Storm phobias in animals can pose a very difficult problem for pet owners. Dogs suffer more from this problem. Cats most frequently hide and refrain from destructive behaviors. Pets can show many physical signs and behavioral changes. Their response may come even if there is no thunder or lightening. It is thought that they may be reacting to a drop in barometric pressure or changes to electrical charges in the air. Owners may notice the following signs: dilated pupils, drooling, pacing and panting, increased chewing and possible destructive tendencies, and elimination problems (house-soiling issues). Pets will often show attention seeking behavior during the episodes. They may tremble and shake and ignore commands. Some pets will vocalize repeatedly or try to escape and injure themselves or damage their environment in their panic.
Control of this situation is very difficult. Most animals show signs of storm phobias when they are between 1-5 years of age and the signs will definitely escalate as time and exposure to events increase. Breeds that are more prone to generalized anxiety disorders will often show this problem. There are no hard and fast treatments and medications can be problematic and ineffective. Natural products and behavior modification techniques have been the most effective tool. For some animals, even these methods do not provide comfort.
In the early stages, petting and comforting the animal when they are ramping up into the nervous behavior will often promote further anxious behavior. Relaxation exercises should be employed at these times. In addition, desensitizing the animal to storm sounds can be helpful, but often not practical. Some pet owners find their dogs will respond to the use of a Thunder Shirt which applies pressure to the body of the cat or dog can have calming effects much like swaddling an infant. In addition, an overall calming pheromone called DAP (Dog appeasing Pheromone) or Feliway (for cats) may ease general anxiety that can contribute to and escalate storm phobia associated signs.
Herbal therapies such as Kava Kava tincture, Tryptophan and Suntheonine containing treats, calming milk proteins (Zylkene), and appropriate Chinese herbal formulas can be very helpful in some patients. Homeopathic formulas such as Storm Stress by Homeopet and Rescue Remedy, a Bach Flower mixture can also be helpful. Melatonin has also been tried. These products tend to be more effective if given prior to the anxiety wind up.
When possible, isolating the pet to a room where the storm associated sounds and sights are not present will also be helpful.