Coping With Thunderstorm and Fireworks Season

We’ve reached the time of year when thunderstorms are frequent, and July 4th fireworks are happening soon. For many pets, loud noises and storms are not a big deal, but for others, it is a time filled with fear, stress, and even destructive behavior. We’ve learned that there is no one perfect way to manage every case of noise phobia, even in our own pets. Here are some of our stories:

Dr. Jim Earley is using different combinations of prescription medication for his three dogs affected by storm phobia:

“Storms can be a real nightmare for pets who are terrified by noise and sometimes the flashes of lightning.  I have 4 dogs, and 3 of them have storm phobia to some degree.  I have tried a multitude of things including white noise, safe areas like covered crates, supplements, and behavior modification. All of these methods have helped some, but I have found that they still need medication.  Dule` is my largest dog, a Plott hound and lab mix.  His phobia is controlled but not eliminated with establishing a safe area and giving an antianxiety medication called trazodone as long as I can give it to him before storms arrive."

"Obie, my youngest, was rescued as an adult. His phobia is the worst, and despite trying a lot of interventions I have not found the perfect combo yet for him.  Trazodone and melatonin definitely help but do not eliminate his issues, so if storms last for more than 10 minutes I have added Sileo for him.  Sileo is a newer formulation of a medication we frequently use for sedation in the hospital.  It works pretty fast, with a 15-20 minute onset, and so far has really helped him relax during storms.  It has a special syringe delivery system, so if it is prescribed for your dog, we will have someone demonstrate it for you.  My third dog has gone deaf from old age so the noise portion of her phobia has dramatically improved. Unfortunately, she is still aware of the pressure changes and lightning from storms, so she still has some anxiety. For her, melatonin seems to be enough to help her.”

Jodi Casher, one of our Registered Veterinary Technicians, is using some non-prescription methods to help her dog Barley:

“My husband and I adopted Barley at two months of age from ACN. We were told she was rescued from a hoarding situation in a small fenced yard. She was terrified of the world the day we brought her home. Every noise made her jump and she was not used to human interaction. She did not, however, seem to be bothered by thunderstorms. Over the next several months we slowly and carefully socialized her with many different people, places, other friendly animals, and noises. She came out of her shell gradually and was eager to learn. She gained even more confidence at one year of age when we added an older Labrador Retriever, Bonnie, to our family. Barley began to get excited to go for car rides with her new sister, explore new places, and even eat better, too! We were so happy that she was turning into a social and well-adjusted adult dog!"

"All of a sudden, around age three, a summer thunderstorm blew through as usual and Barley began shaking, panting, pacing, and was generally inconsolable. She repeatedly came to us but would not let us hold her; she was out of her mind with fear. It was heart wrenching to stand by and feel there was nothing I could do to ease her newfound terror. My husband and I racked our brains for something we may have done to cause this new fear. Did we leave her outside in the yard one time? Did we get caught in a storm on a hike recently? Neither of us, nor Bonnie, was nervous during storms. We were at a loss."

"After doing some research I discovered that it is common for dogs to form thunderstorm phobias as adults, even if they had no issues as a younger dog. I immediately invested in a Thundershirt and began giving Rescue Remedy on a treat prior to the start of any storm. That combination took the edge off for a while. Eventually, even though I used the Thundershirt during happy times as well, she began to have her fear reactions whenever she heard the Velcro on the shirt rip apart. Her phobia also spilled over to include fireworks and even a hard rain made her anticipate possible thunder."

"We then started to use Composure calming treats and continued with the Rescue Remedy. I gave these to her any morning that a storm was forecasted for the day. If I was at home before the storm later began, I would give them to her again in the afternoon. I was elated to see that this new combination once again took the edge off and she even began to self-soothe. She went into the bathroom and curled up on the bathmat. This was the first time since her phobia began that she stopped pacing and actually lay down!"

"Over time we have added more calming methods. Adaptil calming spray has been a huge help! I spray it on the bathmat to help encourage her self-soothing. I have experimented with spraying it in different corners on the mat and I often find her lying with her nose oriented towards the spot that I sprayed. White noise has also helped tremendously. The bathroom conveniently has a ceiling vent fan that makes a nice white noise sound when it’s on. Our most recent addition has been Zylkene calming supplement. Just like Composure, if there is a good chance of a storm sometime that day I will give once in the morning and repeat in the evening if necessary. When I am home, I also try to distract her with a frozen Kong or puzzle toy. She is very food motivated and if the storm isn’t too severe the food seems to distract her."

"Our current calming protocol includes: Composure, Zylkene, Rescue Remedy, Adaptil, white noise, and food distractions when applicable. We haven’t started using prescription drugs for her yet since her phobia had been controlled with our other methods, but that will be the next step.”

Your veterinarian at Animal Hospital of North Asheville can help determine if your pet needs prescription anxiety medication to help with storm phobia. Any prescription should be combined with desensitization and environmental support. We also recommend giving a trial dose of a new medication before your pet actually needs it, so that you can observe how your pet responds and reacts.

For more information about managing noise and storm phobia: