The following is a compilation of information I have accumulated over the years from various sources regarding thunderstorm phobias in dogs. It can be an extremely frustrating situation for dog owners, and a constant stressful, even terrifying, experience for dogs. Often it is trial and error to see what might work for your particular situation. Some dogs react to the noise, some to the static electricity, barometric pressure, or lightning. If you choose to try any of them, it is your personal decision, AND YOU SHOULD CONSULT YOUR VET BEFORE TRYING ANY SUPPLEMENTS, ESPECIALLY IF YOUR DOG IS ON ANY OTHER MEDICATION. Try one thing at a time, otherwise you don’t know what’s really working for your dog.
What is a Phobia?A fear is classified as a phobia when it is out of proportion to the danger of the real situation. Phobias generally become worse, not better, with repeated exposures. Dogs with mild noise phobia may look anxious during thunderstorms, tremble, hide under the bed or in the bathtub, and be afraid to go out of doors for hours after the storm has passed. If your dog suffers mildly, the best you can do is train him to go to a certain place in the house where he feels comfortable; some dogs like to go into an open crate, some like the bathtub or shower. If your dog heads to a certain spot and seems calmer, reward him. Severely afflicted pets may soil in the house, destroy furniture, attempt to break through walls or crash through windows, often hurting themselves in frantic efforts to flee the source of their fear.
Natural and Homeopathic Treatments
An article in The Whole Dog Journal reports that one of the most effective treatments for thunderstorm phobia is melatonin, an over-the-counter hormone used by humans to treat insomnia.
Melatonin is sold in capsules and tablets in health food stores, pharmacies and some supermarkets. It is sold in doses as low as 200 micrograms (mcg.). For most dogs, 3 milligrams (mg.) is recommended. In a few cases, dogs weighing over one hundred pounds need 6 mg. Dogs that weigh less than 30 pounds can be given 1.5 mg, tiny dogs, even less.
It’s important to read the labels on melatonin bottles very carefully. Some are mixed with herbs or nutrients that may not be safe for dogs. Make sure you buy the correct dosage for your size dog. Remember, there are 1,000 micrograms (mcg.) in a milligram (mg.) so a 200 mcg. pill contains only 1/15 of the amount recommended for a large dog.
Because melatonin is not regulated by any federal agency, the quality varies greatly from manufacturer to manufacturer. If an inferior product is administered, it may not be effective in calming a dog whereas a higher quality product might be. The best course of action is purchase the product from a supplier you trust and believe to carry better quality. Some holistic veterinarians sell melatonin and their products might be better quality.
You can give your dog melatonin before you leave for the day if thunderstorms are predicted because it remains effective for several hours. Otherwise, give it when thunder seems imminent. Give melatonin immediately when you see your dog becoming agitated. If your dog has autoimmune disease or severe liver or kidney disease, check with your veterinarian before giving melatonin.
Other “natural” things to investigate and consider:
Richard’s Organics Calm Pet which contains valerian, chamomile, kava kava, St. John’s wort and melatonin. This product is available from many pet-related web sites.
Only Natural Just Relax Pet Medallion – has essential oils in the medallion that can be attached to your dog’s collar.
There are new hemp-containing products/chews like True Hemp that can help calm some dogs. They are available in pet stores and online.
CBD Oil is also becoming a popular aid to address anxiety in dogs in many situations. Do your research to be sure you are buying a quality product and giving the right dosage. I personally use products from the Dogs Naturally Magazine shop https://market.dogsnaturallymagazine.com/?_ga=2.76731285.1097980399.1533733254-1856468209.1517519319
Aromatherapy with Essential Oils – There are a number of essential oils that may help your dog (and you) relax during stressful sound episodes – Lavender, Ylang-Ylang, Valerian just to name a few. Regardless of the type of calming aromatherapy products you might try, be sure it is a high-quality product that is therapeutic grade. Young Living, DoTerra and Rocky Mountain Oils are all good companies. Oils can be diffused with a diffuser or simply put on a cotton ball and put in the air vent in the room with the dog. They can also be diluted with a carrier oil and applied to fur, collar, aromatherapy tag, or bandana. There is a lot of information online, and books are available about using essential oils with dogs for health and wellbeing.
Flower Essences – Individual flower essences are used to address a wide range of discrete emotional balances. Remedies are matched to the specific mental and emotional needs of your animal. Flower essences are some of the very few substances that foster emotional healing – unlike drugs – which never cause side effects.
Either Rescue Remedy, Calming Essence or Five Flower Formula is a good remedy to start with to see if it calms your dog during a storm. You can learn more about the healing power of flower of essences in the book Bach Flower Remedies for Animals.
Music Therapy – Scientific studies indicate the benefits of music therapy for humans: slowing the heart rate, lowering blood pressure, speeding post-surgery recovery, elevating endorphin levels, bolstering immune function, decreasing stress related hormones. The effects are the same in some dogs.
Sources for therapeutic music:
Through a Dog’s Ear: http://www.throughadogsear.com
Wrap Therapy – “Body wrapping” seems to calm and focus some anxious and stressed dogs. Dog behaviorists have developed a variety of techniques for “wrapping” a dog ranging from T-shirts to elastic bandage wraps.
Sources for wrap products:
Sound Management – Dogs may react to the sound of the storm more than anything else. For those dogs, muffling the noise can help ease anxiety. Create a safe place like a dark closet with music playing and a comfy dog bed and guide your dog there during a storm. Give a frozen stuffed Kong or similar toy for your dog to work on.
One way to muffle sound is with specially designed ear muffs that were originally created for dogs exposed to loud noises, such as airplanes. Check out Mutt Muffs here: http://www.safeandsoundpets.com/index.html
Groomers often use the Happy Hoody to reduce the noises in their salon and it can be used for this purpose too: http://happyhoodie.com/
A relatively new company in South Florida has developed a sound-proof crate for dogs https://zendogcrate.com/
Sight Management – Some dogs react to the flashes of light, especially in a darkened room or during the night. To blur vision and lessen that effect, the Calming Cap may be helpful. http://www.thundershirt.com/thundercap.html
Static Electricity Management – Some dogs actually react to the static electricity in the air before and during a storm. That’s why you often see your dog seeking a grounded place in the house like the bathtub or laundry room. I had one dog that always jumped in the bathtub during a storm, and another one who would go lay in the laundry room. Here’s an interesting article about using unscented dryer sheets to lightly rub on dogs’ fur. Note the caution not to use these if your dog is prone to licking itself often. http://www.vetstreet.com/our-pet-experts/noise-phobia-tips-to-comfort-a-dog-who-fears-thunder-fireworks-and-other-sounds
Desensitization – In order to get the dog more relaxed when it hears the sound of a thunderstorm or other noises, you must expose the dog to the sounds often. There are CDs and downloadable files available that have recordings of various sounds that trigger anxiety. Start at a very low level (where you dog doesn’t react at all to the stimulus) and every few days raise the decibel level a notch or two. If your dog becomes anxious, turn it down a bit and work your way up again. Eventually get to the point that it is playing very loud. You must do this daily at first, and then at least once or twice a week.
Make Storm Time Fun Time – Whenever possible, as soon as you start hearing thunder, start playing your dog’s favorite game. We have a dog who started showing some anxiety with storms when he turned about two years old. Every time we saw a storm coming, we started playing fetch in the house with a special toy that we only used at this time. Now when our dog hears thunder, he runs and gets a toy, and we oblige him by playing for about 10 minutes. After that, he settles right down.