Thunderstorm-Phobia (Machery)

 


BEHAVIOR & TRAINING

by Carole Machery DVM

Most dogs seem to tolerate storms, but others show obvious signs of anxiety:

  • panting
  • pacing
  • hiding
  • drooling
  • shaking
  • house soiling
  • escape behavior – running into glass doors, over fences

What can you do about it? There is no single successful approach to this type of fear.  What works for your dog may not help your friend’s.  These are simply suggestions to consider.   The important thing is to do something to break the fear cycle.  Fear can breed greater fear, and some dogs experience a serious escalation of anxiety.  Break the cycle before it gets really dangerous.

SOME TREATMENT OPTIONS

Xanax® (alprazolam) – this is a true anti-anxiety medication and is generally safe to give to most dogs including greyhounds.  It can be given at a low dose over a long period of time, or at a higher dose for a brief period.  It is only available through your veterinarian.  It is the most effective drug I’ve seen for storms.  Unfortunately, even that doesn’t help all dogs.

Clomicalm® (clomipramine) – another prescription medication that can be used long term for the entire season.  This is also prescribed for separation anxiety and some obsessive compulsive disorders.

Benadryl® (diphenhydramine) – this is an over-the-counter antihistamine that causes drowsiness.  It’s not an anti-anxiety drug, but with milder problems it may allow your dog to sleep through the storm.  It can be dosed at 1-2 mg per pound.  Adjust the dose down if it makes your dog too sleepy.

Acepromazine – this is the old time veterinary remedy.  It’s a tranquilizer and causes immobilization or mild sedation.  There is no anti-anxiety component to the drug – it simply keeps the dogs quiet.  Mentally, they probably still are aware of the storm.  It’s helpful with some, and has been used also with separation anxiety.

Melatonin – this is another natural medication that may be a bit more effective in some dogs that Rescue Remedy.  It can be dosed at 1.5 mg per dose for dogs under 30 pounds, and 3 mg per dose for dogs over 30 pounds.  Repeat, if needed, 2-3 times a day.  I would not recommend continuous dosing for weeks at a time, but during a stormy day or two, you can do it for the duration.  Again, it may not be enough for the severe thunder-phobe.  It can be purchased in the vitamin/herbal section of drug stores and grocery stores.
Rescue Remedy – a Bach Flower homeopathic remedy – this is a mild, anti-anxiety, natural medication that is given either directly in the mouth or in the drinking water.  It can also be used for separation anxiety, traveling, company coming, etc.  In my experience, it may help mild anxieties, but if you have a dog in full blown thunder phobia, it will probably not be enough by itself.  In Nashville, it can be purchased at Wild Oats,  and always on line.  The dose is 1 drop per 5 pounds up to 20 pounds.  Above 20 pounds, add 1 drop per 10 pounds.  Thus, a 70 pound dog would get 9 drops.   Put it directly in the mouth, wait 10 minutes and repeat if necessary.

Desensitization to the sound – you’ll hear about buying a recording of a storm and playing it at gradually increasing volume to try to desensitize the dog to the sound.  Well, I have yet to see it succeed, but if you do it, let me know what you think.  Very time consuming.  In theory,  a good idea.

Anxiety wrap – This coat provides light and comforting pressure.  Here is a link to one of many on-line resources offering the coat:  Anxiety Wrap Coat

Storm Defender Cape – this sounds like voodoo but the success with this is reported to be pretty good.  It’s a custom made dog coat made of material to block the static associated with an electrical storm.  The theory is that dogs feel the static in a storm before the storm even arrives,  and that sensation severely heightens their fear.  You put the coat on before the storm and many dogs remain calm during the storm.  You can read more about it from the link.  Many happy customers.

Dryer sheet – along the same line of thinking re the static electricity, you can rub your dog down with a dryer sheet to remove some of the static from their coat.

Safe havens – some dogs just need a safe place to hide.  If they are there, they feel safe.  It may be a closet, under the bed, in a tub, in a crate, wherever.  It may make you uncomfortable to see your dog hiding like that, but if it gives him a sense of security to be there, you should let him stay.

Your own behavior – this is hard.  We hate to see our much loved pets so terrified.  It’s instinctive to cuddle them, pet them, reassure them with sweet talk.  Don’t do that! There is very strong belief that you are actually reinforcing the behavior when you do that.  You should be calm, reassuring only in your demeanor, go about your normal routine.   If you “reward” your dog with extra attention, you may actually be training him to keep doing it.  I know it’s a very hard idea to accept, but try it!

This page last updated 03/08/2009

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