Naples Safari Animal Hospital & Pet Resort
Lesli Reiff, DVM
Client Information Sheet
Thunderstorm Anxiety Disorder
Thunderstorm anxiety is a common behavioral disorder of dogs
and can become a serious problem, especially during the summer
in Southwest Florida. There are some things that we can do to
help relieve the fear during storms and sometimes eliminate the
anxiety all together.
We use multiple approaches to achieve the best results
addressing the phobia associated with thunderstorms:
1. Desensitization - involves getting your pet used to
thunderstorm associated noise.
2. Comfort- provide a “safe place” during thunderstorms.
3. Distraction - provide positive rewards in association with
4. Elimination of anxiety reinforcing behaviors.
5. Pharmacology -medications daily or when needed.
The best time to begin addressing the problem is before
thunderstorm season arrives.
Desensitization should begin before thunderstorm season. There
are many CDs available that incorporate thunderstorm noises
either with or without soothing music. Begin by playing the music
at low volume. Gradually increase the levels as your pet gets
used to the sound. Associate a pleasant activity like play,
feeding, brushing, or special treats during these times. It is also
useful to play the music in the evening or at night since many
storms and fears occur when it is dark. We do have Thunderstorm
CDs available at Naples Safari.
Comfort/Distraction Many pets will seek a safe place when
thunderstorms occur. If your pet has not chosen a spot, select a
bathroom or closet with as few windows as possible and have it
set up so your pet can get used to it now. Place a crate or
provide bedding for your pet. We recommend that a small TV or
radio be placed in the area for additional noise & distraction during
storms. Pets are sensitive to barometric changes so you will not
be able block out all thunderstorm associated stimuli, but you can
minimize triggers. Encourage your pet to use the area by
providing a special treat or activity .There are many toys available
to hide treats in and engage your pet. Our favorites are Kong
Toys. These can be filled with a commercial Kong Stuffing,
biscuits, dog friendly ice cream, ice cubes, peanut butter or a
combination of the above. Placing the “stuffed “ toys in the freezer
may provide an additional challenge and distraction. Some dogs
respond to the comforting gentle pressure of a "Thundershirt" , a
snug wrap around vest placed on the dog. DAP diffusers - a kind
of “plug in “ that emits Dog Appeasing Pheromone may help.
Some studies indicate that lavender aromatherapy may be
soothing. Collars impregnated with DAP are also available and
last for up to 4 weeks.
Elimination of Anxiety Reinforcing Behaviors - Many times we
unknowingly send the message to our pets that the anxiety
behavior is appropriate. During an anxiety episode it is natural to
attempt to comfort the animal . To prevent reinforcing the anxiety,
it is important to ignore the behavior when it occurs. This may be
hard to do but provides an important cue that the event is not to
be feared. Go about your business as usual and treat your pet as
if it were not having a problem. Speak to your dog in an upbeat,
playful voice. Engage him or her in play or lead your pet to the
safe place and provide a treat but try not to “make a big deal “ of
the event. Also realize that dogs pick up on human cues easily,
so if they see you tense they are likely to respond in kind.
Pharmacology - In many parts of the country and in mild cases, a
medication like alprazolam used on an as needed basis may be
enough to manage thunderstorm phobic behaviors. The
problem with this approach is that it is much more difficult to
achieve comfort with medication after the fact. Dog's ability to
sense changes is barometric pressure, acute sense of hearing
and response to other cues means dogs can often sense an
approaching storm before their owners. In our area, where storms
can be an everyday event, seasonal daily medication is often a
good choice. Fluoxetine can be given once a day , and if needed ,
alprazolam can be given in addition if the pet becomes extremely
agitated. The daily medication should ideally be started
approximately 2 weeks before storm season starts. If long term
therapy is recommended, a baseline blood panel may be
required. A new medication approved for canine noise aversion,
Sileo (dexmedetomidine), is dosed for absorption through the
gums and shown to be effective.
With some effort on the part of the family - and a little help from
medicine, summer in Florida may be a less anxious time for both
you and your pet.