Combatting anxiety from thunderstorms and noise

Team Walmart Pets

June 1, 2021

4

min read

An estimated 42-50% of all dogs get anxiety from thunderstorms, fireworks and other loud noises, and about 10-14% of dogs suffer from separation anxiety. The two seem to be linked—about 85% of dogs that are scared of fireworks, thunder and other loud noises also experience some level of anxiety when left alone. We aren’t totally sure how many cats experience noise phobias, but we suspect some inexplicable/spontaneous cat behavior may be the result.

Regardless of whether it’s a dog being scared of thunder, fireworks, or vacuum cleaners—noise aversions are a common and serious problem in cats and dogs. These behaviors are extremely complex, layered with factors like age, location, temperature, how light or dark it is and even barometric pressure. Because most cats tend to hide when they’re scared, so we know even less about what causes they behavior and symptoms. 

Generally, we tend to connect noise fears with a traumatic event. One dog may develop a severe fear of thunderstorms or fireworks after experiencing a hurricane. On the other hand, one may shake uncontrollably when he hears the doorbell. For many other dog patients, we'll never really understand what triggered their fear. Additionally, noise phobias are more common in older pets, possibly as a result of cumulative trauma, a decline in certain brain chemicals or a combo of both. 

Signs + symptoms

Regardless of what noise is causing anxiety for your dog or cat, affected pets usually develop behaviors ranging from excessive licking to pacing to whimpering and cowering. Or they might develop destructive and harmful behaviors such as digging, clawing and self-mutilation. 

How to calm a dog during a thunderstorm

Although we may not know exactly why pets develop noise phobias, it doesn’t mean we can’t help. The first step in overcoming noise phobias is to identify the cause, which can prove challenging even for very tuned-in pet parents.

For example, by far the most common noise phobia vets see in dogs or cats is associated with thunder – but the trigger may not be the actual cracking sound. Many dogs with thunderstorm fears become anxious as the atmospheric pressure drops or the wind shifts. In other cases, pets may become sensitive to high-pitched or faraway noises humans can’t hear.

Desensitization

Desensitization or counter-conditioning techniques work in many cases; however, there are situations where pet parents lack the time or patience to do them correctly and effectively, or the phobia is associated with multiple stimuli. Regardless, this technique should be a part of most behavioral modification treatments, including those that incorporate medications.

Anxiety medication

Many canines are too fearful or anxious to learn how to relax. Luckily, over the counter dog anxiety medications can help ease a pet’s fear while working on behavior modification. Before using any of these medications, you should consult with your vet first. 

While anxiety medication for dogs may help with behavioral problems, most dogs and cats can’t be cured of their noise phobias through medicine alone. A three-pronged approach consisting of medication/natural treatments, behavior modification and veterinary counseling are required to successfully treat most dogs. 

There are also many treatments that can work well in milder cases:

Thundershirt for dogs 

This velcro-sealed vest for your dog works from the same principle as swaddling a baby. Gentle pressure on the body appears to have a calming effect on the nervous system. There’s also a Thundershirt for cats.

Bach Rescue Remedy

A diluted solution of flower extracts, some pets see positive effects when using this homeopathic remedy prior to storms or stressful events. 

Antihistamines

Some over-the-counter antihistamines can provide fairly profound drowsiness in pets, especially those that contain diphenhydramine, which is the active ingredient in Benadryl. Always talk to your vet before giving any over-the-counter meds for advice on whether this medicine is safe for your pet.

Plugin pheromone diffuser 

Some cats can benefit from a synthetic pheromone product, like Feliway, which mimics the natural feline facial pheromone cats mark their territory with when they feel safe. Dogs, too, can benefit from calming spray like Adaptil.

Increasing regular exercise helps, too—as little as 30 minutes a day of brisk walking can reduce anxiety-related behaviors in many dogs. For cats, try to get in 15 minutes of play a few times a day. 

Prognosis

With patience, care and commitment, the behavior of your pet resulting from noise phobias should improve. But rarely do these fears improve without intervention. In fact, most worsen until something catastrophic occurs, like injuries, destruction of property or aggression. Don’t want for something like that to happen to you or your dog—start working on their behavior today.

Behavior

Pet Safety

Photo by Mike Burke on Unsplash