Trembling, panting, whining, escaping, hiding, destructive behavior; these are common complaints from clients to veterinarians in the spring and summer here in Georgia. In the past few weeks, we have certainly experienced our share of storms. Managing storm phobia can be challenging, as it often requires immediate and effective management in order to prevent injuries to pets and/or destruction to the home.
What is it?
Storm phobia was initially described as a fearful behavior in response to a sudden, loud percussive sound such as thunder. We have now expanded the definition of the disorder to include a fearful response to wind, rain, overcast sky or clouds, lightning, drops in barometric pressure, drops in temperature and changes in the ozone levels. We have found that our pets can respond to the full spectrum of the storm. Reports from surveys indicate that 11-38% of dogs may have some type of noise phobia. The response to a storm is a combination of physiological and behavioral changes that we see in our pets. The most common symptoms reported are shaking, trembling and cowering, hiding and restlessness. Other symptoms can include vocalization, panting, salivating, urinating, defecating, destruction, reluctance to go outside and occasionally aggression, if the animal feels cornered.
Treatment of storm phobia involves a triad of techniques. For the phobics, teaching the animal to find a safe place during a storm is often beneficial. The safe place is dependent on the animal, and the animal should never be forced into the location. Use of medications may also be considered. Typically anti-anxiety drugs, like Xanax, used situationally are the most beneficial. Most severe cases benefit from a daily medication for quicker acting effects. Auxiliary aids such as pheromones, calming shirts, relaxation techniques and safe zones can be highly beneficial.