Thunder phobia is exactly what it sounds like — a fear of thunder. And it can cause a dog to become nervous, destructive, and even aggressive. So what should you do when the storm clouds start to gather and your pooch runs for cover? The answer is not always so easy.
Misha, a 5-year-old Chow, may look nice and calm on an average day but that isn't always the case according to his owner, Melissa Margolis. "Generally he's a happy boy, he's calm he likes to play," Margolis explains. "But, you know, when these other factors come into play he's a completely, completely different dog."
What makes Misha turn from Dr. Jekyll into Mr. Hyde is the anxiety caused by thunderstorms. During a storm, Misha tries to literally tear apart the house.
During one recent storm, Misha went on one of his rampages. "This is the fourth or fifth piece of foam insulation. Usually it is down here in pieces," Margolis explains, while inspecting the damage.
Veterinary behaviorist Dr. Ilena Reisner from the University of Pennsylvania says a dog's anxiety can produce a wide range of behavior. "It might start with behaviors such as getting up, panting, looking at the owner. Beginning to whine," she explains. "When owners aren't home, that's when dog's panic level continues to escalate, tear down curtains, jump through glass. We think about property damage when we think about digging and chewing, but in fact they really can hurt themselves."
Dr. Reisner also says dogs with a fear of storms may be prone to other types of anxiety as well. "A dog that is frightened of storms is more likely to have separation anxiety and more likely to be afraid on the Fourth of July when there are other noises as well," she says.
Robin Rubenstein's dog, Goliath, gets so nervous around loud noises or a thunderstorm that she has created a safe haven in a closet to soothe his fears. "I'll take his bed and put it in the closet. I will go in the closet with him and stay a little while. Till he gets somewhat comfortable and then I leave the door open a little bit and then I'll go out and he stays in the closet," she explains.
But it may take more than a safe haven for Misha, who doesn't seem soothed by anything his owner has tried.
"We have tried to do the distraction technique. We have a noise machine. We've tried pheromones that you plug in and spray. We've tried homeopathic remedies. We've tried lots of loud classical music which is supposed to be soothing — that doesn't work either. We try!" Margolis says.
Dr. Reisner warns that simply ignoring the issue won't improve the situation. "It appears in fact to get worse every year if nothing is done about it. It's normal for a dog to look alert and to wonder what's going on but once it gets beyond that I would seek help because it does seem to get worse the following storm season," she says.
So Margolis is doing just that: she plans to take Misha to see Dr. Reisner.
"We've tried to do this on our own and now its time to get someone who can see the whole picture and I'm very hopeful this will work," Margolis says.
Asked how far she is willing to go, Margolis says, "We'll do anything we can to help them...and to protect our home."
An estimated two thirds of all dogs experience thunder anxiety, and in some cases the anxiety is so bad that medical treatment is necessary.