Whoosh, flash… boom! Do thunderstorms make your dog quiver, cower and hide?

Experts don’t know why some pups are so bothered by storms, while others don’t flinch, but issues with noise tend to occur in canines who have other fear-related problems, such as separation anxiety. This link suggests that there may be a genetic predisposition to storm stress.

What to Do When a Storm Strikes

According to board-certified veterinary behaviorist Dr. Karen Sueda, DVM, of the VCA West Los Angeles Animal Hospital, there are two ways to approach storm-induced panic. The first pertains to coping with the dog’s fear while the thunderstorm is happening — and the second involves preparing for future storms.

Dr. Sueda offers three key ways to help your dog when a storm hits:

Make sure that your pooch has a safe place to retreat. This could be a crate, a spare bedroom or simply a quiet room with closed windows — and possibly some background music — to block out the sounds of heavy rain and high winds.

Be there for your dog, but don’t coddle her. Overly comforting your pup may reinforce the fearful behavior, making it harder to weather future storms. Stay in the same room as your dog, but don’t overattend to her. Instead, distract her by offering to play with toys, and reward calm behavior. If she’s too nervous to play, simply sit in the same space with her.

Try to stay calm yourself. A placid owner will further help a dog to relax.

How to Prep Before the Next Storm

Once you know that your dog suffers from storm stress, there are a few things that Dr. Sueda says you can do to address the anxiety ahead of time:

Start the process of desensitizing your dog to storm noises. Consider investing in a CD of thunderstorm sounds for dogs, which can be played to gradually get the pup used to hearing the crack of lightning and the whoosh of wind. At first, you play the sounds very low while the dog is doing an activity that she loves — such as eating or playing — and then you gradually increase the volume level over time.

Look into calming pressure wraps. Similar to baby swaddle blankets, these shirts and coats help to reduce anxiety by enabling dogs to feel snug. “It’s the equivalent of giving your pet a remote hug when you can’t be there,” says Dr. Sueda. Some versions have a lining that combats static electricity, which some experts believe contributes to storm anxiety. Just be sure to discuss this option with your veterinarian first, and take care to ensure that your pet won’t get overheated in the garment.

Consider a natural calming product. A dog appeasing pheromone (D.A.P.) is designed to help reduce stress levels by mimicking naturally calming and comforting pheromones. A plug-in diffuser can gradually release the pheromone over a month, or you can spritz the product when the forecast calls for thunderstorms. Another option: Speak to your vet about calming treats that contain anti-anxiety nutraceuticals like tryptophan, L-theanine, vitamin B1 or colostrum complex. “I find that they are best [when] given prior to the storm or onset of anxiety,” says Dr. Sueda.

If these at-home strategies and tools don’t do the trick, talk to your vet about other treatment options, such as working with a veterinary behaviorist or trying a short-term anti-anxiety medication for a dog who has a severe reaction, like destructive chewing.

These measures can help reduce anxiety, prevent self-injury and improve a dog’s — and owner’s — quality of life.

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