Thunderstorms trigger anxiety in multiple ways. Not only does the light, noise, and vibrations trigger fear, but the changes in electromagnetic energy and static electricity in the air plays a big role as well.
What can we do? Depending on the level of anxiety, simple adjustments can minimize the problem.
1) Move the pet to a central room in the house.
2) Play white noise or music that will mask the sounds.
3) Close blinds or drapes so that the visual stimulation is minimized.
4) Thundershirts- These are jackets that work on the same principal as swaddling. By wrapping the pet in these shirts, acupressure is applied that helps your pet feel safe. While these don’t work in every pet, many experience complete relief. These are available here at Mill Creek Animal Clinic, on Amazon, and in many pet stores. They should be sized appropriately, so we recommend bringing your pet with you so we can measure and fit him or her with the best size.
5) Desensitization-Find a recording of thunderstorms and fireworks. Play the recording at a low level over time, gradually increasing the volume. It is important that you are playing with your dog during these sessions so that he associates the noise with positive behavior.
6) POSITIVE REINFORCEMENT- avoid giving your dog the calming pats and hugs while he is experiencing the events, as this could reinforce the behavior. Get your pet use to sitting at your feet or in a safe place in the house (when it isn’t storming) and rewarding and reinforcing this location as his safe place. Do this all year round. Obviously, don’t scold your pet. Negative reinforcement is still reinforcement.
7) Natural Remedies- The essential oil Lavender has calming affects as well as the phermone product Adaptil. There are also products that are based on natural proteins that simulates the protein from their mothers milk, making the pet feel safe. Composure Pro and Zylkene fall into this category, and we have had a lot of success with these products. Adaptil is available here as a plug in diffuser, and also as a collar that you put right on the dog. Cats respond favorably to Feliway.
8) Pharmaceuticals- Probably the most reliable form of anti-anxiety treatment for the majority of pets. Medications like alprazolam (Xanax), trazodone, and gabapentin all can be effective. The goal of these medications is to inhibit the anxiety receptors, not just sedating the dog. Straight tranquilizers like acepromazine are not recommended as sole agents, since they tranquilize the patient but don’t take away the fear. In the long run, this can make the anxiety worse.
Your pet may respond to any single treatment above, but most pets require a multi-modal approach to find the best and most effective treatment plan. Trial and error is the only way to find which treatments work and at which doses, so plan ahead, we will need time prior to the stress event to find the best therapy.