July 2014 by Dr. Ryan Bullock
In many pets, the rumble of an oncoming thunderstorm can cause fear and anxiety. Some pets will quietly shake in their bed, while others can become much more destructive while dealing with their anxiety. For many pet owners, they sometimes match their pet’s anxiety because they know they will be the ones dealing with a scared and sometimes destructive pet all night. Here are three tips to help your pet deal with their anxiety the next time the thunder rolls:
1) Calming methods: Try to accommodate your pet with a quite room where they cannot see the flashes of the lightening. Add background noise like a noise machine or turn the TV on loud to drown out the thunder. Try to distract them with their favorite toy or game. Medications such as Alprazolam (generic Xanax) work very well to decrease anxiety and can be given on an “as needed” basis. In more severe cases, sedatives such as Acepromazine can be used. Consult with your veterinarian about medications for storm anxiety.
2) Behavior modification: This method requires more work on your part, but has chance for longterm success. Play recordings of storms at low volumes for short durations (3-5 minutes) and associate these times with positive things such as treats, toys, or games. Over time increase the volume and duration of the recordings. Never reprimand your pet during these sessions if they become afraid as this will only worsen anxiety. It’s also important to never reinforce their stressed behavior by praising them and telling them its “OK”.
3) The ThunderShirt: In 2008, the ThunderShirt was developed to help pets deal with anxiety – most specifically thunderstorms and separation anxiety. The idea behind the ThunderShirt is similar to that of swaddling infants to comfort them. The shirt applies constant, gentle pressure to the pet which is soothing to some. My personal experience with this is product is very hit or miss. My mother swears by her Bichon’s ThunderShirt, while I have had other clients say it did not help their pet at all. My impression is that it’s about a 50% chance that the ThunderShirt will help. Check out Thunderworks.com for more information.
If your pet is afraid of thunderstorms and fireworks, consult your veterinarian about some of these tips and hopefully you will be able to work out a strategy so that both you and your pet can get some rest the next time a thunderstorm rolls in at midnight.