Tuesday, July 10, 2007
K-STATE VETERINARIAN HAS TIPS FOR OWNERS OF THUNDERSTORM-PHOBIC DOGS
MANHATTAN -- It's not just people, such as young children, who may find thunderstorms an anxiety-raising experience. Some dogs also are afraid of thunderstorms, according to a Kansas State University veterinarian.
Dr. Kari Wallentine, a veterinarian and graduate student in animal sciences and industry at K-State, says there are several ways people can ease the storm anxiety, or canine thunderstorm phobia, of their dogs.
"Confine your dog in a safe location -- a dark room away from lightening that muffles the sound of thunder, such as a closet or basement," Wallentine said. "Play a radio or provide white noise to help cover up the sound."
The way a person responds to their dog's behavior during a storm also can contribute to the pet's thunderstorm fear, Wallentine said.
"Ignore your dog's fearful behavior the best you can, even though it may be difficult," she said. "Don't punish your dog or do anything that your pet might find rewarding, such as petting or talking soothingly; this may increase your dog's fearful behavior and phobia."
Wallentine said that thunder isn't the only loud noise that dogs may not like. Some dogs can be afraid of other loud noises like fireworks or gunshots.
"These phobias fall into a larger category of noise phobias," she said. "Thunderstorm phobia also falls into this category but differs from the others because it not only has a noise component, but also includes changes in the environment associated with the weather, such as a change in barometric pressure."
Wallentine cautions that not all dogs will suffer from the same phobia or suffer from a phobia for the same reasons.
"What may cause fear in a dog and how the dog responds behaviorally will vary between dogs. Noise phobias are not mutually exclusive. Some dogs may only be fearful of thunderstorms, while others may also be afraid of fireworks and other loud noises."
According to Wallentine, little is known about the cause of canine thunderstorm phobia. There are, however, a few possible explanations for this fear. The fear may be caused by the sound of the thunder. Other dogs may feel fear as a result of the many atmospheric changes that occur during a thunderstorm and may come to associate those changes with the approaching thunderstorm, she said.
"Some atmospheric conditions that dogs may react to are changes in humidity and barometric pressure," Wallentine said. "Some dogs come to associate those changes with thunder. Then, when they sense a change in the atmosphere, they become anxious in anticipation of the storm and resulting thunder."
And yet another explanation for the phobia, Wallentine said, may be fear of the sight of lightning. "It may be the flash of bright light that causes the fear or an association of the lightning with the resulting thunder," she said.
Wallentine will be conducting a clinical trial to test a new treatment for thunderstorm phobia. The trial, associated with K-State, will be eight weeks and requires dog owners to observe their pet's behavior and complete assessment questionnaires. Owners of thunderstorm-phobic dogs who are in good health and who live indoors can contact Wallentine at 785-532-1089 for more information about participating in the trial.