How to Help Relieve Storm Anxiety in Your Dog

May 15, 2024

Warmer weather and longer days mean great things for us and our dogs! But…they also bring along the inevitable thunderstorms that can turn our easy-going dogs into panicked, panting messes. While the precise triggers of this fear (or phobia) are not entirely clear, it’s evident that without proper intervention, storm anxiety can escalate, significantly diminishing your dog’s quality of life. So, whether it’s loud noises, changes in barometric pressure, or increased static that brings about storm anxiety in your dog, we want to give some suggestions to help!

Dog Storm Anxiety: Is it Fear or Phobia?

Understanding whether your dog experiences fear or a phobia of storms is really important in determining the right approach for management. What’s the difference? Well, for starters, fear is a natural and intuitive response to a perceived threat, which often involves loud noises and flashes in the case of storms. From an evolutionary standpoint, fear of storms probably saved many lives!

Storm Phobia, on the other hand, refers to an excessive and irrational fear response that is disproportionate to the actual danger presented by the storm. This is when storm anxiety symptoms seem off the charts, and you’re not really sure how to help your dog feel safe. From a scientific perspective, the distinction often lies in the severity and the physical responses observed. Fear response may include looking for safety, clinginess, minimal whining and a general uncomfortable disposition, but not to the point where you can’t manage and distract to get through the storm.

A dog with a phobia will exhibit extreme behaviors such as uncontrolled shaking, destructiveness, or even self-harm, often triggered by minimal storm cues. These reactions are linked to their amygdala, an area of the brain responsible for processing emotions, which becomes overly active during phobias.

Symptoms of Storm Phobia in Dogs:

As we said, storm phobia in dogs involves more intense and sometimes destructive behaviors, as the dog’s anxiety escalates into irrational and overwhelming fear.

  1. Destructive Behavior: In an attempt to escape or hide, dogs may chew through barriers, scratch doors and windows, or destroy household items.
  2. Self-Injury: The panic induced by storms can lead dogs to injure themselves by crashing into windows, chewing on their paws, or hitting against walls.
  3. Loss of Control: Dogs might lose control over their bladder or bowels during storms, which is a sign of extreme distress.
  4. Attempted Escapes: Dogs with a severe phobia may desperately try to escape from the house, leading to potentially dangerous situations.
  5. Changes in Behavior Post-Storm: Some dogs may remain withdrawn, subdued, or unusually reactive even after the storm has passed, indicating a profound impact on their mental state.

Why Do Dogs Hate Thunderstorms?

Dogs’ negative reactions to thunderstorms are pretty intense because they have sharp senses. They take information in and process several sensory things they may not understand, and several facets of thunderstorms can affect them biologically.

Loud Noises and the Canine Nervous System

Thunderstorms produce a range of loud noises, from the deep rumbling of thunder to the sudden sharp cracks that can occur without warning. Dogs have a much more sensitive hearing range than humans, and they can detect lower and higher frequencies. This acute hearing can make the intense volume of thunder super alarming and scary stimulus for them. What’s happening is that the loud noises trigger a sudden release of stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol in dogs. These hormones prepare the body for a fight-or-flight response. While this is a normal survival mechanism, in typical situations where the noise is non-threatening to their actual safety, it can cause them unnecessary stress and fear.

Visual Stimulation by Lightning

The flashing lights of lightning are not only unusual but also unpredictable. Dogs, like humans, may be startled by sudden changes in light, especially when they are as intense and irregular as those produced during a storm. Dogs’ eyes can detect quicker movements and changes in brightness, which makes lightning flashing particularly startling. The sudden illumination followed by darkness can cause temporary disorientation and anxiety, mainly because they don’t have the insight we do–they don’t know it’s just a storm that will pass.

Atmospheric Pressure Changes

From a meteorological perspective, thunderstorms bring significant changes in atmospheric pressure. Not all humans may consciously detect these changes, but dogs are more sensitive to shifts in the environment. Just like in those humans who can feel the pressure changes, the change in atmospheric pressure can be painful for dogs too. It’s similar to how some people might feel bodily discomfort or ear popping with altitude changes. Dogs might react by appearing uneasy, pacing, or being unusually vocal and panting.

Static Electricity Buildup

Another factor that may play a part in why dogs hate thunderstorms is the buildup of static electricity during thunderstorms. This static can cause tingling sensations on dogs’ fur and skin, which is a bit uncomfortable for them, and they don’t know what’s going on. In some cases, the buildup of static electricity can be enough to give dogs mild shocks, similar to the static shocks humans experience in dry weather after walking on carpet. For a dog, this sensation is often out of the blue and scary, not to mention confusing, and adds to their anxiety about the noises and flashes they already have.

Overall Sensory Overload

The combination of loud noises, flashing lights, changing pressures, and unexpected static buildup can lead to what’s essentially a sensory overload for dogs. This overwhelming plate of stimuli can disrupt their calm and trigger an anxiety response that makes them do some crazy things.

But, think about it…imagine you’re in a room where lights flash unpredictably, a sound system alternates between silence and deafening noise, and occasionally you receive small shocks. Not something you’re super excited about, right? This is why dogs, with their heightened senses, can find thunderstorms not just unpleasant, but really problematic.

Planning Ahead: The Key to Managing Anxiety For Storm Anxiety Symptoms

Before the storm clouds gather, it’s important to be proactive. Keeping an eye on the weather forecast allows you to prepare and act before your dog becomes overwhelmed by anxiety. Here are several strategies that may help your dog in a storm.

  1. Create a Safe Space For Them:
    Find a space where your dog feels secure during storms—this could be a basement, a closet under the stairs, their crate, or even a bathtub. Odd as it might sound, the tile or porcelain in bathrooms may lessen the static your dog feels. Make sure they can freely enter and exit this space to avoid them feeling like they’re trapped. The goal is to give them a den-like hiding space for them to feel comfortable in.
  2. Comfort with Compression:
    Consider a thunder shirt, which mimics the snugness of a swaddle. Introduce your dog to this garment under calm conditions, using treats for positive reinforcement. This association helps them accept the garment as a comfort, not a restraint, when storms strike. The compression can really help with overstimulation.
  3. Soothing Sounds:
    Drown out the disturbing noises of thunder with calming music. Classical tunes like Bach or Mozart have proven soothing for pets. Avoid loud or jarring music, which could exacerbate their stress. Consider something scientifically designed to calm dogs during storms or periods of anxiety.
  4. Synthetic Pheromones:
    Products that mimic the calming pheromones of a nursing mother dog may help ease your dog’s anxiety. These can be shared through diffusers, collars, or sprays, and they are imperceptible to humans while simultaneously affecting dog behavior.
  5. Desensitization Techniques:
    In quieter times, gradually introduce your dog to recorded storm sounds at low volumes, increasing the sound gradually as they become accustomed. Pair these sessions with positive activities like play or treats to build tolerance. If your dog associates storm signs as lots of love, cuddles, treats and good things, they may not be as nervous.
  6. Medication and Professional Help:
    If you must, consult a vet, particularly if there’s significant self-harm on your dog’s part. Because timing is crucial for effectiveness, you might need to administer meds hours before a storm or maintain a low dosage during peak season. Additionally, a professional behaviorist may offer tailored strategies that align with your dog’s specific needs.
  7. Remaining Calm and Patient
    It’s essential to remain composed and patient. Your calm demeanor can influence your dog’s reactions and help them feel safer. Never punish your dog for anxiety-driven behaviors; remember, they are acting out of fear, not disobedience, even if it drives you nuts.

Why Does The Gut-Brain Axis Matter?

The gut-brain axis matters. What’s that, you ask? Think of it like a two-way street between your dog’s gut and its brain. This is a communication line that allows the gut and the brain to send signals back and forth. This connection involves nerves, hormones (which are like body messengers), and the immune system (the body’s defense forces). More and more research shows that the gut and brain work in tandem in so many ways, and that could include reactions to storms. Here’s a bit more on how it works:

  1. Nerves Connect Them: The biggest player in the gut-brain axis is the vagus nerve, which runs from the brain to the gut. It’s like a high-speed cable that transmits signals quickly. If your dog’s gut is upset, it sends signals to the brain that might make your dog feel anxious or down.
  2. Hormones Tell The Stories: The gut produces tons of hormones. These chemicals can affect how your dog feels. For example, a lot of serotonin (the feel-good hormone) is made in the gut. If the gut is healthy, it’s more likely to produce enough serotonin to keep your dog happy. That’s super important when they may be prone to being afraid or anxious.
  3. Immune System Links: The gut also plays a crucial role in your dog’s immune system. If the gut is healthy, the immune system is more balanced and less likely to overreact. A calm immune system means less inflammation, which can also affect the brain and mood positively. This makes a difference in storm response too.

Keeping your dog’s gut in good shape with the right diet and supplements like prebiotics, probiotics, and digestive enzymes can help keep their mood up and anxiety down. This is because a healthy gut sends happy signals to the brain, helping your dog feel less stressed and more at ease, even during noisy thunderstorms!

And that’s why we created Perfect Poop. We took the best ingredients and combined them into delicious formulas dogs love. We know that healthy dogs are happy dogs, and that’s super important during storms.

As dog parents, we want to help our dogs get through whatever brings them discomfort, and with Perfect Poop in every meal, we can help their gut be the first line of defense against ANYthing that makes them anxious or upset. Even those nasty thunderstorms with all that scary lightning

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