Although summer is often celebrated for its long, sunny days and beautiful weather, it’s also a season characterized by thunderstorms. You might find it calming to observe lightning strikes and rolling booms of thunder from inside your home, but your furry friends are more likely to feel the exact opposite!
Many cats and dogs are terrified of storms and sirens, causing them to run and hide under the bed, whine and cry or pace fearfully. Not only do you not want your furry friend to be scared for hours on end, their fear could result in a sleepless night for the whole family or some undesirable behavior that leads to destruction. Fortunately, there are some ways you can minimize your pet’s fear of storms and help them stay calm and happy.
Why are they scared in the first place?
As adults, we know that thunder, hail and heavy rain aren’t anything to be afraid of. But, much like young children, pets don’t understand that storms can’t hurt them. From their perspective, they’re suddenly faced with loud noises and flashes of light that appear to be dangerous.
Dogs and cats have sensitive hearing, so what’s loud to us is even louder to them. This is also why celebratory fireworks are so anxiety-inducing for pets!
Additionally, research suggests that the fear of storms might be attributed to unheard and unseen things, as well. When a storm rolls in, the atmosphere changes, and static electricity builds up. Pets might be more in tune with these changes than we are, causing them to be on high alert even before the first thunderous boom.
Reducing storm-related fear in pets
While there isn’t a magical medication that can make your pet’s thunderstorm anxiety go away, there are things you can do at home to calm your pet down during storms and even counter condition them against storm-related fear.
- Stay calm: Dogs (and some cats) take behavioral cues from their owners. Your fear or anxiety could cause your pet to feel the same! That’s why it’s so important to stay calm during thunderstorms, especially when interacting with your pet. Try to avoid giving your pet too much attention if they aren’t calm. By giving them extra love and cuddles, you might accidentally “reward” anxious behavior and perpetuate it.
- Create a safe space: Provide your pet with a safe space they can retreat to if they’re scared of the storm. The best option for this is a room that doesn’t have any external doors or windows, so your pet can’t see the storm outside, and sound will be dampened. Put some of your pet’s favorite items in this space, including their bed, favorite blanket, toys, food and water. If possible, hang out with your pet in this space if it will make them more comfortable. If your dog prefers to relax in their crate, cover the crate with a blanket to create a darker, calmer space.
- Use calming supplements and sprays: Supplements and other tools to promote feelings of calm in pets can help immensely if your pet has a severe phobia of storms. Natural supplements made from calming herbs may help your pet relax in high-stress situations. CBD may be another option, as long as you discuss proper dosage with your vet. Additionally, pheromone sprays might help promote relaxation in dogs and cats. Spray them in your pet’s “safe space” to help them feel more at ease.
- Play music or TV to distract them: If your pet is mostly scared of thunder, drowning out the booming sounds might help them maintain a calmer attitude. Try playing music or keeping the TV on in your pet’s safe room, so there’s audio to detract from the sounds of the storm.
- Distract them with play: Another way you can distract your pets is with playtime! Playing your dog’s or cat’s favorite game during a thunderstorm not only helps them keep their mind off their fear—it can also work to desensitize them to the sounds. Over time, your pet might begin to associate the sounds with fun, rather than anxiety.
Outside of storm season, you might be able to desensitize your pet even further by playing storm sounds in your home at low volume. As those play, give your pet treats, play with them and make them feel safe and loved. By doing this multiple times, increasing the volume gradually, your pet may learn to not fear the sounds of rain and thunder.
The keys to helping your pet through storm-related fear are patience and understanding. By helping your furry friend stay calm through the storm, you’ll not only protect their health and wellbeing, but also work on resolving their fears down the road.