobia in Cats?

Thunderstorm phobia in cats is an exaggerated fear response to storm conditions such as thunder, lightning, heavy rain, and strong winds.

Because thunderstorms are loud, bright, and sudden, they can alarm anyone, including an already nervous cat. Cats with thunderstorm phobia immediately become anxious when they hear a storm approaching, and they sense changes in barometric pressure before and during a storm. 

Symptoms of Thunderstorm Phobia in Cats

Symptoms can include:

  • Hiding

  • Shaking

  • Drooling

  • Panting

  • Acting restless

  • Panicking/bolting

  • Increased vocalizing

  • Inappropriate urination/defecation

  • Decreased appetite

  • Destructive behavior

  • Increased heart rate (tachycardia)

Causes of Thunderstorm Phobia in Cats

Cats with thunderstorm phobia respond with fear to loud and unexpected noises and unexpected flashes of light. Like many other animals, cats are also sensitive to and detect subtle changes in the atmosphere’s pressure brought on by thunderstorms.

Some cats from unknown, abusive, or neglectful backgrounds may also be more fearful of storms, and loud noises may be triggering. Cats tend to have a flight response in uncertain situations. If there is a history of confinement, neglect, or a situation where a cat is unable to escape, it may exacerbate the potential for phobias to develop.

How Veterinarians Diagnose Thunderstorm Phobia in Cats

Veterinarians diagnose thunderstorm phobia in cats by:

  • Asking about the history of your cat’s suspected storm fear

  • Performing a complete physical exam to rule out other ailments or diseases (if a cat is hiding more than usual and not acting like itself for longer periods of time, there may be an underlying medical issue)

  • Ordering a blood test to see if there are changes in red and/or white blood cell numbers and elevated blood sugar (glucose)

    • Increases in red and white blood cell counts can occur in times of stress, although increased red blood cell counts secondary to stress are more common in dogs

    • Elevated blood glucose is extremely common in stressed cats

Treatment of Thunderstorm Phobia in Cats

Treatment of thunderstorm phobia in cats may include:

  • Prescription medications such as acepromazine, gabapentin, and trazodone, which all typically have sedative effects

  • OTC supplements such as oral calming chews and treats that contain tryptophan, Zylkene, hemp, and/or colostrum

Tryptophan is a building block for serotonin and melatonin, both of which can cause relaxation and sleepiness. For Zylkene, there has been research around a substance in the mother’s milk that might contribute to relaxation for newborns after nursing. Alpha-casozepine, the unique-derived protein in Zylkene, promotes a sense of relation and is a non-sedative.

While the use of hemp is still being researched in cats, it may have calming effects that act on receptors in the brain. However, the use of hemp in cats and dogs is still controversial to many veterinarians. There has been little research on colostrum to determine if it has a calming effect, but it may help  alleviate anxiety-related digestion issues.

4 Ways to Calm Thunderstorm Phobia in Cats

In addition to a treatment plan that may include medication, there are some additional ways you can help to calm your cat, including:

  • Using feline pheromone-based calming diffusers. The Feliway is a diffuser that is plugged into an electrical outlet and emits the pheromone into a small space.

  • Using compression vests. The ThunderShirt is a compression vest that creates a security blanket to keep your cat calm.

  • Creating a small and quiet safe space where your cat can take refuge with a favorite bed/blanket/toy/treat

  • Snuggling up with your cat in a quiet room (if your cat is scared but does not try to run or hide)

Recovery and Management of Thunderstorm Phobia in Cats

While some cats may become fully desensitized to thunderstorms after receiving treatment, other cats may have a lifelong phobia.

It is important to be consistent with the approach you choose to calm your cat. It is equally important to try different approaches (as recommended above) if one approach doesn’t seem to be working after several attempts.

Thunderstorm Phobia in Cats FAQs

Why are pets scared of thunderstorms?

Thunderstorms are loud, bright, and sudden, which can alarm a cat who is afraid. A cat with thunderstorm phobia reacts with fear to thunder, lightning, heavy rain, and strong winds. Cats may even sense changes in the barometric pressure before and during a storm.

Is it normal for my cat to be afraid of storms?

While thunderstorm phobia is more common in dogs, cats may be afraid of storms as well. Some cats respond with fear to loud and unexpected noises, and to unexpected flashes of light brought on by storms. Cats may also be sensitive to and detect subtle changes in the barometric pressure of the atmosphere. Some cats from unknown, abusive, or neglected backgrounds may also be more fearful of storms.         

Featured Image: iStock.com/Oksana Smyshliaeva


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