Why Are Dogs Scared of Thunder?

Black and white dog laying under a blanket

It may start with your dog seeming on edge for a few hours. They aren't settling in and napping like they usually do, and they might be startling at every sudden noise or movement. Then, you start to hear the distant rumblings of thunder, and you notice your dog's anxiety gets more intense.

By the time the storm has hit full strength — with loud thunder and flashes of lightning — your dog may be trying to crawl on top of you, hiding in a dark place such as under the bed or whining and shaking, clearly upset. If this sounds like a situation you've seen, your dog may be scared of storms and, more particularly, thunder.

The proper name for this condition is astraphobia, or "thunder phobia." It's something that can affect both animals and humans. Learn more about why thunderstorms are so scary for your pet, and try these strategies to help calm them when the next one strikes.

Why are Dogs Scared of Thunderstorms?

Experts aren't sure exactly why dogs are scared of thunderstorms. Some theories include the loud sound of the thunder, the flashes of light from the strikes of lightning, the change in the air pressure or even just the change in daily routine (an afternoon storm means no walk). Some veterinarians also say that some dogs might experience shocks from the build-up of static electricity that accompanies thunderstorms.

Some dogs may also be more sensitive to these things — or have more sensitive hearing — which could explain why some are terrified of storms and fireworks while others don't seem to notice. However, if your dog is one of the many who is affected by storms, it can be very distressing to watch your best friend seem so upset and scared and feel like there's nothing you can do. The next section covers what to do — and not do — to help comfort your pup.

How to Calm a Dog During a Storm

If you think your dog has storm anxiety, how you react and what you do during the storm can have a big impact on how your dog copes now and in the future. Here are some tricks to help keep your dog calm when a storm is on the horizon.

Create a Safe Space

When a storm is coming, the best place for your dog is inside. This is true physically to protect them from the inclement weather but also emotionally. Your dog will feel calmer inside their familiar environment.

If you use a crate for your dog when you aren't home, putting your dog in the crate when a storm is coming can help keep them calm. You may also want to cover the crate with a light blanket to help block out the flashes of light and absorb some of the sound from the storm. If your dog still displays signs of anxiety, consider leaving the door open to the crate so that he doesn't feel trapped and start to panic.

For dogs who aren't used to being crated, having their own quiet corner of the house can give them some place to go when they're scared. A comfy dog bed in an interior room without a lot of windows (make sure to close any blinds or curtains) is a good bet. You may also want to put a few favourite toys and his water bowl in the room so your dog has everything he needs and doesn't have to go out until the storm has passed.

Distract Him

Distraction is another great technique if your dog is afraid of storms. Turn the TV on and the volume up to block the sound of thunder or play some calming music. You may also want to have a special toy that only comes out during storms so it holds your dog's attention better.

Treats may be another option. However, it's important to draw the line between distracting your dog and rewarding anxiety behaviour. If you reward your dog when he is scared or feeling anxious or coddle him excessively, it may reinforce the idea that storms are scary and being anxious and barking or shaking is the appropriate response.

Try Calming Aids

In some cases, your dog may need a little extra help staying calm. Calming supplements like Purina's Calming Care Canine Probiotic Supplement can help your dog better cope with external stressors such as thunderstorms and maintain a calm demeanour. ThunderShirts are another popular option; they use gentle, reassuring pressure to help dogs better weather the storm.

Prepare for the Next Storm

In between stormy days, you can try to prepare your pup by desensitizing them to loud sounds. Play a soundtrack of a thunderstorm or loud thunder in the background while you play games or give him treats.

Start off with short sessions and the volume turned low, and as your dog starts to get acclimated to the noise, turn up the volume and go for longer rounds. Eventually, your dog will start to associate the sound of a thunderstorm with playing and treats, and it will be seen as a positive thing instead of a scary one.

Talk to Your Veterinarian

Your veterinarian is the best person to talk to when it comes to dogs and thunder. They can help you better understand why your dog is reacting the way they are and offer tips and recommendations on strategies to comfort them, whether that's a vest that applies light, constant compression or medication to help keep your dog calm during a storm.

Check out our dog care page for more expert tips on canine behaviour, caring for your pet and other helpful tips.

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