Ask the Vet
Q: “Betsy” is my sweet little mixed-breed dog that we adopted last summer. She’s a very good girl. However, she hates it when it storms. Betsy gets really nervous, drools a lot, paces and sometimes even cries. My neighbor uses a thundershirt for his dog. What do you think?
A: You and Betsy are not alone. There are many owners who have pets that struggle with storm anxiety. The anxiety is generally related to the noise, whether it be rain, thunder or severe winds; some pets react before the storm even arrives, seemingly sensing barometric pressure changes.
Thundershirts are helpful for some dogs. They are basically a snug-fitting shirt/sweater held in place with straps and Velcro. It places gentle, constant pressure on the pet, similar to swaddling a newborn baby.
This pressure can be comforting, making pets feel safe and secure. I have had this work for some of my patients, but not all. Thundershirts can be a great option for pets with mild to moderate anxiety, for pets who cannot take other medications (due to health issues) or for owners that do not wish to medicate their pet.
There are also methods you can employ at home to help decrease Betsy’s storm anxiety. Dogs are generally most comfortable in the center of the home away from windows, and on the lowest level — a basement if you have one. Calming music, television or a white noise machine can help decrease the sounds of the storm.
Most dogs feel calmer if their owners can be present with them, with everyone sitting calmly together.
For dogs with mild anxiety, some of these changes may be enough. Pets with high levels of anxiety may require medication. Short-term medication can be given as needed, ideally when you know the storm is coming.
Alternatively, pets with more severe anxiety may need to be on daily medication during storm season.
For dogs that need even more help, there are specialists in behavior medicine for referral. If you think your pet has storm anxiety, please talk to your veterinarian about options best for your pet.
If you have questions about your pet, you may e-mail Dr. Myers at firstname.lastname@example.org