Even if you know a thunderstorm is coming, that first big crack is always jarring. But if you're a dog who didn't get the weather report from Alexa that morning (and doesn't even know what thunder is), it's even more unnerving. Since many of us have been home with our pets much more often lately, many of their behaviors are on full display — like how your cat loves to sit in the bathtub — including how they react to storms and other loud noises like fireworks.
We spoke to Tracy Donnelly, category manager at Pet Supplies Plus, who shared some of her best tips and products for helping to soothe our furry friends during thunderstorms, even when we won't be home to comfort them in person.
Ways to Soothe Your Pet During a Thunderstorm
Because the fear and anxiety caused by thunderstorms or loud noises can lead to behaviors like bathroom accidents or nervous chewing, Tracy encourages pet owners to attempt to curb their pet's fears as early as possible. Many pets will run to hide at the sound of thunder, so Tracy suggests creating a safe space for them in a room corner or on a closet floor. "Fill this space with everything that makes them comfortable, like their bed, favorite blanket, or a toy," she told POPSUGAR. "Next, you'll want to distract them, and one of the best ways to do that is food. You can fill a Kong toy with wet food and pop it in the freezer ahead of time. When you give it to them, they'll have a toy to lick for hours."
Another way to plan ahead if you know a storm is coming is to ensure your pet, especially dogs, have gotten out all of their energy prior to the storm. "Taking them to the park, bringing them on a run, or going on a long walk may help them to nap or sleep through the storm."
You can also attempt to get your pet more used to the thunder sounds by increasing the noise in your home — make the TV louder or play some music — so the big booms aren't as shocking to their sensitive ears in the moment.
Products That Help to Soothe Dogs During Thunderstorms
If you feel like your presence and a calm space aren't doing enough to help your pooch during storms, there are a few different products you can try that further help to ease anxiety.
"Dogs respond well to gentle pressure, which is why Thundershirts are a great option regardless of whether you're able to be home or not. It's basically a wraparound vest your dog wears to calm them down — think of it as a hug in a shirt. A lot of pet owners will use this for other situations as well, like fireworks on holidays or when traveling," Tracy said. "You can also use a calming collar, which is another drug-free option to ease anxiety. The science behind it is actually pretty interesting — the collar releases pheromones that mimic a mother's natural nursing pheromones, helping to ease stress and create a familiar feeling of safety."
You can also go the treat route with calming treats — which contain naturally calming ingredients such as lavender and chamomile — or experiment with CBD to find what works best for your furry friend.
"[Calming treats] help to reduce tension if you find your dog is shaking when afraid. Many of these treats are also slow-release, so give them about 30 minutes before a storm or as soon as you hear it rolling in," Tracy said.
She added, of CBD: "Different brands offer different applications, like tinctures, chews, food toppers, capsules, and even peanut butter! . . . The benefits of treating with CBD go beyond helping with anxiety due to loud noises. If your pup has arthritis, separation anxiety, or other medical issues, a vet may recommend CBD to help with pain, stiffness, or stress."
Ways to Prepare Your Pet to Be Alone During a Thunderstorm
If you're able to, staying home to be a physical comfort to your pet is helpful, but it won't always work out that you can be with them during a storm. If a storm is coming, try to prepare your pet as much as possible. "Depending on when you see them, you may be able to give them a slow-release calming treat so that they stay relaxed throughout the evening. Set up their safe space, leave on some background noise (TV, radio, or white noise), and get them set up with their Thundershirt or calming collar."
Tracy's biggest tip also fits into this category: "This last tip will help across the board with pet anxiety. When you make a big show of saying hello or goodbye to your pup every time you leave the house, it can signal that you're leaving, triggering fear or anxiousness. I always recommend that pet owners not make a big deal out of leaving or returning home to set their pet up for success while they're away."