Dogs and cats are much more sensitive than humans to changes in the environment around them. Some pets become scared during thunderstorms, struggling to control their actions and hiding under furniture. Learn how to help your pet feel calm and protected during a storm to prevent frightened behavior.
Why Are Pets Afraid of Thunder and Lightning?
There is no single factor that makes dogs and cats afraid of thunderstorms. Their fear can come from the combination of loud sounds, bright flashes of light, and changes in the pressure and static electricity in the air. It can be related to a fear of other loud noises, such as fireworks. Whatever the trigger, nervous behavior during storms can be difficult to manage without the right preparation.
How to Calm a Dog or Cat During a Storm
Helping a dog or cat feel calmer during a thunderstorm involves training before the storm as well as a plan for reducing their fear during the thunder and lightning. Follow these tips to help your pet remain calm and relaxed during storms:
- Create a safe space for them to go during the storm
- Save a special treat or toy to use only during thunder and lightning
- Do extra exercise (like walks or playing) before a storm starts
- Try using a weighted or snug garment
- Train your pet before the storm
- Keep yourself calm during thunderstorms
- Ask a veterinarian for further advice
Comfy Safe Spaces
Get inspiration for a safe space by watching what your dog or cat does naturally during a storm. Does he hide in the bathroom? In his bed? Under your bed? If he already hides somewhere automatically, make that his safe space. If he likes his crate, put it there with blankets and a treat or two when the storm is about to start.
Not all pets like their crates, especially if it’s associated with trips to the vet. You don’t have to use the crate; simply moving his bed and favorite toys to the area he prefers when it’s thundering will help define that as his space. A bathroom can be a good area to establish this safe space because the fan will block out some of the outside noise.
Special Thunder Treats and Toys
A good distraction can help take your pet’s mind off of the noise and discomfort that the storm brings. Keep one toy hidden away until a storm and then let them play with it to distract them from the thunder and lightning. This helps them associate the storm with something good instead of solely with something bad.
The same goes for treats: give your dog or cat a special but healthy treat that they don’t usually get to eat. Be careful not to reward them for bad behavior, though. Only give them the treat if they’re behaving calmly.
Exercise and Play
If a storm is forecast for the evening, take your dog for an extra walk or two in the afternoon. Or, play with your cat’s favorite toy before it thunders. Not only will it distract them from any early signals they might be noticing, but it will also use up some of that extra energy and possibly reduce antsy behavior during the storm. Plus, it’s another way to change the way your pet thinks about approaching storms.
It’s not yet clear if snug or weighted garments definitely reduce pets’ fear of storms. Shirts, blankets and other products promise to calm dogs and cats by making them feel safe. Some pet owners have reported success but you should pay close attention to your own pet’s reaction to determine if they like it or not.
Train Before It Rains
You can do a few things while it’s not storming to help your dog control his emotions when it is. One easy step is rewarding calm behavior all the time. When your pet is behaving well, give him lots of vocal praise and petting. Show him that what he’s doing is good whenever he’s calm and he’ll learn to continue that behavior, even during storms.
With dogs, especially, this can also involve training him to sit or stay on command so that he’ll be able to follow that command during a storm. Training likely won’t cure fear completely but it clearly shows what behavior gets approval. In addition to training, talk to a veterinarian about your dog’s behavior and listen to their expert advice.
Watch Your Own Behavior
Your behavior is another factor that affects your pet’s reaction to a storm. Cats and dogs watch their human families for cues, so it’s important to behave in the way you want your pet to behave. Remain calm, especially if your pet is already afraid, and follow the plan you set up before his frightened behavior started.
Don’t scold your dog or cat for bad behavior if it’s part of their frightened reaction to a storm. They can’t easily control the reaction and punishment could make it worse. Cuddling might seem like a guaranteed way to calm a scared pet, but too much cuddling can be overwhelming. Most importantly, pay attention to your pet’s reaction to all of the above tips. If they don’t like it, be patient and try different methods until you find a combination that works.
Many factors can combine to make a dog or cat feel frightened by a storm. The sound of thunder, flashes of lightning, static electricity and more contribute to some pets’ nervousness. By remaining calm and patient and following our tips, you can help your pet feel safe during storms.