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DR. NICHOLAS DODMAN: THUNDERSTORM PHOBIA IN DOGS

101118_4177_dodman154.jpgTis the season to be miserable for certain anxious dogs who are terrified by the unwelcome arrival of summer thunderstorms, complete with lightning, the rumbling or sharp cracking sound of thunder itself, heralded and accompanied by darkening skies, gusting winds and heavy rain.

Before and during the storm there may be other cues that dogs can detect and associate with the storm, such as changes in barometric pressure, static electric field and, possibly, even ionized particles in the air. Either way, this whole gestalt of the thunderstorm experience strikes pure terror into the hearts of certain dogs.

Certain types and breeds of dogs seem more prone to thunderstorm phobia. The typical storm phobic dog is largish in size, weighs more than fifty pounds, and has a dense coat. Herding breeds and their crosses are overrepresented in this troubling condition.

Clinical signs range from clinginess, hiding, panting, pacing, whining, and shaking in sheer terror. In extreme cases, dogs exposed to a raging thunderstorm in their owner’s absence will destroy things in frantic attempts to escape from the home. Some dogs succeed in breaking through fly screens, may leap to “safety” from a second or third story window and, if unhurt by the fall, will run for miles, often into the next town to be rounded up by animal control.

Here is what you can do to help a dog who is terrified of storms.

• Prevent or attenuate exposure to the full brunt of the storm.

• Anti-static storm wear – There are several proprietary jackets that dogs can be fitted with during storms to help reduce the aversive nature of the experience.

• Medication – Although we don’t take medicating dogs lightly, this is often the only thing that can be done to assuage the extreme anxiety of seriously affected dogs. By the way, don’t try this at home … always seek your veterinarian’s advice before giving your dog any prescription medication.

“Where there’s a light, there’s a way,” it is said, but where there’s lightning (and thunder) there are dogs who desperately need our help and support. Severe cases may be turned into shelters by unwitting owners who don’t realize that something can be done to help their terrified pet and prevent occasional serious damage to their home. Rest assured that it is now possible to successfully manage thunderstorm phobia in the vast majority of cases. Just come and see us if anyone tells you otherwise!


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Dr. Dodman is a Professor in the Department of Clinical Sciences at Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine and Director of the school’s Animal Behavior Clinic. He is also Chief Scientific Officer for the CENTER FOR CANINE BEHAVIOR STUDIES. He has written over 100 scientific articles and several popular press books, including The Dog Who Loved Too Much and The Cat Who Cried for Help.

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