Remedies for Dogs with Thunderstorm Anxiety

thunderstorm.jpg I have a fool-proof thunderstorm detector — more accurate than the local weather Doppler system. And she’s sitting right here on my lap (which makes typing a bit of a challenge). So I know a thunderstorm will be hitting here within an hour or two.

Kiera never used to be bothered by thunderstorms, but for the last few years they’ve turned her into a quivering mess, courtesy of chronic Lyme disease. (Lyme can affect neurological functioning in all kinds of weird ways, this being one of them.)

She usually starts showing signs of acute stress — panting, shivering, pacing, whining, drooling, dilated pupils, the desire to crawl inside my skin for comfort– a few hours before the storm actually hits. I’m guessing there must be something in the barometric change and the electrostatic condition of the atmosphere that she’s picking up.

I’ve found that giving her 5 mg of Melatonin as soon as she exhibits symptoms makes a big difference. I combine that with several drops of Rescue Remedy, and a D.A.P (Dog Appeasing Pheromone) plug-in diffuser. This combination helps tremendously.

To treat thunderstorm phobias, some vets recommend a dose of 3mg for a 35-100 lb dog. Smaller dogs get 1.5 mg, and larger dogs may get 6mg. The dose is given either at first evidence of thunderstorm – dog becomes agitated, distant rumbling of thunder, etc. or prophylactically before you have to leave the house when thunderstorms are predicted. This dose may be repeated up to 3 times daily. This may be used as a dose for animals with more generalized stress related disorders as well.

D.A.P. mimics the properties of the natural appeasing pheromones of the lactating female, which gives dogs a sense of well-being and reassurance. Pheromones are picked up and detected by an animal’s sense of smell. By replicating this signal of comfort, D.A.P. helps alleviate fear and stress-related signs associated with thunderstorms and loud noises, such as fireworks.

Melatonin and Rescue Remedy can be purchased at your local health food store. Petsmart carries D.A.P. or click the link above to order online.

If I’m somewhere where I don’t have my usual stash, I just give a Benadryl tablet which acts as a mild tranquilizer. It works quite well by helping to make your dog drowsy, which helps alleviate some of the separation anxiety symptoms that thunderstorms seem to induce.

The dosage for Benadryl is as follows: Dosage every 8 hours
Dogs under 30 lbs and Cats : 10 mg
Dogs 30-50 lbs: 25 mg
Dogs over 50 lbs: 50 mg

I’ve also had people ask me about Thundershirts. They work great for some dogs, and don’t seem to do much for others (the website claims that 80% of dogs show improvement. Your mileage may vary. I like using my own makeshift thundershirt. I’ll wrap Kiera in a large ace bandage around her chest wall. That way, I can control how snug I make it and how much of her I cover. It definitely has a positive effect on her.

If you want to give the Thundershirt a try, you need to make sure you put it on at least an hour before the anticipated high stress event.

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By | 2016-10-24T09:56:54+00:00 June 7th, 2007|.My Dogs and Me, Dogs in General|27 Comments

27 Comments

  1. Tammy June 7, 2007 at 7:17 am - Reply

    Karen, thanks for these suggestions, which are new information for me and most welcome. We have a little shih tzu, Luigi, who has become terrified in the same way you describe your dog’s experience (minus the Lyme connection) and nothing we’ve tried (play, desensitization, etc) has had any real effect. I understand from our vet that dogs sense thunderstorms via electromagnetic sensations coming through the pads of their feet, long before we hear the thunder. Now Luigi’s behavior is starting to affect our Newfoundland mix, who never feared storms before…and we’ve got to nip this in the bud, so to speak, before we add a lake of drool to the mix!

    With your Newfie, I’d start at 6 mg and go up to 9 mg if the 6 mg doesn’t seem to help. I wouldn’t worry about overdosing with Melatonin. There aren’t any known side-effects. It’s considered very safe and these are low doses.

  2. Elaine June 7, 2007 at 9:23 am - Reply

    My 11 yo Collie has thunderstorm anxiety: she paces, tries to hide under my desk, and digs at the floor. Thanks for documenting the things that work for your dog.

    It’s even harder to see when they’re older because it’s so stressful for them.  I hope you find something that helps her.

  3. Jenny Rough June 7, 2007 at 2:54 pm - Reply

    Our dog goes nuts too. Gosh, maybe she has Lyme disease!

    It’s not uncommon for dogs to be bothered by thunder. The thing with Kiera is that she was never bothered by thunder until after she contracted Lyme. But if you’re concerned about your dog, you could certainly take her to your vets and have them test her for Lyme. It’s an easy blood test. A month’s worth of antibiotics is the usual treatment.

  4. Pappy's Fella June 7, 2007 at 4:33 pm - Reply

    Pappy’s pretty oblivious to thunder, but my brother’s old dog would knock holes in the fence prior to a storm. Further to Tammy’s note about EM sensitivity in the paws, I had heard some speculation about sensitivity to buildup of static in the fur as a trigger. They have some gizmo called a Stormdefender cape which is supposed to dissipate the buildup. I’m pretty skeptical about miracle cures, but then again I’m not facing this issue.

    Yeah, I’m with you. I’d never say never. I wonder if this also works a bit as a body wrap ala Tellington Touch? Anyway, when a dog is suffering, I think I’d be willing to try just about anything within reason. 

  5. teetotaled June 7, 2007 at 8:04 pm - Reply

    I had a dog in high school that was terrified of thunder. Poor thing would shake violently whenever it would storm. She used to sleep with me and I remember waking up to the bed shaking because of her. Good to know there are some remedies to help.

  6. Fuzzy Logic June 7, 2007 at 9:58 pm - Reply

    One thing I just learned from a friend is peppermint essential oil… rubbing a tiny drop on each foot. I didn’t think it made sense at first, since peppermint is a stimulating oil. But I did some more digging and it’s good for mental focus and for states of hysteria…
    Just have to be careful with little dogs.. a little oil goes a LONG way. I would dilute it first.

    Yeah, I’d dilute it too. Try it on your own skin first, as well. It can burn if it’s too strong.

  7. jan June 7, 2007 at 10:05 pm - Reply

    It’s good to know there is something besides tranquilers to give to them. I don’t have the problem since my Alpha Poodle seems to know what causes the thunder and is able to explain it to the other dogs.

    Love seeing how dogs can convey information like that. Very cool.  

  8. Fuzzy Logic June 7, 2007 at 10:07 pm - Reply

    Oh and one note on Melatonin. It is a hormone, so although it’s considered safe now, HRT was also once considered “perfectly safe”. Both are naturally occuring hormones. I’m not saying don’t use it.. just be mindful that it is a hormone. It’s considered safe in recommended doses for short term use, but overdosing can cause risk of blood clotting abnormalities, increased risk of siezure etc etc.

    Thanks for the info!

  9. Therese June 7, 2007 at 11:26 pm - Reply

    Archie, my border collie, is terrified of storms as well. Your description of Kiera, minus the drooling, sounds just like Archie. The thing that works wonders for him is a t-shirt. It’s amazing how much it calms him down.

    Therese, this may be working on the principle of a body wrap that Linda Tellington originated. Her book is full of helpful ways to work with our animals: Getting in TTouch With Your Dog: A Gentle Approach to Influencing Behavior, Health, and Performance by Linda Tellington-Jones

  10. karen June 8, 2007 at 8:40 am - Reply

    my girlfriends golden is terrified of thunderstorms! I’ll definitely pass this info along to her!

  11. This Eclectic Life June 9, 2007 at 8:17 am - Reply

    Great info…but I have cats. One went through Hurricane Katrina, so you know it’s a mess when it storms. Wonder if this would work?

    The Melatonin also works for cats. Doubt the D.A.P. would. But there may be a cat equivalent.

  12. Joan June 9, 2007 at 8:35 pm - Reply

    Wow, Karen, thanks!

    Poor Ridge is the only one of our four to be bothered by storms, and like your Kiera, he’s a living barometer.

    Between my aching left hand (the one I broke in Zambia last year), my migraine aura (changing barometric pressure is a migraine trigger for me), and Ridge’s panting, drooped tail, and neurotic need to be VERY close, I have a solid storm-warning system here.

    I’ll give your suggestions a try after the canine kids get back from the cottage (they’re up there playing in the lake with DH Don, while I’m supposed to be here finishing up a book manuscript I contracted for due later this month — can you tell I’m restless?!)

    Thanks for the suggestions. I’ll try it after their return with the next storm (we get them a lot here), and then, if it’s okay with you, I’ll post a link to your blog entry over at LabTails so my readers over there can glean from your wisdom!

    Thanks so much!

    Joan (“mom” to Baxter, Elsie, Ridge, and Kenya and three nearly grown human kids!)

    Joan, please let us know what your book is so we can look for it when it comes out! Very exciting.

    And a little less exciting that you and Ridge are such good storm detectors. :(  Yes, I’d like to hear how your guys do. The more field tests we do, the better we can see what works overall.

    And it’s always okay to post a link. Thanks

  13. Jennifer June 28, 2007 at 7:41 pm - Reply

    Has anyone ever had a dog or heard of a dog who can sense a storm coming as far ahead as 2 or 3 days? I have a Shiba Inu and he was showing all the signs of a fearful dog before a storm for 3 nights, but we didn’t get one until last night. It was a very bad one at that. He was fine after it passed through and is now fine the next day, but those days(and mostly nights) prior were terrible for him.

    I’ve heard of this, although it isn’t as common for thunderstorms as it is for some other weather / natural phenomena. Many animals can sense earthquakes and tsunamis days ahead.

  14. Jeanne July 14, 2007 at 5:06 pm - Reply

    I have an Airedale who we believe can sense a day or more in advance of a t-storm. He begins to spend more time in his crate or becoming a velcro dog, not wanting to be away from me when he “senses” a change in barometric pressure/static build up. He is so sensitive to t-storms and to fireworks we just had a round of antibiotics and Xanax due to t-storm and fireworks induced ulcerative colitis(the 4th that lasts 2+weeks..why do people do that?) I have tried just about everything, including Rescue Remedy, a tee-shirt/wrap, Valerian, (have not tried Mellatonin yet)along with several other ways to desensitize Sam and only the Xanax has worked. I had resisted tranqualizers until the ulcerative colitis bout but felt Sam had gotten so deep into a downward spiral (there are afternoon t-storms almost each day)and he was expelling blood in his stool, that I felt we might lose him as he also would not eat and only drank a very little. Today at an excellent herb shop, someone recommended I give him “Gaba” (Gamma Aminobutyric Acid)that it is a natural product similar to Xanax. Has anyone tried giving Gaba to treat t-storm/firework trauma?
    If so what has been your experience. Any side effects?
    thanks
    Jeanne

    Your poor boy…! I don’t know anything about Gaba. I’ll ask around. I’m finding that I’m now having the best luck with just the Benadryl.

    …Back to say that I did ask around and none of my dog friends have heard of it yet. From what I found reading about it, the dosing seems a bit iffy to me. Would love to hear how it works for you. 

  15. elizabeth July 15, 2007 at 2:03 pm - Reply

    Thank you for the tip on melatonin + rescue remedy. I use the rescue remedy (a friend’s advice) with moderate results (my dog will still keep me up in a midnight storm). I will try the melatonin. This + the emergency use of benadryl is the first truly helpful information I’ve found. The vet and the vet’s expensive drugs were useless.

    Yeah, I really want to avoid going the heavy drug route if I can. Though Kiera’s anxiety seems to have recently gone to a new level so that the melatonin and rescue remedy don’t help as much, the benadryl is working like a charm. 

  16. David July 27, 2007 at 7:53 pm - Reply

    My girlfriend has a 3 year old beagle named Copper who is one of the worst cases I’ve ever seen as far as thunderstorm phobia. Since he lives outside (she has a big backyard with large patio and cover)he is well aware of impending storms as most dogs are. He has climbed the chain link fence on numerous occasions to get out, and just recently dug underneath her brand new privacy fence to get out of the yard. Copper has gone underneath a tool shed for cover, but I think he starts to panic when it begins to rain too much (flooding underneath the shed). Thanks for any additional advice anyone can give, everyone.

    David, for my Graidy who’s close to Copper’s size, I’d start with one Benadryl at 25 mg as soon as he starts indicating a storm is coming. If you decide to try that for Copper and it doesn’t help, then I’d check with the vet for anti-anxiety meds. There are several which work extremely well. I just prefer going with the least harsh on the body first. But when a dog has a really severe case and you’ve worked your way through the natural stuff first, and then Benadryl, I’d have no compunction going for the drugs.

    As always, I must say that I am not a vet and am not trying to prescribe. Please check with your vet before giving any kind of medication. 

  17. Helen August 4, 2007 at 9:25 am - Reply

    Thanks so much for these suggestions. We have 3 springers, Casey, a mother age 9 and her two pups age 4, Abby and Zoe. Casey is petrified when a thunderstorm is impending and is hysterical when it arrives! Last night we had a horrible storm and she first tried to open the door to escape [which she frequently does] then sat on my pillow most of the night trembling. Zoe was mildly upset, but Abby just went to sleep. I will definately try these remedies for Casey and Zoe!

  18. Eric August 7, 2007 at 8:26 pm - Reply

    I have a 100 pound pure-blood Collie, 8 years old, who exhibits all these signs, especially the drooling and “freaking out”, even trying to jump up on desks, sofa tables, etc. as well as climbing under our feet where there isn’t enough room.

    About what dose of Melatonin, Rescue Remedy, and Benadryl should I use for a dog this size?

    I hope it works – it is getting to where we are almost ready to place him in a foster home – he really ticks off our Sheltie/Shepherd mix (she’s great during t-storms and fireworks, of which we have a lot in Florida). We’re afraid that the Collie is going to unintentionally hurt our cats.

    Eric, thunderstorm phobia is eminently treatable, and therefore not something a dog should be given away for. It’s very common for older dogs (from 6 yrs of age on) to develop a thunderstorm phobia. Dogs’ eardrums starts to harden at that age, and therefore the dog is affected much more by loud sounds (fireworks, cars backfiring, gun shots, etc), and thunderstorms.

    As for which approach and which dose I’d use, the severity of the behavior would determine which approach you might start off with. A mild phobia responds well to melatonin (I’d start with 6 mg for a large dog) and rescue remedy (10 drops). If a strong phobia were present, I’d go to the benadryl 50 mg. If the phobia is severe, I’d take your dog to the vet and get a prescribed tranquilizer. The important point with all of these treatments is to give it as soon as you know a thunderstorm is expected in the area. In other words, don’t wait for the thunderstorm to hit and then give a remedy, be proactive and give it ahead of time to allow it to start working before the storm hits.

  19. susan dingerdissen August 13, 2007 at 1:53 pm - Reply

    I have a dog, diagnosed with Atypical Cushings, and reccomended to take melatonin. i think it making her pant more and heavier, do you know if this is a side effect of melatonin. It is a good brand of melatonin fr a reputable health food store. I have tried this twice and she seems to start panting. I know panting can be a side effect of the atypical cushings disease, but this is so obviously after the pill….as she really does not pant that much since she has Atypical cushings and NOT cushings disease. Sue

    Sue, I haven’t heard of this side-effect and I’m not a vet, but if she were my dog, I’d stop the Melatonin immediately. Sounds like she’s clearly having a reaction to it.  Please discuss this with your vet. Good luck!

  20. Tommy September 11, 2007 at 2:28 pm - Reply

    Thanks for the tips. My dog maggie can sense a storm up to an half an hour away and i tryed everything.She would go crazy and would not leave my side. my vet told me not to use the melatonin because of the long term effects but the benadryl works great. thanks alot

  21. Merilee January 6, 2008 at 6:15 pm - Reply

    I have a 15 lb. Shih tsu who was a rescue (she used to bite) but still exibits tension and anxiety by wanting me to scrach her back for hours! I’ve heard that fresh mint is a natural anti-anxiety supplement but need to know how much and how often. Thank you!

    Merilee, I haven’t tried mint, so I don’t have any experience to offer on it. You might want to try D.A.P a natural dog appeasing phermone that comes as a colar, spray, and room diffuser. Many dogs experience relief with it.

  22. Norma in Missouri February 6, 2008 at 3:54 pm - Reply

    My Matty, an Australian Shepherd/Border Collie Mix, I rescued from the Humane Society last year, has all of these storm reactions and behaviors. Yesterday afternoon we had some terrible storms (while I was away at the office). Needless to say when I returned in the evening she had damaged a new wood, leaded glass door during the storms. Yesterday she was not on meds but I have tried the Vet prescribed prescriptions during past storms with no luck. I am going to try the Benadryl. As she is at 40 lbs I would assume then the 50 mg dose and how often? Plus how would you dose when you are leaving for the day with expected storms late in the day or evening to occur before you return home? Normally she is a loving, well behaved, smart dog—but when storms hit, it is a nightmare and many nights of lost sleep for me and I am sure, horrible experiences for her. Thank you and looking forward to any additional insights and advice. Norma in Missouri

    Norma, I would start Matty at 25 mg, which is the dose for dogs between 30 – 50 lbs. Follow the instructions on the package for dose times. I give Kiera a 25 mg pill every 8 hours. If you’re expecting to be gone when a storm is due, I’d consider getting a dog feeder with timer that dispenses food according to the amount and time you set. I’d put the pill in a little glob of peanut butter with some kibble in the feeder and set the timer for an hour before the storm is expected.

    I’ve really had great luck with the Benadryl. I hope it gives Matty some relief.

  23. anxiety remedy August 26, 2009 at 4:03 am - Reply

    Some natural anxiety remedies to look into are St.John’s Wort, SAMe, L-Theanine, and Tryptophan. There’s also cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and programs like Panic Away and The Linden Method, to name a few. Hope this helps!

  24. Kaelee Kramer May 28, 2012 at 11:04 pm - Reply

    I have an Australian Shepherd and she has broken 4 fence boards(all have been replaced) destroyed her Thundershirt (returned to petsmart) Chewed up shoes, cords and corners on her doghouse. She has also broken out of her dog crate!!! More than once! I’ve tried everything but drugs. I am a college student and cannot afford to buy many expensive drugs to keep her calm..and I’m skeptical that they’ll even work. She is normally very well behaved and listens very good and never licks :) One thing I love about her. I am completely stressed out about this situation Please any advice would help!

    P.S. Would getting her fixed help??

    Thank you,

    Kaelee, Texas

    • Karen May 29, 2012 at 10:20 am - Reply

      Kaelee, you don’ mention if your girl’s behavior is solely connected to thunderstorms. If it is, the Benadryl should help. But you need to give it to her an hour before you anticipate thunderstorms in the area. If you’re just finding her to be a handful otherwise, finding a good positive trainer would help. I would speak to your vet about getting her spayed. Good luck.
      Karen

  25. Julia June 7, 2012 at 11:36 am - Reply

    We have an American Eskimo, Silver, who is terrified of thunderstorms – a major problem since we live in Florida. Our vet prescribed Alprazolam which needs to be given 1 to 2 hours before the storm. This is a problem because we often will not have any signs of the storm at our house, but Silver will sense a storm in the area and go berserk. Recently, we discovered an almost immediate solution to Silver’s storm anxiety problem – it’s classical music. When Silver senses a storm, she heads for her crate and we put on Beethoven’s “Pastoral” symphony. She usually calms right down and sometimes even falls asleep. From there we move on to “Rhapsody in Blue” and “American in Paris” by Gershwin. Usually, by the time Gershwin is over, so is the storm. I guess it’s true what they say about music taming the savage beast.

    • Karen June 7, 2012 at 12:54 pm - Reply

      Julia, how lucky for Silver that you found such a soothing solution!

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