Storm Anxiety: How to Calm a Dog During Thunder, Lightning and Loud Noises

Do you have astraphobia? Does your dog? Astraphobia, which can affect humans and animals, is the abnormal fear of thunder and lightning. One small study reported in the International Journal of Animal Health Development suggests that the majority of dogs suffer to some extent from astraphobia — 66.66% of dogs in the study showed abnormal fears of thunder and lightning.

For most people, the news of an impending storm may cause them to rethink outdoor activities. In contrast, those who have astraphobia may have many symptoms, such as panic attacks, trouble breathing, and chest pain. Like humans, canines are known to suffer from astraphobia and can exhibit a slew of frantic behavior. 

First, we’ll explain what storm anxiety is, why dogs are afraid of rain, and why dogs develop thunderstorm fears. Then we’ll explain techniques for helping to calm your dog’s astraphobia.

What is Dog Storm Anxiety?

The fear of thunderstorms is a common issue for many dogs, to which owners often feel frustrated and helpless due to their inability to calm down their pet. Like fireworks and gunshots, which dogs with astraphobia also fear, thunderstorms bring on anxiety. Although the exact reasons behind a dog’s fear of thunderstorms is unknown, some possibilities include:

  • A dog’s sensitive hearing can detect an approaching storm long before it hits.
  • A dog can sense changes in humidity and barometric pressure, which may affect their ears.
  • Their (unknown to you) traumatic past could heighten your dog’s reaction.
  • A dog may experience a shock from the build-up of electricity that comes with thunderstorms.
  • A dog’s genetics may play a role.

Signs of Storm Anxiety in Dogs

A dog’s fear of thunderstorms is typically quite obvious. Some pets may hide under a chair or table, while others stand frozen in fear. Many dogs may whine, pace, howl, or bark, or cling to their humans and seek attention. Without addressing your pet’s fear of thunderstorms, his phobia can continue to worsen over time. Some dogs accidentally urinate or defecate. Because animals can sense impending storms before they reach your location, you can often observe astraphobia signs:

  • Panting
  • Shaking
  • Pacing
  • Whining
  • Hiding

Once you recognize what your dog is going through, you can help calm his or her nervousness and fear, using a number of techniques.

7 Ways to Calm a Dog During a Storm

If you know your dog has astraphobia, we don’t recommend leaving your dog alone during thunderstorms outside or inside. The isolation could be traumatic and cause your dog to suffer a full-blown anxiety attack! If you aren’t able to home during a storm, ask a family member or neighbor to sit with your pet. 

Be calm and speak normally

Try to remain calm yourself. Your pet can sense your frustration, anxiety and fear, which could exacerbate his own. When you stay relaxed and offer your pet reassurance, he’s less likely to overreact to a storm.

Give your dog a safe space to hide during a storm

Ensure your dog has a safe space, whether it is your dog’s crate or under the table. Find a dark place where you can set up your dog’s bedding along with a favorite toy or two as a comfort zone. It may sound counter-intuitive to put a dog in a dark room during a storm, but if the lightning flashes trigger her fears, then blacked-out windows will help allay her fears.

If your dog prefers his crate, lay a blanket over the top to help absorb some of the storm’s sights and sounds. Be sure to leave the crate door open so he doesn’t feel trapped. 

Distract your dog’s attention  

Turn a scary, negative experience into a positive one by simply masking the sounds of a storm by turning on a television or music. Invite your dog to play, or if your dog loves to be brushed, give him or her a nice grooming session or belly rub. Reward your dog often with praise and treats. 

Desensitize your dog from thunder and loud noises

Although this doesn’t work for all dogs, desensitizing can prove helpful to some dogs. For example, quietly play the sounds of thunderstorms on your smartphone or another device while you and your pet are playing, out walking, eating, or doing something you normally enjoy. If your dog reacts positively, you can steadily increase the volume over a few weeks or months.

Try a dog thunder jacket, coat or blanket  

Your vet might recommend a dog thunderstorm jacket, coat, vest or blanket. Some dogs respond well to a wrap that applies enough constant compression that it calms them down. The notion is similar to that of swaddling a baby. Experts recommend that you wrap your dog for no more than 15 minutes, and never leave a swaddled dog unattended.

Ask your vet about storm anxiety medication 

What can you give your dog during thunderstorms? In severe cases of astraphobia, when all other options don’t work, some owners medicate their pets. Do this only with your veterinarian’s prescription. Never give a dog storm anxiety medication like Benadryl without consulting your veterinarian.

Don’t scold your dog during a thunderstorm

Rely on positive reinforcement when dealing with your dog’s astraphobia. Never scold or punish your dog if he’s displaying negative behavior out of fear as it could heighten his anxiety and reaction.