Keeping Pets Calm During Thunderstorms

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Is your dog scared of thunder? Does your kitty act like a fraidy-cat whenever a storm brews? While it may seem like pets sometimes overreact during a storm, these noisy weather events cause atmospheric changes that can be very disturbing to dogs and cats alike. If you've got a dog or cat scared of thunder, keep reading to learn how to help your pet cope.

Why Thunderstorms Are Scary for Pets

French bulldig hiding beneath a banket.Anyone who has had to coax a scared pet out from under the bed on the Fourth of July knows that many of our four-footed companions are frightened by loud noises. Remember that your dog or cat's hearing is much stronger than humans', and they are not trained to know that typically thunder comes after lightning. This sudden noise can be very startling to pets.

Thunder and hail aren't the only reasons some pets become anxious during storms, however. The barometric pressure and buildup of static electricity in the air are also uncomfortable for many pets, says the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University. This buildup tends to precede a storm, which is why some cats and dogs hide or show signs of nervousness before the first rumble of thunder can be heard in the distance.

Is Your Dog Scared of Thunder?

Not every dog is bothered by thunder or stormy weather in general. Those who are bothered are usually easy to spot. Signs of a dog scared of thunder include shivering, whimpering, hiding and constant movement, as if he were trying to run away from the source of his stress.

If it's not handled carefully, this anxiety can turn into a full-blown phobia, says Petful, signs of which also include panicked and destructive behaviors such as soiling the carpet or destroying furniture in an attempt to escape. Make sure all doors and windows are tightly closed until your dog can cope with his fear.

Is Your Cat Scared of Thunder?

Like some dogs, some cats couldn't care less if it's storming outside, and remain as calm and collected as they would be on a sunny day. Many cats, however, do become anxious during storms, and they typically show their fear by hiding in closets or under furniture until the storm passes.

Thunderstorm phobia is far less common in cats than in dogs, says Petplace, but it does occasionally happen. A phobic cat typically shows a strong fear response that includes a raised coat and bushy tail, sometimes accompanied by hissing. A cat in this state could become aggressive if you try to handle her, so do not try holding her to calm her down. Make sure she has a safe, quiet hiding place where she can wait out the storm.

Himalayan cat hiding in the red wooden drawer

How to Calm Your Pet During a Storm

To help your frightened pet stay calm during a thunderstorm, start by ignoring your pet's nervous behavior. This isn't easy, but pets sometimes interpret attempts to calm and soothe them as extra attention and a reward for their behavior, says Dogster. Try to stay calm and relaxed. If you show fear or nervousness during a storm, your pets will pick up on it, which will reinforce their belief that they have good reason to be afraid.

Move your pet to a grounded area with no outside doors or windows, such as a finished basement or a tiled bathroom. This can reduce the static electricity and pressure that's contributing to your pet's discomfort, says Cummings, as well as muffle thunder noises and remove the visual stimulus of seeing the storm rage outside. If your dog prefers his crate instead, try covering the crate with a blanket until the storm passes and distract him with a favorite toy or a healthy treat. Other helpful tools include:

  • Dryer sheets: Unscented dryer sheets can reduce static electricity in your dog's fur, but rub his coat lightly to prevent leaving a coating of chemicals, suggests Rover. This shouldn't be done with cats since they will lick residue off their coats. Dogs who groom themselves often are also not good candidates for this trick.
  • Supplements, pheromones and herbal remedies: Pet-safe compounds for cats and dogs work to calm them without knocking them out. Check with your veterinarian to determine the right amount for your pet.
  • Cat or dog storm wear: A number of commercially produced chest wraps are available that have been shown to help pets remain calm during a storm. You can also make your own by wrapping your pet in a stretchable bandage or swaddling him tightly in a towel or old T-shirt. Just be sure you don't wrap your pet so tightly that he can't breathe.

Whether you've got a cat or dog scared of thunder, it's important to keep in mind that your pet has good reason to find storms upsetting. Instead of scolding or coddling them for their anxious behavior, stay calm and providing healthy coping strategies for your pet. You'll help teach them that storms aren't so terrifying after all.


Jean Marie Bauhaus