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Thunderstorm Phobia

When a thunderstorm rolls through your area, does your precious pet become anxious, agitated, and just plain scared silly? Does the sound of loud, clapping thunder have your cat hiding under the sofa, or your dog shivering in your arms? Well, you might be surprised to learn it’s not just the noise that generates a fear response; the lightning, wind, dark skies, rain, odors and even changes in the barometric pressure can trigger a panicked reaction in dogs and cats. Pets can suffer from thunderstorm phobia, or astraphobia, but dogs’ symptoms are usually much more obvious than a cat’s, since they are naturally more demonstrative with their emotions than cats.

Fear of storms in pets not something to be taken lightly. In a study of thunderstorm-phobic dogs, it was found their plasma cortisol (a.k.a. “the stress hormone”) levels jumped over 200 percent from exposure to an audio recording of a storm. With this information, it is safe to assume these pets feel fear, and perhaps even terror.

It’s bad enough that storms can create extreme anxiety and discomfort for our faithful companions, but, as a result of their fear, pet parents often become anxious and feel helpless, not knowing how to ease their fur baby’s suffering. If your pet is afraid of thunderstorms, there are things you can do to help him (and you!) remain calm despite the frightful weather outside.

Create a Safe Haven

If you’ve noticed your cat run to “hide out” in a specific location when she feels the need, turn the area into a cozy, safe spot for her, if possible. For instance, if she runs to your bedroom closet whenever a storm approaches, add a cat bed – perhaps an enclosed kitty igloo – for her to rest and feel more secure. Or use a large storage bin to make her a “safe house” by cutting a small entry into the side of the bin, adding comfortable bedding inside, snapping the lid shut and covering with a thick blanket (leaving the entry visible and accessible). This will provide a dark, comfortable, somewhat soundproof escape for Fluffy when she gets stressed.

For dogs, if you have a basement, it just may be your dog’s favorite spot for hiding out a storm. Alternatively, if a basement is not an option, a small room with no windows, such as an interior bathroom, a closet or pantry will do the trick; just add a few conveniences, such as bedding, food, water, treats and toys, and Fido will have his own sanctuary to escape the sights and sounds of the storm.

It may also help to play calming music (check MusicMyPet or PetMusic for some soothing tunes) in your pet’s safe spot at a volume just loud enough to drown out distant thunderclaps.

Make sure to spend time with your pet in his safe spot when it’s not storming, to get him acquainted and comfortable with the area. Ensure he has access to his safe spot at all times, especially when you are not at home.

Reward Calm Behavior

It may come as a natural instinct to try to console your fearful pet as he whimpers, displays fear, climbs in your lap, etc., but – believe it or not – that only encourages panicky behavior. While you definitely don’t want to scold your pet for being scared, you also shouldn’t reward him for being clingy or overly anxious. Instead, use training techniques to help your pet settle down on command. One trick that may work ~ put an “inside only” leash on your pet and practice having him lie at your feet or at your side while praising him for his calm behavior, giving him affection, verbal praise and – of course – treats. Practice this technique while there is no storm, so you pet learns the routine. Then, when a storm hits, put the leash on your pet and help him remain calm until the storm passes.

Try a Compression Garment

While their effectiveness varies from pet to pet, snug-fitting shirts and wraps are worth a try. Such garments, specifically designed to help anxious pets, are said to have a calming effect similar to swaddling an infant. Some even come lined with metal fabric to protect pets from static shocks. Priced around $40, garments such as the ThunderShirt and Storm Defender may be a wise investment for your nervous pet.

Thunderstorm phobia is more common amongst pets than you may realize. If your pet suffers from this fear, don’t take it lightly. Do what you can to help him feel safe and comfortable when a thunderstorm arises; doing so will help him with his stress, and you with yours!

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