Thunderstorms and Lightning - Helping your dog cope21 June 2023
Written by Dr Jill McMaster BVM&S MBA MRCVS, Veterinary Surgeon and in-house expert at BorrowMyDoggy
It can be the darkest depth of winter, or the hottest day of summer and you hear it. The grumble of thunder. At first you think it might be a big passing lorry or train, but when it comes again, you know we’re on track for a thunderstorm.
Some of our dogs really don’t enjoy a thunderstorm, and you can see why - loud noises and flashing light, it’s a bit like fireworks, and we know how a lot of our pooches feel about those! So what can you do to keep your pup happy in a thunderstorm?
1. Be prepared
Ok so thunderstorms aren’t known for coming at the same time of year or giving us a lot of warning, and even the best weather predictions often don’t see them coming, there’s a few things you can do to be ready for the change in weather.
- Sound desensitisation - this is a great tool for fireworks, thunderstorms and even noisy building works. It’s not an instant fix though so be sure to start as soon as you can to build up your dog.
- Make a den - have a cosy space set up for your dog where they can relax when they’re scared. A crate, filled with their favourite toys with a blanket over the top can be a great space, where your pooch feels protected even when it seems like the sky's tumbling down.
- Early walks - so the weather forecast might not be pawfect, but if it looks like a storm is coming, take your BFF out earlier so they can do their business and also have some exercise and mental stimulation.
- Secure your home and garden - The natural reaction of some dogs when they hear a scary sound or flash in the sky is to scarper, so it’s really important to have your home and garden secure. Even the smallest spot of escape can be used by a pooch trying to ‘run away’ from a fright.
2. Keep them inside and stay home
When a thunderstorm unleashes its fury it’s best to keep our fuzzy friends inside. For a lot of dogs their own home and own bed feels much safer than going out and facing the sounds and lights of a thunderstorm, as well as avoiding the inevitable downpour and the very unlikely, although not impossible, risk of a lightning strike. Your company at home can also be very helpful to support a stressed pooch - a united woof pack can weather any storm!
3. Drown out the noise and block out the lights
By putting on the tv or radio a bit louder than normal, or maybe even some white noise (there’s lots of versions on YouTube), and shutting the curtains, you can reduce the amount of external stress your dog is exposed to. Just make sure it’s their favourite programme.
4. Behave normally
It is a normal reaction to want to comfort our dogs when they are scared, but it’s important not to overreact. They are often looking to us to see how to react, and if you’re not fussed and confident, a lot of our pooches will feel relaxed too. Be sure not to tell them off for being scared, instead focus your energies on doing a constructive task together.
5. Play a game
Don't let the storm dampen your dog's mood, play a game to keep them entertained. A rewards based game with their favourite treat can be a great distraction or an indoor game with their favourite fetch toy.
6. Anti-anxiety products
Your vet is the best place to go to chat about all the wonderful products on the market to support your pet’s stress. From DAP plug-ins to Thundershirts, your vet can advise on the best for you. If these don’t work for you, your vet is also the best person to chat to about referral to a behaviourist or a prescription for anti-anxiety medication.
A lot of dogs get scared in thunderstorms and it’s easy to see why. Imagine you didn’t understand what was going on, it’s scary to see the sky flash and grumble. But with these tips and help from your vet, you should be able to work towards a happy pooch who can focus their energy elsewhere when the thunderbolts come crashing.
This article is for information only, and should never replace any advice, diagnosis or treatment from your veterinary surgeon. Always contact your local vet or out of hours vet without delay if you have any concerns about your dog.
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