Thunderstorm & Firework Anxiety In Dogs

Updated October 15, 2023

After every thunderstorm or firework night I wait for the calls:

  • Dogs wandering the streets far from home
  • Dogs that have gone through windows
  • Dogs with lacerations from escape attempts

What we don’t see nearly enough are the dogs that just suffer in silence, panting, trembling or hiding at home. Noise phobias are common in dogs, and there’s a lot your vet can do to help.

How To Calm Dogs With Noise Phobia

Successful treatment is a combination of good advice and good medicine.

Plan In Advance

If you have a very young puppy, it’s possible to prevent noise phobia by making a game out of thunder or fireworks. I always recommend this, but I know it’s too late for most dog owners.

For adult dogs, as soon as they start showing the earliest signs of discomfort, it’s time to act. Create a safe space in your house that your dog will like to be in. It’s best to not use the same spot they hide in unless it works very well. For loud noises, it’s likely to work best against an internal wall and perhaps under a table but also near you.

You make it by knowing exactly where and how your dog will be happiest. It might take a few goes (and trips to the pet store!) to get right but the end result will be the most comforting refuge possible.Then you should teach your dog to associate it with positive experiences like play, attention and treats.

Stay Calm (& Present)

Forget all the rubbish about not consoling your dog when they are scared in case you reward the fear. Just imagine someone saying that about a child! I doubt it’s even possible to reward fear.

Simply put, fear begets fear. That’s why noise phobias generally get worse with time. The more you can alleviate the suffering, the better future episodes are likely to be.

Be a calm and dependable ‘rock’ for your dog. Even if your dog’s distress makes you stressed too, maintain a confident manner so your dog feels reassured. Don’t be afraid to pat or cuddle them depending on what soothes them the best. However, some just need to hide away.

Many owners also find that their dogs respond to relaxation training methods.

Make Them Safe

You just can’t be there every single time, so it’s also important to prepare for the worst.

  • Fences will be tested to their utmost so maintain them well
  • Windows glass needs a safety film: most modern houses have this
  • Doors need to be solid or protected by a security door
  • Microchip details need to be kept up to date

Use Distractions

Distractions will work best in the milder or earlier stages of storm or firework anxiety. Once a dog gets worked up, food and toys may be ignored. However, many dogs will improve over time if they get offered their favourite treats or toys during a thunderstorm.

Loud music or other background noise may help but is unlikely to drown out the thunder adequately.

One trick that may still work is to practice commands. If your dog attended a training school, getting them to follow commands keeps them focused on you, not the noise.

The best attention-getter will vary from dog to dog. You might have a video your dog likes, or certain games.

Desensitisation & Counterconditioning

There’s been a noticeable move away from training dogs to get used to noises on a CD. Part of the reason is that storms and fireworks may cause fear in other ways than just noise alone. The other is that no good stereo can reproduce the sounds of the real thing. The most important reason is that no good evidence shows that it works.

Desensitisation and counterconditioning remain the best approaches if done well. However, the only way I see such a complex task succeeding is together with a behaviourist recommended by your vet. So this heading is really a plug for seeking help not just from vets, but also behaviour experts. They will have lots of good advice tailored to your situation.

Anxiety & Panic Medication

Lastly, most dogs will benefit from careful use of calming medications. Short-term drugs are used before a storm or firework night in dogs who are generally OK. Long-term drugs are used for dogs with more generalised anxiety, often together with a short-term agent.

Drugs we may use depending on the case include:

  • Sileo® (dexmedetomidine) – read more about this new drug here
  • Diazepam (short term/situational)
  • Clonidine (short term/situational)
  • Trazodone (short term/situational)
  • Gabapentin (short term/situational)
  • Imepitoin (short to medium term)
  • Fluoxetine (long term)

We train owners to use medications in advance of the stimulus, aided by knowing the local festivities, or watching the weather closely. The weather radar is especially useful to have bookmarked on your phone.

Natural remedies and Dog Appeasing Pheromone, or DAP are also widely used, and might help. However, open label studies of these products demonstrate success rates which are only in the range expected for the ‘caregiver placebo effect‘. Until more evidence is available, our efforts may be best placed elsewhere.

Pressure Vests

There are several pressure garments, most famously Thundershirt®, sold as methods of alleviating anxiety. The evidence so far in dogs is inconclusive, but we support their use as they appear harmless.

That’s it. I wish there were more. The good news is this: most dogs who undergo tailored care will improve with time, not get worse.

Related: Anxiety Medication in Dogs | Separation Anxiety

Have something to add? Comments (if open) will appear within 24 hours.
By Andrew Spanner BVSc(Hons) MVetStud, a vet in Adelaide, Australia. Meet his team here. The information provided here is not intended to be used as a substitute for going to the vet. If your pet is unwell, please seek veterinary attention.

4 Replies to “Thunderstorm & Firework Anxiety In Dogs”

  1. Hi Andrew
    We have a 5 year Corgi male (X stud dog) and he has only been with us for just over 2 years. He is really bad anxiety to the folowing situations; noise, not been in the company of one of us and storms, these are just a few things that set him of. He will pace around in circles,yawn constantly and consecutively, pace up and down the living area, will not settle in any part of the house.
    We have tried everything from dog behaviour classes, thunder jackets, herbal remedies, adaptil collars, changed his food to a calming food type from a well-known manufacturer and lastly we now have him on Fluoxetine 20mg for almost 6 weeks and still not seeing any reduction in his anxiety. What might you be able to offer in the way of some advice or next steps that could be looked at.

    1. Hi Col. I have written before about how common anxiety problems in ex stud dogs are. A few points come to mind:
      Firstly, have you tried finding a qualified behaviourist? Now that you’ve started the fluoxetine, it’s a good time to get one involved. Generally, we recommend those who have trained using the Delta program.
      Secondly, there are also situational drugs that can be added to SSRIs but you will definitely need a behaviourist or veterinary behaviour specialist to advise you on their applicability for your situation.
      Lastly, these dogs need high levels of consistency in their care and a lot of patience. I’m sure you’re doing the best you can as you sound very caring but make sure that everybody is on the same team who works with this dog.
      Good luck!
      P.S. You might be interested in my views on Adaptil.

  2. My Dog hates dog food of any kind. We would always feed him Arbys beef just the meat. They named a Charlie’s special after him. Also loves roasted chicken the dark meat without skin, and steak. We would just give him small portions. Is this ok to do? It hasn’t seem to cause any
    problems he’s is 14 and vet said he’s doing find. years of age and still acts like a puppy. Also licks our skin and sometimes tries lick our small wounds. I told my Husband not to aloud him to do this, it’s not good. One reason he has the worst breath and is it normal for dogs do have terrible smelly gas it is so unbearable is this any under line of health problems? He also has some fatty cyst one close to his throat and each side of his chest.

    1. Hi Kathleen. It’s always better to use balanced dog foods but if your dog seems healthy that’s a good start. However, the diet is almost certainly the cause of the excessive gas production. Smelly breath is probably caused by dental problems and I suggest you ask your vet about that. As for letting dogs lick our wounds – they shouldn’t catch anything from us but it’s reasonably unhygienic.

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