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Oh, Behave! Thunderstorms, Fireworks and Your Dog


Board-certified veterinary behaviorist Dr. Julie Albright, University of Tennessee College of Veterinary Medicine's PetSafe Chair in Small Animal Behavioral Research, answers questions about thunderstorm phobia and dogs. Click here to view her interview on WBIR TV about the topic.


            Veterinary behaviorist at University of Tennessee College of Veterinary Medicine talks about dogs and thunderstorm phobias and fireworks


(Knoxville, TN. July 2, 2014)  With summertime comes moisture and warm temperaturesand that means increased chances of  thunderstorms in the southeast. For some dogs, those with thunderstorm phobias, the booming thunder can be traumatic.


How do we know if a dog is suffering from thunderstorm phobia?  Typically dogs tremble, pant, hide or conversely seek attention from the owner, sometimes even frantically clawing or pawing at the owner. Some dogs will eliminate in the home, bark excessively or become destructive. It is important to keep in mind the dog is not being naughty; thunderstorm phobia can cause a dog to have a panic attack.


Why do dogs suffer thunderstorm phobia? There are many theories. Some dogs are more prone to noise sensitivities. It seems to be more common in the herding breeds. One theory is the dog can't associate the loud sounds with something visual. For example, the dog can see a loud truck as it goes past, but not a storm.


Why do some dogs start shaking when there isn't a cloud in the sky? Dogs seem to be attuned to all the things in the world around them. Perhaps they notice the static in the air or the drop in the barometric pressure indicating a storm is on its way.


How does an owner manage or treat thunderstorm phobia?  There are many theories about this, but I believe an owner should do anything to get the dog out of panic attack mode. Let your dog do what helps him cope as long as he isn't in danger or destructive (hiding in the closet, sitting beside you, being in an interior room of the house, wearing a Thundershirt or other tight wrap).  If the dog is really frantic, medication may be in order. If the dog usually spends a lot of time outdoors, bring him in before a storm.


Why bring him in before a storm? There is a high risk of escape when a dog is panicked. A dog may run away to hide and find himself in unfamiliar territory when he calms down. It is also very important to microchip your dog. 


Are fireworks a problem? While the duration may not be as long, fireworks are similar to thunderstorms, and owners should take the same precautions. July 5th is one of the busiest days for animal shelters due to dogs who tried to run away from the noise.


What should owners do before a holiday such as July 4th? They can work with a professional on a program designed to desensitize their dog, but they need to start well in advance of the holiday.  Preventing escape is the most important thing owners need to do. Bring dogs inside, walk them on a leash, block noises as much as possible (white noise machine, box fans) and for dogs that are destructive, talk to their veterinarian about medication.


Click here for more information about the Behavior Service at the University of Tennessee Veterinary Medical Center.




Posted: 07-02-14 Viewed: 90331 times

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Sandra Harbison
College of Veterinary Medicine
University of Tennessee
2407 River Drive
Knoxville, TN 37996

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