Most dog owners know the feeling of dread when thunderstorms are looming – not dread for themselves, but for their furry companions. Thunderstorms can send some dogs into a frenzy, making them run, hide, bark or otherwise display symptoms of strong anxiety and stress.

But why do thunderstorms affect some dogs in this way? And what can you, as an owner, do to help? Let’s delve into how and why dogs are scared of thunderstorms.

What’s so scary about thunderstorms?

You might enjoy the rumble and rain of a thunderstorm after a hot summer’s day, but your pet certainly doesn’t! The main aspect of a storm that frightens dogs is the noise. Loud rumbles of thunder and sharp cracks of lightning are enough to scare even the toughest of dogs.

As well as the noise, the visuals of a thunderstorm can also scare dogs. All that flashing lightning, as well as suddenly darkened skies, can contribute to your pet’s anxiety.

How dogs can sense a thunderstorm approaching

You might have noticed that your dog begins to display signs of stress and anxiety before a storm actually hits. This is because they can sense the storm coming, even before humans can. The subtle changes in barometric pressure are picked up on quite easily by animals. Dogs are particularly sensitive, so when they sense a change in the air, they might start to behave strangely – even before any physical signs of a storm are noticeable.

A dog’s sense of smell is also legendary, so it makes sense that dogs are able to smell an oncoming storm before humans notice that rainy scent in the air. All of this, combined with darkening skies and the growing sounds of wind and rain, signals to your dog that a storm is coming. As such, they may start to feel uneasy and anxious long before the storm hits. Luckily, there are things you can do to help calm your dog once you notice them displaying these signs – we’ll look further into these below.

Signs of anxiety and stress during storms

Here are a few tell-tale signs that your dog is feeling anxious, stressed or scared during a storm:

  • Running away
  • Hiding
  • Barking, whining or howling
  • Pacing back and forth
  • Panting heavily
  • Shaking
  • Yawning or licking

If your dog is displaying these signs and symptoms, it’s important to know how to lessen their anxiety and help them feel less afraid during a storm.

How you can make your dog feel safe and calm

There are a number of things you can do to help your dog settle down before, during and after a thunderstorm. First of all, you might like to talk to your vet about the treatment options available for animals experiencing severe anxiety. Things like behavioural modification and desensitisation programs can be a great help for dogs that are badly affected by storms.

After you’ve consulted with your vet, there are a few things you can do around your home to lessen your dog’s fear of thunderstorms. Over-the-counter products are available to help ease your dog’s anxiety, such as pheromone diffusers – small plug-in devices that emit calming chemical substances – or special ‘storm jackets’, which settle your dog by providing the feeling of being cuddled.

You can also create a safe space in your home for your dog to retreat to during a storm. Provide somewhere for them to curl up, such as a washing basket filled with towels, and play some music or soothing sounds to drown out the storm.

Give some of these methods a try next time there’s a thunderstorm and see if they help alleviate your dog’s anxiety.