Many of our canine companions seem to have a serious hatred of thunderstorms. In some cases, it escalates to the level of a phobia. So Why do dogs hate thunder?
Storm anxiety is an extremely common issue in companion dogs.
Experts estimate that at least 30% of pet dogs have some level of thunder anxiety (although it is interestingly very rare in cats).
If you are struggling with a dog who is terrified of thunder and lightning, you are definitely not alone.
Luckily, there are some resources available to help you.
In this article, we will explore some of the theories about why dogs hate thunder.
We will also give you tips for soothing your nervous pet during thunderstorms.
Why Are Dogs Scared of Thunderstorms?
Why are so many dogs terrified of thunder?
The honest answer is that we do not know, and we may never completely understand.
However, we do have a few theories. Let’s dive into them below.
A Drop in Barometric Pressure
Barometric pressure is the weight of the atmosphere around us.
Some experts believe that dogs can feel the drop in barometric pressure that precedes a thunderstorm.
This means that the air actually feels different to dogs when a storm is approaching.
We do not know what this feels like to dogs, but it could feel really weird or unpleasant. It might even cause mild discomfort, especially for dogs with joint issues like arthritis.
Low barometric pressure can definitely have an impact on tissues and joints.
Low barometric pressure seems to be correlated with greater discomfort and stiffness in an animal’s joints.
Some scientists believe that a dip in pressure can also have an impact on the behavior of dogs (and other animals including humans).
Other scientists have discovered that during thunderstorms, dogs can actually get a buildup of static electricity in their fur.
If they touch something metal, they could accidentally give themselves a small electrical shock.
It would likely feel similar to the sensation that we get when we are unloading staticky laundry from the dryer.
The uncertainty of if and when they might receive an uncomfortable shock could be the cause of some of their anxiety.
A lot of dogs simply seem to dislike the weird noises that accompany a storm.
The wind, the rain, the rustling branches, and of course the crashing thunder.
If your dog tends to be sensitive to noises in general (i.e. fireworks, smoke alarms, etc.), he or she will probably have a negative reaction to thunder.
For other dogs, the scariest part of the storm seems to be the flashing of the lightening.
Some dogs will panic and try to hide under furniture or bolt for the hills every time lightning flashes across the sky.
Owners may find that these dogs are also sensitive to camera flashes and other bursts of light.
Many dogs absolutely hate the sensation of getting wet.
If your dog was previously a stray, he or she may have had a traumatic experience of being trapped outdoors in a rainstorm.
What Does Thunder Phobia Look Like?
The technical name for the fear of thunder is “astraphobia.”
Astraphobia is common in many dogs, although there are differing levels of severity of this phobia.
Some cases are mild while others are very severe.
Mild fear of thunder is fairly manageable.
Below are some of the symptoms of mild astraphobia:
- Seeking comfort from humans
Thunder phobia can also be extremely severe.
A dog with severe astraphobia can be a danger to himself or others.
Here are some of the signs of severe astraphobia:
- Destroying furniture
- Trying to bolt or escape
- Chewing through walls or doors
- Jumping through glass windows
- Uncontrollable diarrhea or vomiting
- Severe change in behavior
Dealing with Storm Phobia
Dealing with storm anxiety can be difficult and frustrating. Below are some ideas to help you and your dog work through this issue.
If your dog has extreme storm phobia, we highly recommend consulting with your veterinarian and a professional positive reinforcement dog trainer.
You can try to desensitize your dog to thunder by providing good experiences in association with thunderstorms.
This works especially well if you have a young dog or a dog with mild anxiety.
Teach your dog that good things happen during rainstorms!
Use a happy voice and say, “yay, we love thunder,” when there is a loud boom.
Give your dog tasty treats and enrichment items during the storm.
Over time, this will help your dog understand that storms are not that scary. In fact, they can be pretty enjoyable.
You can even set up practice sessions before a real storm hits.
You can play recorded thunderstorms on a CD or on YouTube to help your dog get used to the noises before an actual storm comes your way.
Again, this is ideal for puppies, adolescents, and dogs with mild nervousness. It likely won’t be highly effective with more extreme cases.
Another good option is to have a stockpile of distracting enrichment activities.
You can bring out a new, special activity when you hear a storm approaching. This will focus your dog’s attention on something else and also provide an enjoyable experience during the scary event.
The enrichment item should definitely involve treats or food. A plain old squeaky toy or tennis ball probably won’t cut it.
For example, you might want to have a few stuffed Kongs in your freezer at all times to whip out at the first peals of thunder.
Here are some other enrichment activities to keep in your stockpile:
Note- please supervise your pet with any new toy or treat to prevent choking.
If your dog tends to “guard” his food or treats, give your dog the enrichment item in his crate so he will not be disturbed while he is chewing on it.
Create a Soothing Environment
Provide your dog with a place where he will feel safe. Dogs especially like a space that feels like a “den.”
Lots of dogs enjoy the comfort of a crate or a small, dark room during a thunderstorm.
Play peaceful instrumental music or white noise to help drown out the sounds of the storm. There are plenty of options available on YouTube.
Draw the blinds to block out the lightening flashes.
Try a Thundershirt
A Thundershirt is a calming wrap that you can purchase for your pet.
It fits snugly around your dog’s torso and helps him relax by applying steady pressure to certain parts of the body.
It uses the same principals as swaddling a newborn baby.
The Thundershirt does not always work for all dogs, but it is definitely worth a try.
Calming Treats and Plugins
The company that makes Thundershirts, Thunderworks, also makes calming treats and calming pheromone diffusers.
The diffusers release an odor (not detectable by people) that mimics the relaxing pheromone released by mother dogs when they are nursing their puppies.
You can also purchase the pheromone in a spray bottle so that you can spray it on your dog’s bed or on a bandana that they can wear around their necks. Do not spray it directly onto your dog, though.
If your dog has severe storm anxiety, talk with your veterinarian about trying an anti-anxiety medication.
These meds can be very helpful for dogs with extreme phobias.
They are prescription only, so you can only get them from a licensed veterinarian.
Your vet can help you determine the right brand and dosage for your dog.
If you feel like your dog’s storm anxiety is negatively impacting his quality of life, this could make a big difference.
It Is Ok to Comfort Your Dog
Some people will tell you not to comfort your dog because you are “encouraging the behavior.”
This is not the case.
Gently comforting your dog when he is scared will not promote fearful behavior, so you can go ahead and soothe your petrified best friend.