Fear of Thunderstorms

Fear of thunderstorms and other forms of noise phobias are a common problem in dogs.

Fear of thunderstorms and other forms of noise phobias are a common problem in dogs, as well as some cats. Characterised by persistent, excessive and irrational fear responses, these  worries often become phobias. With thunderstorms, pets may also be afraid of storm-associated events, such as a change in barometric pressure, lightning, electrostatic disturbances and even smells associated with the storms. Noise phobias can also include fear of firecrackers, gunshots, or even the sound of birds.

A noise phobia may be traced to a particular bad experience, altho’ the triggering event cannot always be pinpointed. In almost all instances, the fear of noises and storms escalates, worsening with each exposure. Soon the pet may become fearful of similar sounds or events associated with the noise. For example, a pet fearful of thunder may also become afraid of rain.

Different animals may display various signs of noise phobias which include: Chewing,  Defecating, Dilated pupils, Drooling, Expressing anal glands, Hiding (most common sign in cats), Not eating, Not listening to commands, Pacing, Panting, Seeking the owner, Trembling  or shaking, Trying to escape (digging, jumping through windows or going through walls,  running away), Urinating, Vocalizing (barking or meowing).

Treatment usually includes three parts – medications, environmental change and behaviour modification. Alternative therapies can be useful. These include flower essences such as  Emergency Essence. It will take effect within an hour of administration and should be given prior to the storm or other fear-producing events.

Environment: Anxiety levels can be reduced by changing the animals environment during the storm, thus reducing the noise level or help make the pet less aware of it.

Exercise: Pets benefit from vigorous exercise on a day when the fear-producing noise is likely to occur, as it helps tire the animal, thus making them less responsive to the noise, whilst increasing natural serotonin levels, which can act as a sedative.

Keep Calm: Pets are very aware of their owners mental state. If you are worried or nervous, this will add to the pet’s fear. Your pet will look to you for direction.

Noise level: ‘White noise’ such as a radio or TV may help in blocking out some of the fear- producing noise. Closing windows and curtains may help decreases the noise level.

Safe haven: Some pets feel more comfortable in a small space such as a crate or a small room. The crate can be covered with a blanket to add to the feeling of security, the door should be
left open. Cats often find that a closet or area under the bed makes a good retreat.

Behaviour modification: Special techniques can be used to help change the animal’s response to the noise, including Counterconditioning and Desensitisation. Consulting an experienced  animal behaviourist is recommended, as they can help develop a treatment plan for your pet.

Medications: Please Consult your veterinarian for advice.

Administering medications along with changing the pets environment and using behaviour modification techniques can help ease the fear. It is extremely important to refrain from giving rewards or punishment. Constant petting or consoling can be interpreted by the pet as a reward for the fearful response. Similarly, they should not be punished for showing fear, as this only increases their anxiety level and reinforce the fearful behaviour.

Altho’ there is no guarantee that a noise phobia can be totally resolved, the fear can be managed effectively. The success of treatment depends on a number of factors including the severity of the phobia; how long the pet has had it; whether it is ongoing, seasonal, or unpredictable; and the amount of time the owner is willing to commit to the behaviour modification techniques.