Storm Phobias in Pets
We have experienced some pretty intense thunderstorms so far this summer, and if these storms have seemed extreme to us as humans, one can only imagine the intensity felt by our pets - some more than others. Pets experience the world in ways humans have a hard time understanding. An animal's finely tuned senses enhance survival in the wild, and with pets, sometimes those senses and instincts will lead to what we consider inappropriate or even dangerous responses.
Take some pets reaction to thunderstorms - with their various noises, flashing lights, rumbling thunder, barometric pressure and ionic shifts, smells, wind, and rain - they can be scary. Animals in the wild will run for shelter, packs may huddle together and there may be some mild anxiety. Eventually over time, with repeat, nonthreatening outcomes, that anxiety usually eases as the animal becomes "conditioned" to the storm. When you consider a dog or cat, which is confined to a home, storms can lead to unsettling inconsistentcy, making the appropriate response difficult to figure out. If combined with punishment at the hand of the owner upon returning to a destroyed door or window, the experience can be even more anxiety-ridden for a pet.
Pets can certainly experience phobias, and one of the top 10 is thunderstorms - a pretty common but somewhat unpredictable occurrence in Georgia. Some of the behaviors associated with storm phobia are panting, pacing, trembling, increased salivation, destructive behavior, hiding or "clinging". We can help to make the experience more or less scary depending on how we respond. The worst thing to do is to punish an animal that develops a phobia. The second worst thing we could do is be inconsistent with OUR response to the pet battling a storm phobia, alternating ignoring sometimes to comforting other times. The best thing we can do is work hard to "desensitize" pets to these random events EARLY in life and consider paring the event with something really good - for instance, when it rains - give a rawhide, or during thunder - do fun interactive games as a distraction. Again, consistency is important and LEARNING is a big part of getting over fears.
So understand that there is not a magic pill to fix phobia, but there are a few behaviorial tools (including medicaitons) we can use to ease the anxiety. It is best to speak with your veterinarian or behavioral instructor to help you determine the best combination for your pet.