How to Help Your Anxious Pet Through Thunderstorms

storm phobia for dog

Thunderstorm season us upon us! And with that, comes storm anxiety for our pets.  During each storm, my heart breaks thinking about what many pets and their guardians are going through. We have all seen it- panting, pacing, drooling, hiding, running off, inability to get comfortable, shaking, whimpering, and even in some severe cases, seizure activity. If only we could tell them it is all going to be okay in the end!

Here are a couple of ways we can help out our furry family, so they can be a bit more settled during storm season.

  • 1) REDIRECTION –  When a storm approaches, and the first signs of anxiety are settling in, try redirecting your pet. Play a fun game or give them a puzzle toy. If your dog knows tricks, have them perform all of their tricks. This will work well for a dog that is work or food motivated. Keep a Kong toy with frozen baby food or peanut butter in the the freezer to keep them distracted during a storm. With my previous dog, I would go for a car ride during a storm.  She loved car rides so much, she would forget that the storm was even happening!

 

  • 2) HAVE A SAFE PLACE –
    Some dogs feel more comfortable during a storm if they have a safe spot that they can go to until the storms ends. Let them choose this spot. Wherever they choose – make it more comfortable by bringing in a squishy bed, their favorite toy, treats, and some water. Use desensitization by putting on music and lights to mask thunder and lightening. Close the blinds so they cannot see what is happening outside.

 

  • 3) USE A SNUG-FITTING GARMENT –I am positive many of you have heard of a Thundershirt before! For some, this really works great. If you have experience with infants, it is the same idea as swaddling a newborn. Gentle and constant pressure around the torso and abdomen is believed to release calming hormones, like endorphins and oxytocin.

 

  • 4) PHARMACEUTICAL INTERVENTION – It is absolutely okay and acceptable to use pharmaceutical intervention if your pet has thunderstorm anxiety- even if their symptoms are mild. As pet parents, the last thing we want to see is our pet child having a bad experience. I say “pharmaceutical intervention” because this does not mean we have to immediately resort to a true sedative, although, that is a fine choice as well. Before trying any pharmaceutical, consult your veterinarian! There are many pharmaceutical, herbal, and natural therapies you can try first if you do not want to immediately resort a true sedative. 

     

    Here is a short list of the most common nutraceuticals and sedatives used in vet offices today. It is extremely important to do your research about these drugs before introducing them to your pet. Some have unwanted side effects, or side effects you should know about ahead of time to avoid panic later.

    COMMON NUTRACEUTICALS/NATURAL REMEDIES:

  • Sollequin
  • Rescue Remedy (bach flower essences)
  • Composure
  • L-Theanine
  • CBD/Hemp Oil
  • Zylkene
  • Anxiatane
  • Essential Oils

COMMON TRUE SEDATIVES PRESCRIBED BY YOUR VETERINARIAN:

  • Alprazolam
  • Acepromazine
  • Gabapentin
  • Trazodone
  • Tramadol

It is always a good idea to do a “test run” working with an anti-anxiety medication for your dog or cat. In some cases, although not too common, pets can have a paradoxical reaction (where the opposite behavior, rather than wanted behavior, presents after taking a medication). For example: if your dog becomes agitated and anxious after taking Acepromazine.

On another note, Zoetis just came out with a new drug called, Sileo. It is the first drug on the market that is used solely for noise aversion in pets. Sileo works by absorbing into the mucus membranes when applied to the cheek or gums, and it calms your pet by preventing and and reducing specific reactions in the nervous system. Pretty cool, huh?

If you are using essential oils with your pet, please remember that pets are far more sensitive to smells, so do not go overboard with the oils! I use 1/2 to 1 drop of oil in my diffuser at home when my dog is present.

 

  • 5) WHAT IS #5?  YOU GUESS IT: MASSAGE –
    If your pet has storm anxiety, massage during a storm may not work, but massage afterwards can be very rewarding! As we all know, during times of fear, stress, and anxiety, our muscles become stiff and rigid. Our nervous system is in flight mode. Our body is focused solely on the event which we fear. When the event is over, massage can help heal our bodies and our minds faster. Massage releases endorphins, which is the feel-good-happy hormone in our bodies. It increases circulation in the muscles, ligaments, and tendons that may have been damaged during a prolonged period of rigidness and tension. Massage stimulates acupressure points all over the body that promote wellness and a sense well-being.

What are some issues your pet deals with during storms? What do you find helpful for your pet during times of fear, stress, and anxiety? What experiences have you had with different pharmaceutical intervention? We would love to know!

If you have any questions, need advice, or or want to share your story on how to deal with storm anxiety, please email us at info@boulderdogmassage.com. With over 19 combined years working in a veterinary setting, Claire and I have seen it all! We are happy to help in any way we can.

Cheers!

Marcy & Hazel

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