Few people are happy to endure the sounds of a severe thunderstorm,
complete with darkening skies, strong winds, flashes of lightning and crashing
thunder. Some people become extremely anxious while for others the fear of
thunderstorms turns into a full-blown phobia.
Some pets, especially dogs, are also affected by thunderstorm anxiety to
varying degrees. While some pets may tremble, whine, pace or hide under the
bed during storms, in more severe cases, panicking dogs have been known to
destroy furniture, jump through windows or otherwise harm themselves during
bad weather. In either case, this type of behavior is the sign of a very unhappy
Fear is a normal response to a fear-inducing situation, whereas phobias are
irrational, extreme reactions in which the fearful response is magnified to the
point of dysfunction. Behaviorists are not sure which part of the storm
frightens pets the most - the lightning flashes and thunder, the winds
blowing around the house or the sound of rain hitting the roof. Some dogs
even show signs of anxiety an hour or more before a storm hits, leading to
the hypothesis that they are reacting to changes in barometric pressure.
Many cats become nervous during storms and generally hide from the
disturbance under beds or in dark, quiet corners. Unlike dogs, they tend to
not progress to the phobic stage - they simply wait out the storm in their
safe place and come out of hiding when the storm has passed.
So what can you do to help your pet deal with thunderstorm anxiety?
Probably the best treatment is avoidance. If there's a place where your
pet feels safe, be it a kennel or crate or a finished basement that is
relatively light and sound proof, you can have your pet ride out the storm
in his safe place.
Another option is desensitization. This approach gradually retrains your
pet by exposing her to gentle reminders of a thunderstorm such as a
recording of distant thunder, and rewarding her for staying calm. The idea
is that over time, the response to the stimulus decreases.
There are a number of natural remedies that work well for mild cases of
thunderstorm anxiety. My favorite is Rescue Remedy, a Bach Flower Essence
blend. There are other natural calming aids available, Holistic Pet Info offers
a good selection along with some good advice on how to handle situations
that cause stress for your pet.
It is important that you remain calm when your pet is afraid. Pets
pick-up on your emotions, and if you're anxious, they'll be anxious as well.
While it's tempting to cuddle and comfort your pet during a storm, in your
pet's mind, this rewards the fearful behavior. It's much better to provide
your pet with a safe, familiar place where he can ride out the storm.
In severe cases, a visit to your veterinarian is in order. Your veterinarian can
prescribe anti-anxiety or anti-depressant medication to help keep your pet
calm during storms.
Ingrid King is a writer, Reiki Master Practitioner and owner of Healing Hands.
She publishes a FREE E-zine with topics ranging from conscious living for you
and your pets to holistic and alternative health topics. Healing Hands provides
Reiki for pets and people. Ingrid also hosts a popular blog, "The Conscious Cat".
She is the author of "Buckley's Story - Lessons from a Feline Master Teacher",
to be published later this year. For more information about Ingrid and Healing
Hands, please visit www.pethealing.net.