Is Your Dog Afraid of Thunder? Learn How You Can Help
The impending arrival of summer means increasing summer thunderstorms in many places. While many humans enjoy the beauty of an afternoon storm, it can be a nightmare for dog owners.
Storm phobia in dogs is very real and shouldn’t be ignored. A dog afraid of thunder will show its owner that it is scared with clear physical and behavioral signs. As a pet owner, it’s important for you to understand what causes storm phobia in dogs, what signs to look for that indicate your dog is experiencing this fear, and how you can soothe your pet and help them relax when this scary – and unavoidable – event happens.
What Causes Storm Phobia in Dogs
While it seems obvious that dogs are simply afraid of the loud “boom” during a thunderstorm, veterinarians suspect that there are actually a few different factors that work together to cause storm phobia in dogs. These factors include not only thunder, but also barometric pressure changes, lightning, static electricity in the air, and even a type of thunder that is so low-frequency that humans might not hear it.
The Obvious: Thunder Is Loud!
Dogs don’t have the awareness to understand exactly what thunder is and that it can’t hurt them. To them, it’s just a very, very loud, unexpected BOOM. It’s natural that this unpredictable noise would startle a dog and make them feel afraid.
Changing Pressure Can Make Dogs Uncomfortable
A somewhat less-known cause of storm phobia is the changing barometric pressure – or amount of air pressure in the atmosphere – caused by a storm. Dogs are highly sensitive to this because of their sense of smell. Barometric pressure changes cause odors to move differently in the air. Your dog notices that change and it can make them feel scared because they have learned to associate that sensation with the trauma of a thunderstorm.
Bright Flashes of Lightning Are Startling
Lightning creates bright flashes that are sudden and startling for a dog. Even if we see a lightning storm and don’t hear any thunder, our dog might show signs of stress because they associate lightning with the unpleasant experience of thunder.
Storms Cause Static Electricity
Your dog might be sensitive to the static electricity in the air, as well. It’s not just their ears and hearing that are special – dogs are sensitive creatures in general. We’ve all done the little experiment where we rub a balloon to create static electricity and our hair stands on end. Well, when the air is infused with additional static electricity from an impending storm, dogs – who are covered in fur! – experience that sensation all over their bodies.
The static electricity in the air before, during, and after a storm can also cause little shocks when your dog touches their nose to surfaces, in the same way we get shocked by this electricity when we wear a wool sweater and touch the car door. This sensory experience can be another reason your dog demonstrates fear during a thunderstorm.
Dogs Hear Low-Frequency Thunder Before the Storm
Have you ever felt like your dog can predict a storm before it arrives at your house? Those pesky fear behaviors (outlined below) might start to show up even before the storm clouds appear in the sky. This is because of your dog’s remarkable hearing. They can likely hear the storm approaching long before you can.
These low-frequency rumbles are very hard to quiet or reduce with soundproofing in your home. We won’t get into the sound-wave science, but when you’re trying to soothe a dog afraid of thunder, you can better empathize with them if you understand that they are likely hearing louder and different sounds.
Signs Your Dog Is Afraid of Thunder
Dogs have a lot of ways of showing their fear and communicating with their owners when they are afraid of thunderstorms. Here are some signs to look for in your pet’s behavior during bad weather to determine if you have a dog afraid of thunder.
Ears Pinned Back
Your dog’s ears might be pinned back if they feel threatened or afraid. This is a common sign in a dog scared of thunder.
Tail Down or Pulled Between Legs
Cowering is another behavior you can expect from your dog during a storm. It is common for canines to pull their tail between their legs when they are feeling nervous or submissive.
Panting, Lip-Licking, or Yawning
Mouth and muzzle action is another sign of a fear to look for. If your pet is yawning, licking their lips, or panting more than usual, that’s often a sign they are feeling nervous or fearful. If there’s bad weather afoot, that’s likely the cause.
Whining or Barking
Of course, just like humans, dogs will communicate their fear with sound. Whining and barking are common behaviors in a dog scared of thunder.
Pacing and Shaking During Thunderstorm
A scared dog often has a hard time sitting still or relaxing. You might find that, during a thunderstorm, your dog paces back and forth and won’t sit or lie down. Or they may repeatedly stand up from their position and try to readjust. You might also notice your dog shaking during thunderstorms and trembling. Restless behavior is a common sign of storm phobia in dogs.
How to Soothe Your Dog’s Fear of Thunder
Ignoring your dog’s behavior during a thunderstorm is not recommended. Your pet’s fear is warranted and real, and they need help and support from you as their most trusted companion.
Furthermore, some of your dog’s signs of fear might, in other settings, be considered “bad behavior,” but it’s important not to punish or get angry with your dog when they are afraid of storms. That will simply take a traumatic experience and make it more traumatic. Instead, you need to approach your dog with compassion and love, and do your best to reduce their fear.
Some ways to soothe your dog during a thunderstorm include creating a safe place where they can retreat, remaining calm yourself, providing sound distractions, and using additional resources like thundershirts and calming formulas with CBD.
Create a Safe, Quiet Place
You can soothe your dog’s fear of thunderstorms by creating a safe, quiet, cozy place for them to retreat to during the storm. A designated place with their bed and toys that belongs only to them can be very soothing for your pet. Ensure that other family members like pets and children avoid this space so it is exclusively for your pet. A closet or bathroom makes a great option for your pet’s thunderstorm haven.
Model Calm During a Storm
Your pet is very attuned to your behavior and if you are stressed out about their fear, that will exacerbate the problem. Speak to your pet in calm tones and don’t be overly attentive. Too much petting and cooing can indicate to your pet that there is something wrong. Instead, try to behave as normally and consistently as possible during a thunderstorm.
Provide Distracting Sounds
Thunder will sound louder and more significant to your pet if the house is silent. Turn on the television, radio, or even a white noise machine to diffuse the sounds of the storm. Classical music, especially, can be very calming for them.
Consider Extra Support Tools
Thundershirts and similar calming garments are another tool that many pet owners have found helpful for a dog afraid of thunder. These heavy dog jackets and vests apply gentle and constant pressure to soothe your pet during a scary moment.
Even with all of the above tools for helping your pet cope with storm phobia, your pooch might need a little more support to ensure they can maintain their calm demeanor even in the face of a scary storm. Help your pet hold on to their relaxation during storms with calming formulas that use CBD, like our CBD Calming Oil for Dogs, which includes melatonin. Our CBD Calming Chews for Dogs, which feature L-tryptophan and chamomile, are another great option to help your pet maintain their relaxation during stressful situations.
Help Your Dog Cope With Fear of Thunderstorms
It’s hard for both pet and human when you have a dog afraid of thunderstorms. The cause of storm phobia might be different for different dogs – some might be afraid of the thunder itself while others are more disturbed by the static electricity in the air or changing barometric pressure. Whatever bothers your dog most, they will communicate with some common signs like whining, pacing, and panting. If you pay attention to your dog’s behavior, you can soothe them with techniques like your own calm demeanor, distracting sounds, and calming formulas with CBD. And if none of those strategies work, it’s time to consult your veterinarian about your dog afraid of thunder.