Many parts of Australia are lashed by thunderstorms. This may bring welcome rain for some, but for dogs with thunder phobia it means anxiety and stress. Thunder phobic dogs respond to the thunder, lightning, rain and changes in barometric pressure caused by storms with an exaggerated fear response. They may pant, whimper, tremble, hide and experience incontinence and destructive behaviours. Any dog can have thunder phobia but it does seem more common in the herding breeds. The symptoms tend to worsen with age and owners unwittingly often reinforce the behaviour by attempting to comfort the animal during storms.
This just confirms to the animal that there is indeed something happening that’s worth worrying about!
Thunder phobias can be improved by desensitising affected animals to the sounds of a storm (‘Thunder CD’). The recording is played at a very low level, or one that does not trigger a fear response. Gradually, the volume is increased until the animal can tolerate the loud noises. During this time, owners take a “over
the top happy, nothing’s worrying me” approach to their pet and neither comfort nor reprimand their animal but carry on their normal daily tasks. Because sound recordings do not mimic the other meteorological aspects of storms, such as atmospheric pressure changes, they are unlikely to actually cure a phobic dog, but may help to reduce the stress during a storm.
Medications can be used to decrease anxiety and to sedate if the pet is at risk of trauma. Exposure of young pups to loud noises and flashes in a friendly, relaxed setting can help prevent a thunderstorm phobia developing.
Speak to Dr Nicholls next time you’re in the clinic if you have any questions or concerns about your dog and thunder phobia.