BluePearl doctors give tips on helping pets cope with storm anxiety

KANSAS CITY – Thunderstorm season is starting, and doctors from BluePearl Veterinary Partners are offering guidance on helping your furry friend feel safe when the skies begin to flash and boom.

Storm anxiety is quite common, affecting up to 30 percent of dogs. Some are frightened by the thunder’s loud noise, while others start showing signs of stress before rain begins to fall, possibly due to the drop in barometric pressure.

Symptoms include panting, pacing, trembling, drooling, whining, hiding or climbing onto their owners. Occasionally dogs may become destructive as they try to escape from the storm.

“If your pet starts exhibiting signs of storm anxiety, it’s important not to become stressed or change your behavior in a way that may upset your pet further,” said Dr. Jeff Dennis, medical director of the BluePearl hospitals in Kansas City and board certified veterinary internist. “It’s also important not to overly coddle your pet to the point where you are reinforcing or rewarding the behavior.”

If your pet suffers from storm anxiety, there are several different strategies to try:

  • Create a more comforting environment during storms by identifying a safe place for the pet to hide.
  • Try turning on white noise or soothing music to mask storm sounds.
  • Distract pets by playing a game.
  • Garments that fit snugly around the torso are often used to calm anxious pets. While there are few studies supporting their effectiveness, many pet parents swear by them.
  • Various synthetic pheromone products on the market may help calm pets.
  • Talk to your family veterinarian about whether your pet would benefit from a prescription for an anti-anxiety medication.
  • Pets with severe storm phobia are best evaluated by an animal behaviorist who can work directly with the pet and owner to counter-condition and desensitize the pet.

While there’s no proven formula for preventing a pet from developing storm anxiety, several studies suggest that dogs who live with other dogs are less likely to demonstrate stress during thunderstorms, Dennis said.

Dogs aren’t the only ones who hate it when the clouds begin to gather: A 2007 study found that storm anxiety, or astraphobia, is the third most common phobia in the United States among people.