Fear of storms, or storm phobia, is common in both cats and dogs. In some pets these fears can be quite intense and even become dangerous, as some animals may injure themselves in their attempts to escape what they perceive as danger.
Many pets may begin to show signs of anxiety even before a storm arrives, possibly as the result of a sudden drop in barometric pressure or change in the electrical charge in the air. Storm phobia need not necessarily include thunder, as some pets will react to any combination of rain, sleet, hail, strong wind and lightening.
Some of the most common behavioral and nervous signs that pets may exhibit during a storm or as a storm approaches, include:
Compulsively seeking the owner
Trembling or shaking
Trying to escape
Urinating and defecating in the house
Here are a few tips to keep your pet safe and calm during a storm:
Keep your pet indoors. Many pets will try to run away during a storm.
Make sure your pet is wearing identification tags or is microchipped, in case they do run away.
Close all doors and windows and put on background music to muffle the sound of the storm.
Close curtains and blinds to block the lightening.
Some pet owners try to make storms into a more positive experience by throwing a “storm party” for their pet, complete with treats, toys and games. This not only frames a negative experience in a more positive light, but also helps to distract the pet.
Rub a dryer sheet over your pet’s fur (going in the direction of hair growth) when storms are expected. Use as often as needed to help remove static electricity.
Do not punish or scold your pet for its behavior. Stay calm and model the behavior you would like your pet to have.
Desensitization techniques include using a sound effects CD (thunder, trains, sirens, fireworks, etc.) at a low volume to help pets get used to the sounds, then gradually increasing the volume over time to acclimate the pet to the noise. For more advanced desensitization techniques, please ask your veterinarian for a referral to a certified pet behaviorist.
Do not coddle your pet; offering reassurance validates the behavior.
Consult your veterinarian about other veterinary-only products, such as:
D.A.P. (dog appeasing pheromone) is a synthetic mixture of compounds that mimics maternal pheromones. The reassuring properties of pheromones help to relieve stress related behavior. D.A.P. is available in a diffuser or in a collar.
Feliway is a synthetic mixture that mimics the facial pheromone that cats normally produce as part of the familiarization process. This pheromone has a calming effect which helps to decrease a cat’s stress level. Feliway is available as a spray or a diffuser.
HomeoPet is a non-sedating homeopathic remedy that contains natural, organic ingredients. HomeoPet comes in a fast acting liquid.
Prescription drugs can be difficult to use since a storm must be anticipated in order for the drugs to administered approximately 1 hour before they are needed. Prescription drugs are not without side effects and must be used under the supervision of a veterinarian.