pets afraid of thunder

This was my “Lulu” at 16 years old

Lulu was my yellow lab that I adopted at the age of two from the Humane Society in late spring of 1996.  She was one of those dogs who was afraid of thunder, which is putting it mildly.  It wasn’t long after bringing Lulu home that her fears really started to surface.  These fears would manifest into an uncontrollable anxiety that would change our lives for the next fourteen years.

We quickly learned that we couldn’t leave her alone during a storm and this would prove to be pretty difficult when you both work.  Luckily when I worked full time, her thunder phobia wasn’t too bad at that point.

However, with each passing year, her fear escalated.  During storm season, our lives centered around Lulu and the weather. She taught me a great deal about how scary this can be for dogs like her.

As trying as it was for me and my husband at times, I would do it all again for my old girl.

We love you Lulu.

Behavior

Everything about Lulu changed during these times. With every storm, her eyes became very large and she would pant excessively.  She would shake and tremble uncontrollably. It was as if she wanted to crawl into my skin.

Some dogs will simply go off on their own to a place that they have established as a safe place (eg: under a bed, behind a chair in a corner, etc). Others will bark endlessly for hours on end before and during thunder and lightning storms. For other dogs and owners, things are much worse.

Hysterical with fear and anxiety, an anxious dog will:

  • demolish furniture and anything else around
  • dig through walls
  • jump through windows
  • chew through anything
  • try to get outside of their home to run free

It is believed that barometric pressure and static electric change in the environment trigger a dog’s reaction that a storm is approaching.

Lulu had dug through our game room walls on more than one occasion and we generally would watch the weather so that we were always home with her whenever possible.  Once when we were hit with a surprise summer storm and we couldn’t make it home in time; she had completely trashed the walls in the game room. We literally had to pull splinters from between her teeth using tweezers. Her paws were bleeding. This was one one of those times when we were hit with a surprise storm and we weren’t home.

What Worked For Us and What Didn’t

We tried everything with Lulu but she was beyond the typical dog who was slightly scared, she was petrified. She would tell us when a storm was coming long before we heard the weather. She was ALWAYS right!

Here’s some of the things that we tried outside of medication. Understand that when you have a dog with such a severe state of thunder phobia, it boils down to what works (if anything) for your particular dog:

  • Consoling and not consoling – Behaviorists say not to console, but I’ve read stories where dog owners said that it helped. Does it help or hinder? I don’t really know because I tried both with my dog and neither helped during a thunder storm.
  • Playing her favorite games with her favorite toys during a storm could help, but if the storm lasted all night, it was impossible for us to do. I would typically go into a room and close the door behind us remaining close to her while talking softly. I had to constantly stop her from getting up and digging at the walls no matter where we were. It was a terrible situation because she didn’t want to be held. She wanted to escape.
  • Lulu taught me that she reacted to my reactions. I would often get jumpy when the first rumble of thunder would hit, because I knew what was coming. This only fueled Lulu’s fear. She taught me that it was important for me to remain calm if I wanted her to remain calm. You see, dogs are very in-tune with their owner’s emotions and feelings. Don’t believe otherwise, they are.
  • I tried putting a t-shirt on her and I do think it calmed her a little, but again, you have to understand that she was one of the worst cases our veterinarian had ever seen.
  • We purchased a crate and she wanted no parts of it. I would highly recommend purchasing more of an igloo type doggy house vs a standard wire crate. Maybe place a piece of cloth over the entrance to provide a cave for your dog with a fear of thunder.  DO NOT lock these dog’s in a crate!
  • Classical music CD’s for dogs did help to relax her a little.
  • Because she would dig at the walls during storms, we would place little dog boots or dog socks on her which at least helped with the problem of digging at the walls.
  • Prescription sedative helped a lot. However, you have to give the pill a half an hour before the storm hits. It doesn’t work if you try giving it and the dog is already worked up.

Our girl was an extreme case and the only thing that we could do to calm her was to sedate her. This wasn’t something that we liked to do and we tried very hard not to, but it was often the only thing we could. Remember, these dogs only know one thing – I Need To Get Away!  Dog owners must remain calm and patient – no matter what.

Dogs who are afraid of thunder and lightening storms can’t help themselves…

dog lulu

We miss you Lulu and will always LOVE you. 1994-2010

Conclusion and Other Helpful Links

I regret never trying the Thunder Shirt on Lulu.  Apparently, it works a lot like holding an autistic child when they get upset. That tight squeeze to the body is believed to calm them. Similar to the t-shirt home remedy technique, but much more sophisticated.

Please read the incredible story about Max. Max’ fear of thunder was even worse than Lulu’s.  His family endured many struggles due to his anxiety which would tragically end his life.

Please read my review here on the Thundershirt for dogs that I had one of my readers test on her own dog. Also, here’s a great report written by the DVGRR (Deleware Valley Golden Retriever Rescue, Inc.) with a lot of helpful tips for dogs who are afraid of thunder and lightening storms.

Of all the articles that I write – this is a topic that holds a special place in my heart.  It was a big part of my life for 14 years.  I hope to help others out there who are in the same situation. Please share your stories of success and otherwise, so that we can possibly make a difference for someone else.

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Showing 62 comments
  • Raeanne Meyerl
    Reply

    Hi, I have a golden retriever who is 11 years old and is deathly afraid of thunder, anything that has loud noise, fireworks, guns ect. She has been this way since she was little. Needless to say I have tried everything to help calm her down. T-shirts, medication, all natural meds, blankets you name it. I have not gone out and watched fire works for 9 years now. Anytime it storms, or fireworks, she is a mess, she just wants to be with her momma (me) and we sit on the bed as she paces from one end to the other, under the covers out of the covers and she is panting so hard. I have tried sedation but she just fights it. They do not work for her, except the next day all she does is sleeps all day. She is going through some problems right now in which we can’t get to the bottom of yet. She has an infection around her vulva, which she is on antibiotics for but she has this God awful cough as if she want’s to throw up that just wont go away. Calling the vet again tomorrow. But for the thunder storms now I will just be here for her, she is the love of my life along with my 2 year old Pug and 1 1/2 year old deaf Boston Terrier I just rescused.

    • admin
      Reply

      Hi Raeanne:

      Although I was going to, I never actually got the opportunity to try the “thundershirt” on my Lulu. I recently contacted the company and asked that they donate a shirt to me for one of my visitors whose dog would actually go through the doggy door and rip the siding right off of the house during a storm.

      Much like Max if you had a chance to read his story. The company has donated a shirt and so far the results have been good. I’ve been told that the shirt definitely calms him. He is an extreme case (like Max) and I’m waiting to hear how he does with the shirt during a severe storm.

      However, your dog sounds much like my Lulu who would fight sedation all the time. I’m thinking that it might be worth a try for your girl. Although I’m testing the product on the above dog – I’ve still heard very good results from others about it.

      The vulva problem may be a UTI or simply inflammation caused by an allergic reaction. This cough makes me wonder though simply because of the vulva inflammation – which could be an indicator of an allergic reaction as well.

      Did they prescribe an antihistamine for her Raeanne? If not, you might want to ask them about it or get an over the counter antihistamine yourself for her and see if it helps. You can check out my dog skin problems page where you can find antihistamines and dosages for dogs – Scroll down to this paragraph:
      Common Antihistimines And Dosages For Dogs

      Janie

      • Ryan
        Reply

        My dog suffers from this as well. I’ve had dogs that are afraid of storms but my current one is in an entirely different category. First, thanks for the article. It was helpful to read of others in a similar position. I feel better knowing that it isn’t just me having trouble finding solutions. I’ve been trying to avoid medication (and have tried some with mixed results). Regarding the Thundershirt, I did try this. I don’t want to discourage anyone from trying it, I’ve read the many success stories out there. Each dog is different but for mine, the shirt made absolutely no difference at all.

        If you land on this page and plan to try it, I would recommend either purchasing direct from the company or through Amazon or checking your local pet store’s return policy. The company offers a money back guarantee but it is not made clear that this offer is only good for direct purchases. I would highly recommend checking the return policies where you purchase. Amazon accept returns regardless (not through the manufacturer’s program) and some pet stores (Pet Supplies Plus, a chain around here, as one example) will do the same. I purchased from another store, without this knowledge, and was not able to return the shirt. Hopefully you’ll be another success story but if not, with some planning you can get your money back.

        • janie
          Reply

          Hi Ryan:

          Thanks so much for sharing your recommendations regarding the return policy. I know it seems to work for some dogs and others not so much. I guess the severity of the fear has a lot to do with it.

          Thanks again Ryan.

          Janie

  • Jono
    Reply

    I hope you and your readers understand that the crate did not work because your dog wasn’t crate trained. For a crate to be effective during a stressful episode the dog needs to be crate trained before the stressful episode, ideally in puppyhood because to many adult dogs a new experience (ie; the crate) is a stressful episode. So tip for everybody – crate train dogs during puppyhood! It’s much easier to do the training then.

    You can crate train most adult dogs but it much harder and more time consuming. Crate training a pup is a blessing because if they ever develop an issue later then being crate trained can be a help. It’s not a cert in every situation, but why risk not having a crate trained puppy when you can have a crate trained puppy.. I realize not all people get their dog when it’s a puppy and many of the other tips have been Helpful.

    Just wanted to clarify one of the reasons crating might not work.

    • janie knetzer
      Reply

      Thanks for sharing Jono. I’ve seen dogs who have a slight fear of thunder and I’ve seen dogs who will literally dig through the wall until their nails bleed. Personally, I believe that certain dogs, just like certain people (myself included) are affected more by the pressure in the atmosphere. I get severe headaches when it rains, and I believe that certain dogs are affected by the pressure as well and the reaction to thunder is secondary to a problem in the ears, etc. Just my own opinion — not based on facts.

      Janie

  • Jono
    Reply

    I personally think if a thunder shirt and crate didn’t work I’d consider some sound proofing aucuoustic bats in a designated area
    and a radio to lessen the sound.

  • Jono
    Reply

    And medication form the vet behaviourist (not any old vet but one with behavioural understanding) for the really bad cases (the ones that rip the door and carpet off)

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