Thunderstorms and Easing Your Pets’ Fear

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It is still relevantly unknown as to why some pets become afraid of noises such as thunderstorms.  This is a common problem in dogs, but less so in cats. The fear can soon become a phobia for a pet causing irrational fear response(s) and behavior issues. In the case of thunderstorms, pets may be fearful of storm-associated events such as a change in barometric pressure, lightning, electrostatic disturbances, and even smells associated with the storms. Noise phobias can include fear of thunder and severe gusts of wind knocking down larger outdoor items.

Some studies suggest that certain breeds of dogs have an above average risk of developing noise phobias. These include such breeds as: Collies, German Shepherds, Beagles, and Basset Hounds. A noise phobia may be traced to a particular bad experience of a noise, but often, no triggering event can be ascertained. In most cases, the fear of noises and storms can progressively worsen. Over time, a pet may become fearful of similar sounds or events associated with the noise.

Lange Animal Clinic veterinarians in Pekin, IL believe that an owner’s attitude can influence the severity of the fear. For instance, if owners themselves are nervous during storms, noise phobias in their pets may occur more often or become more severe. Similarly, if the owner attempts to overly comfort the animal, the animal interprets it as confirming there really is something to be afraid of. The over petting or comforting is really positive reinforcement of an undesirable behavior.

Signs or behaviors to watch for during Thunderstorms

Dogs or cats may display different signs of noise phobias which may include one or more of the following:

  • Hiding (most common sign in cats)
  • Urinating
  • Defecating
  • Chewing
  • Panting
  • Pacing
  • Trying to escape (digging, jumping through windows or going through walls, running away)
  • Drooling
  • Seeking the owner
  • Expressing anal glands
  • Not eating
  • Not listening to commands
  • Trembling or shaking
  • Vocalizing (barking or meowing)

Consult with a Lange Animal Clinic veterinarian to help you address any animal behavior problems.  We will assist you in developing the appropriate treatment plan for your pet.

How do you treat noise phobia?

There are no guarantees that a noise phobia can be eliminated completely, but in most cases the fear can be effectively managed. The type of treatment and success levels depend on several factors including the severity of the phobia, how long your pet has had to deal with it, how often it is occurring, seasonality, and the amount of time you are willing to dedicate to correcting the behavior.

The first thing to remember is that you should refrain from giving excessive attention or punishment for fearful behavior. Continuous petting or coddling may be perceived by the pet as a reward for the fearful response. In the event of overcompensating comfort a dog during a storm, for example, it may signal to the pet that the storm really is something he should be afraid of. Similarly, the pet should not be punished for showing fear. This will only increase his anxiety level. Instead, emit confidence, and provide your dog attention in the form of playing, grooming, or other activities he or she enjoys.

The following are some techniques to use to help change the phobia of thunderstorms:

Change the surroundings
By changing the surroundings of the animal during the storm or noise, the anxiety level can be reduced. Changing the pet’s surroundings may reduce the volume level of the sound or help make the pet less aware of it.  “White noise,” such as running a fan or air conditioner may aid in blocking out some of the fear-producing noise. Playing a TV or radio can have a similar effect. Allowing the pet access to the basement or a room without outside walls or windows may decrease the noise level

Exercise your pet (and yourself too!)
The pet should receive consistent exercise on a daily basis, and more so on a day when the thunderous noise occur during storms. The exercise will help to wear down your animal, both mentally and physically, and may reduce the pet’s responsive to the noise. In addition, exercise has the effect of increasing natural serotonin levels, which can act as a sedative.

Create a safety zone for your pet
Pets may feel more comfortable and relaxed in a small space such as a crate or a small room like a bathroom (run the fan and leave the lights on). Some pets seek out the safety of the bathtub or shower during a storm. (Some have hypothesized that a pet may feel less static electricity if on tile or porcelain.) If the pet is comfortable in a crate, the crate can be covered with a blanket to add to the feeling of security. The door to the crate should be left open and the pet should not be confined to the crate, which could dramatically increase the stress level.

Maintain calm and composure
Pets can very easily pickup on the mental state of their owners. If you too are nervous because of the storm- this will only add to the dog or cat’s fear. Your pet will look to you for direction, so keep an “upbeat” and “in charge” attitude.

Maintain good health and nutrition
Health problems may increase the stress level of pets, and increase their anxiety. For instance, a dog in pain because of hip dysplasia may be more irritable and prone to other behavior changes. Diets too high in protein have been linked to some behavioral problems. Consult one of the Lange Animal Clinic veterinarians if you would like advice about changing your pet’s diet.

Special techniques can be used to help change the animal’s response to the noise.  We can offer guidance and suggestions to help.  Second level alternatives may include anti-anxiety medications but we strongly encourage following the above techniques first to identify whether or not success can be achieved using those methods before relying on medications.


For over 45 years, Lange Animal Clinic has provided veterinary services in Pekin, IL and the surrounding areas for over three family generations. Our expert staff of Veterinarians, Veterinary Technicians, and Veterinary Assistants are trained to ensure the best quality medical care for your beloved pets-whether it be as a routine medical examination to more complicated surgical procedures. We are a small companion animal clinic providing services for dogs, cats, and exotic pets.

Dr. Colleen O’Rourke, owner and senior Doctor of Veterinary Medicine, takes great pride in making certain that every patient’s experience is handled with the utmost care, compassion, and economically in the best interests of our clients. Visit us at www.langeanimal.com.  

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