Ask Dr. Anna: Thunderstorms cause common behavioral problems in dogs

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I know it’s time to talk about thunderstorm phobias because I woke up twice last week with a dog panting, shivering and scared to death on top of my head in the middle of the night due to thunderstorms.  Thunderstorm phobias are one of the most common behavioral problems in dogs.  Working and sporting breed dogs appear to be more at risk to develop noise phobias.

Anna CoffinSigns vary from dog to dog, but can include any or all of the following:  Hiding, urinating, defecating, chewing, panting, pacing, trying to escape (digging, jumping through windows or going through walls, running away), drooling, seeking the owner, expressing anal glands, not eating, not listening to commands, trembling or shaking, dilated pupils or vocalizing.  Aside from noises, barometric pressure changes, lightning, electrostatic changes and smells can also trigger any of these signs.  Your attitude can also influence the severity of your dog’s signs.  For example, petting and comforting is giving your dog positive reinforcement for an undesirable behavior.

Treatment will vary from dog to dog depending on the signs and severity of the storm.  Thundershirts work well for dogs with mild thunderstorm phobias or when the storms are not severe.  Thundershirts are shirts that have been made specifically for pets with all types of anxiety. The shirt works by providing constant pressure which has a dramatic calming effect on cats and dogs.  Thundershirts cost about $40.00 and are 100% client satisfaction guaranteed.  I sell them at my office, have had great feedback from clients and I use one on my own dog.  For dogs with more severe thunderstorm phobias, sedative or an anti-anxiety medication is usually needed.  I prefer not to use sedatives, such as acepromazine, as these products will not help with the fear but only sedate and slow the signs and movement of the dog.  Anti-anxiety medications will actually help your dog to not be as fearful.  Keeping your dog in a quiet room or crate and having some background noise (radio or television) playing may help reduce the noise level of the storm.  Behavior modification which includes counter-conditioning and desensitization can also help, but please contact your veterinarian or a veterinary behavior specialist before you begin behavioral modification as you may cause the phobia to become worse if not done properly.

 Please e-mail me with your questions at and put “Ask Dr. Anna” in the subject line or mail your questions to 123 West Harrison Guthrie, OK73044.

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