Dreaded summer “storm stress”? There is help

Posted By elaine on May 26, 2010

It is thunderstorm season and for some dog owners this means sleepless nights and even destroyed homes from dogs that suffer from lightning and thunder anxieties.  Studies show that about 15 to 30 percent of all dogs are “storm stressed”.


As a vet, Nancy Dreschel knew many dogs that freaked out during thunderstorms—one panicked dog even crashed through a closed, second-story window. Now, she researches storm stress in dogs and found that levels of the hormone cortisol in dogs’ saliva increase tremendously in storm-frightened dogs and stay high afterward.

She says there are some promising solutions on the horizon including a pheromone emitted from the mammary glands of mother dogs to soothe puppies, which may also help adult dogs in a thunderstorm.

While that might be a future answer, what can you do now to help a storm stressed dog.  There are a few items that some have claimed success with.  

There are anxiety wraps or shirts that claim to hold dogs with the right amount of pressure to keep them calm.  The “anxiety wrap”  and the “thundershirt”  are the best known of these products and many people have said they have great success with them.  Both cost around 40-bucks.

Various herbs have had many success stories and synthetic hormones have also been used with some success.  Talk to your naturopath or health food/pet store about remedies they recommend to make sure they are pet safe. 

Some people have even resorted to tranquilizers, but there can be dangerous side effects with these kinds of products so you will want to talk to a veterinarian before using them.  I would recommend this as a last result.

Probably the most successful remedy is training.  Most people see their beloved pet distressed and the natural response is to hug, pet, and talk to them.  While that appears nice, you may be telling your pet that he does in fact have something to fear. 

The best thing to do is to occupy your dog.  This will be very effective in young dogs that are just starting to get phobic, but it also works in older dogs that have been stressing for years. 

If your dog loves to fetch, start tossing a tennis ball and be very joyous with praise.  Ask them to do simple tricks for treats like shake and sit.

If the stress is so serious that they won’t listen or play… walk.  Put on a leash, get some treats and march around at a fast tempo.  Be calm and praise often while giving treats.  If it is not thunder, but say Fort Carson training exercises, take them on brisk walks around the block. 

Here is a tip, use a choke collar.  I know many people don’t like them, but if they are used properly, they aren’t dangerous, and in the case of a panicked pet, they are necessary.  Why?  Dogs can’t slip out of them and dart into traffic.  It is amazing how easily a pet can get out of buckle collars and harnesses when determined.

Another tip, you have to do this even if it is 2am.  Otherwise you will not get past the initial fear stages.  Hopefully after a few storms your pet will settle down and realize that storms are not life threatening.

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