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Why are dogs scared of thunder?

Loud noises will soon be no match for your pup

It’s common for thunder cracks and firework booms to make dogs anxious — especially if they’re left alone. And while you can’t protect your dog’s ears from all loud noises, there are ways to help them feel more comfortable during these experiences. Here’s what you need to know.

Dog anxiety from noise phobia

Several things can trigger noise phobias in dogs, from fireworks to vacuum cleaners. Dr. Aliya McCullough, Fetch by The Dodo’s on-staff vet, says that these fears can stem from traumatic events, but for many dog patients, the root of their fear is often unknown.

Take thunder, for example. There are several different reasons thunder can spark anxiety in dogs.

“Dogs are scared of thunder because of the loud noise associated with it, often because it is sudden with no warning,” Dr. McCullough says. “Other aspects of the thunderstorm can cause fear as well, such as the darkening sky, changes in barometric pressure, humidity, wind, rain and lightning.” 

Symptoms of noise phobia in dogs

Regardless of what causes your dog’s noise phobia, Dr. McCullough says that they’re likely struggling if they show the following symptoms: 

  • Excessive licking
  • Pacing
  • Whimpering
  • Cowering
  • Destructive or harmful behaviors (like digging, clawing and self-injury)

Which dog breeds are afraid of thunder?

According to Dr. McCullough, herding dog breeds commonly struggle with noise phobia due to genetics. She adds that noise phobias are also more prevalent in older pets, which may be because of trauma, a decline in brain chemicals or a combination of both. 

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How to calm a dog during a storm

The first step towards helping your dog manage their noise phobia is identifying the cause. Once you and your vet have determined the reason behind the reaction, here are some ways to help your pet cope during loud noises: 

Anxiety vests

Ask your vet if your dog would benefit from an anxiety vest. “Anxiety vests apply gentle pressure to your dog’s torso, which theoretically releases calming hormones,” Dr. McCullough explains. 

Desensitization

Dr. McCullough suggests asking your veterinarian about desensitization, which is the practice of “reducing a pet’s emotional response to stimuli.” If your veterinarian approves this method, you could try playing the noise your dog dislikes at a low volume and gradually increase the sound until your dog doesn’t react. 

“It is a good technique that can be used to reduce fearfulness to many types of noises or objects, such as loud vehicles or even other barking dogs,” she adds. Make sure to reward your pup with treats throughout desensitization training. 

Anti-anxiety medication

Anti-anxiety medication could be an option for your pet, but it doesn’t work for every dog. 

“Unfortunately, there is not a lot of scientific evidence proving that these are effective in dogs,” Dr. McCullough says. “Some dogs may respond to them, and others may not.” 

Medication rarely fixes dog anxiety on its own and should be included in a more comprehensive approach, including behavior modification and veterinary counseling, she adds. Always make sure to talk to your vet before giving your dog medication.

Pheromones 

Pheromones (dog scents that can be used to calm your pet) may help dogs struggling with noise phobias, but they’re usually incorporated into a larger behavioral modification plan. 

“The exact mechanism of action of pheromones is unknown, but they are thought to alter the emotional state of dogs,” Dr. McCullough adds. 

Antihistamines

Dr. McCullough points out that some over-the-counter antihistamines, like Benadryl, can make pups feel sleepy and relaxed during a thunderstorm or loud noises. Always consult your veterinarian before giving your dog any over-the-counter medications. 

Exercise

Increasing regular exercise helps anxious pups, too — as little as 30 minutes a day of brisk walking can reduce anxiety-related behaviors, Dr. McCullough says. 

Photo by Ruby Shmank on Unsplash

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