So many of us love thunderstorms, we look forward to summer and the opportunity to sit and marvel at mother nature; the flashes of light, the giant booms. Unfortunately, many pets do not share these feelings and dislike, or even fear, the storms that we love. As someone who now has two dogs that are not fans of thunderstorms, I have been doing my research on how best to ease my companions’ fears.
Let’s start at the beginning: my youngest dog Drift’s fears began several years ago when we had a slew of storms back to back over a couple of days, with the heart of the storm being over our home for extended periods of time, and during which the pets were home alone. Over the course of the years since, I have been working on finding the best ways to help him deal with (and maybe even overcome) his fear. During this process we discovered with a recent storm (that happened to occur right over our home at 2 in the morning) that likely his stress and aging has lead to our oldest dog becoming fearful of thunderstorms as well.
It can often be very difficult to help your pet deal with the stress of a storm because they know well before we do that the storm is coming. They are aware of all the changes to the air and the environment that we don’t see. So, how does one deal with reducing your pet’s anxiety and, with any luck, resolving the fear?
There are a few things that can be done:
- prescription medication
- pressure point stress reduction
- non prescription alternatives
1. Prescription Medication
The prescription medication often used is a sedative type drug. Although certainly helpful, is a bit difficult for several reasons:
a) For best results it should be given an hour prior to the arrival of the storm: it can be hard to predict when that will be and it is hard to do if you have to work all day and a storm is expected sometime in the afternoon. Given too soon means it may be worn off by the time the storm arrives.
b) If given when the storm arrives it takes approximately 30 mins to be effective and for some dogs, if they are already very stressed, it may have no affect.
c) There were times when a storm was expected, I gave the medication and no storm arrived. Although there is no harmful side effect, I felt bad sedating my dog for nothing.
2. Pressure Point Stress Reduction
You may have heard of something called a “Thundershirt”. This item is designed based on the Tellington TTouch method of stress reduction and relaxation. The “shirt” fits snugly on the body and applies pressure to specific areas that are involved in the reduction of anxiety. The benefit of the shirt is that it can be worn all the time if needed. The downside is that if your home is not air-conditioned it could cause your dog to become overly warm as the air can’t circulate against the skin where the shirt is. Also, if you have a dog that isn’t happy about wearing it and is destructive, they may just wreck it or worse yet, eat it.
3. Non Prescription Alternatives
There are various homeopathic options available in pet stores. Although I can’t speak on this because I don’t know enough about them, that doesn’t mean that they are bad or good. If you are considering one of those options it is best to discuss it with your trusted veterinarian. Homeopathic medications can react with other medications or have negative side effects. Best to be safe and be sure before giving.
Zylkene is a natural product made from the casein found in mother’s milk. Although the product can be given “as needed“, it does work best if there is some build up in the dog’s system. It is safe to give on a constant, ongoing basis. So you could start giving it either at the beginning of summer until the fall when the risk of thunderstorms is over, or if the forecast is calling for a storm in the next couple days you could give it immediately and stop it after the storm. However, going with the latter method does not aid in the cases where a storm is unexpected.
Adaptil is a natural product based on the pheromones emitted by a mother for her pups at a very early age. Adaptil comes in 3 methods of delivery: plugin, spray or collar. For dogs with thunderstorm issues the plugin is best (it lasts 4 weeks before a refill is required). It is most effective if it is plugged into the wall closest to your dog’s resting place. The pheromone is only detectable by dogs, so you will not notice any scent in the air. If you are traveling, you could use the collar (put it on 24 hours prior to leaving so it can take effect) or you can use the spray that can be spritzed onto a dog’s bedding.
Conditioning is a way of training your dog to elicit a different response to a stimuli. For thunderstorms, it would be teaching them to be calm and relaxed with the thunder instead of stressed and nervous. Although conditioning is a great method and is definitely something that ultimately will work wherever you go, it is also the most time-consuming. You must be devoted to working on the behaviour for every single storm. One storm where you aren’t training and the behaviour can back slide.
With knowing the possible options, how do you choose?
Work together with your veterinarian to decide the best choice or combination of choices for both your dog and your lifestyle. For me personally, here is what I did:
I began with the prescription medication because it was an immediate resolution to a storm that was coming. I ordered a Thundershirt and while I waited for its arrival I used the prescription medication. Once it arrived I would put the thundershirt on Drift for stormy days before leaving for work. If the storm was about to (or I knew was going to) happen in the morning, I also did the prescription medication. If, when I arrived home, the storm had yet to occur but was still possible I left the thundershirt on and gave the medication. On days when the storm was occurring in the afternoon before I got home, and the shirt wasn’t quite enough to settle him, I would put him in the crate with my other dog for comfort once I got home. (Unfortunately this may possibly be part of what has started her recent anxiety).
In the beginning, on days when I was home for the storm, I would put the thundershirt on, give Drift the medication, and cover his crate. ( His crate is his own personal “go to” place so I felt it would be more stressful for him to keep him out with me.). Eventually when I noticed he was less stressed at the first signs of a storm I would skip the prescription medication. Whenever there was thunder in the distance and he didn’t whine or cry I would verbally praise him and give him a treat. Initially, food rewards were not accepted if the thunder was too close. Over time I have found that the thundershirt alone is sufficient to ease his anxiety and I no longer come home to a worried and panicked pup if there has been a storm during the day. However, because I don’t intend to leave the thundershirt on always, I am looking at the alternatives for days of unexpected storms.
With Finny’s new reaction to the thunder I am planning to try the Adaptil plugin. I can place it right where both dogs sleep and since it is always “on” I don’t have to worry about any unexpected storms during the day or the night. I will also be ordering a thundershirt for her. Between the two items I am hopeful that both dogs will no longer worry about storms and am excited about the other potential anxiety issues that may also be resolved with the Adaptil.
I personally have not tried the Zylkene, mostly because I worry that days will go by with it not being given because we have forgotten or one person thought the other was doing it. I do know people who use it and find it to be extremely helpful.
All the items listed above are also useful for fireworks (dogs afraid of thunder are almost always certain to react to fireworks if they are close) and other stress and anxiety related disorders. If you have any concerns about your dog’s behaviour contact your trusted veterinarian for advice.
Zylkene is a product we always have in stock, the Adaptil can be ordered (and may become a regular product), and we can also order the thundershirt for you too. For more information contact us.