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Why Are Dogs Scared of Thunder? How to Help

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While some dogs are totally unbothered by inclement weather, others are more skittish. If you have one who’s terrified of storms, you’ve probably wondered why dogs are scared of thunder. Is it the noise, the accompanying lightning, or just some eerie change in atmosphere they can sense?

And more importantly, how can you help? Nobody wants to see their dog distressed and upset. But if your dog is scared of thunder, it can be dangerous too. An anxious dog might bolt, or even hurt themselves in a blind panic.

From desensitising your dog to thunder, to remedies like thunder shirts and medication, as well as advice on how to make their environment more calming during a storm, here are some tips to help keep your dog safe during storms.

But first off, exactly why are dogs scared of thunder anyway?

Dog scared of thunder? Here’s why

It turns out, pretty much nobody is wrong about why their dog is scared of thunder, whether you think it’s the noise or some kind of sixth sense. Like us, different dogs have different triggers or phobias which can make them stressed or scared.

Of course, the noise plays a huge role. Some dogs are much more noise sensitive than others, and might be more easily upset by the rumblings. This is the reason plenty of pets are scared of fireworks too.

But it isn’t just the noise. That’s why some dogs are also scared of rain or lightning with no audible thunder nearby. While experts don’t know the exact cause, the general consensus is that dogs can sense the drop in barometric pressure in the build up to a storm. Coupled with darker skies, wind, lightning, and the loud noises of a storm, this can cause anxiety and fear.

Your dog might pace, pant, whine, bark, or try to hide away. When they’re very anxious, they might even become destructive in their panic – think chewing, clawing, or even breaking through windows in really severe cases.

Sadly, most dogs don’t simply grow out of being scared of thunderstorms. In fact, it usually tends to get worse over time. If your dog is afraid of thunder, they need help. Luckily, there are some ways you can help a dog who’s scared of thunder and associated bad weather.

small boston terrier dog sitting on couch scared of thunder while owner is stroking him

Home remedies to help dogs scared of thunder

In some cases, you might need the help of a behaviourist or a vet to manage the behaviour of dogs who are scared of thunder.

But in less severe cases, there are also quite a few things you can try out at home first. They might not completely take away the nerves, but could help your dog feel more at ease. And any help for a dog who’s scared of thunder is worthwhile, in our books!

Medications and calming supplements

Using a bit of external help to keep your dog calm can make all the difference. There are loads and loads of different calmers on the market, and your vet will likely be able to recommend the one they think will work best for your dog.

These range from herbal calmers like rescue remedy to mild sedatives, pheromone sprays, and even CBD oil. Some are quick-acting and can be used when you need them, and others are more long-term and are typically used for dogs with chronic anxiety issues.

In severe cases, the vet might recommend certain types of prescription medications which can reduce anxiety and stress. Either way your vet should be your first port of call before you make a decision on treatments.

Thunder jackets or thunder shirts

It might sound like something a superhero puts on to save the day. But thunder shirts for dogs can actually help them to calm down and relax when they’re scared. They work better for some dogs than others, but you can make one at home by following the steps in the video below. If your dog seems to find comfort in the thunder jacket, you might want to look into buying a purpose-made one.

As far as thunder jackets for dogs go, these and these get consistently good reviews from users. Because you’ll only need one (per dog, anyway!), it’s worth investing properly and buying a thunder shirt you know will help your dog stay calm during storms.

Thunder socks

Some people have luck using socks to cover dogs’ ears too, almost like ear muffs. You simply cut the end off an old sock or pair of tights, making a tube. You then push the tube over your dog’s nose and eyes, and leave it over their head covering their ears. It looks kind of like a scarf or snood for dogs.

And if it doesn’t work, at least your pup will look super cute!

Environment changes

If your dog is scared of thunder and you want to help, it could be as simple as providing a safe and welcoming environment for them. Just like kids sometimes hide under the covers if they’re scared, dogs want to find a place where they can take cover until the big scary storm has passed.

Make sure they have a bed they’re comfortable in, plenty of blankets and pillows so they can burrow, and a room where they can be kept in which is puppy proof. This means they can’t get out or hurt themselves if they really panic.

Playing calming music or putting the TV or radio on can help some dogs feel more at ease too.

Desensitising dogs to thunder

This can be tricky, but it is possible to successfully desensitise a dog to thunder and storms, at least to some degree. However, you’ll probably want to work with a dog trainer or behaviourist for the best results. It’s worth keeping in mind your dog will probably still be scared of thunder – just less scared, hopefully!

Usually, these training tactics are paired with additional things like medication or thunder jackets.

So how do you desensitise a dog to thunder? Essentially, the idea is to gradually increase the stimuli until your dog accepts it more readily. Of course, this is quite hard – we don’t control the frequency or intensity of the weather. And some elements of a storm can be pretty hard to replicate by ourselves.

In a way, you want to make a mild version of a storm feel like something exciting, rather than scary.

You can try playing thunderstorm sounds quietly via YouTube while treating your dog or playing a game they love. When a storm starts up, you can also instantly pair it with something they love – their favourite chew, a game they always want to play, or attention and a toy, for instance. This is the basic premise of positive reinforcement dog training.

Finally, try not to make too much of a fuss if your dog is scared during thunder and lightning displays. Although the need to comfort them is natural, reacting too much can reinforce to your dog that there’s something for them to be nervous about.

cocker spaniel lying underneath stripey duvet cover with chin resting on paws

Insurance for your precious pup

Hopefully, your dog will quickly adjust to life with thunder, and not be scared. Regardless, you should make sure you’ve microchipped your dog so that if they do panic and bolt somehow. That way, you have a much higher chance of having them returned to you.

But if you do want to see a vet for prescription medication or to treat an injury from thunder-induced panic, a dog insurance policy can help you do just that. Some plans even cover things like dental work.

So you have full peace of mind your dog is protected against the things you can’t control in life. Like the weather!

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