Newly Updated in April 2021!
If you are Googling “natural dog thunderstorm anxiety treatment” you are most likely at the end of your rope and are trying to help your dog without using conventional medication. Trust me, I get it – when your dog is scared of thunder, it causes a multitude of problems that get worse over time.
Sleep deprivation is one commonality shared by owners of dogs with thunderstorm anxiety; house destruction is another unfortunate reality we face.
There are many natural remedies that are supposed to calm a dog during a thunderstorm. Sometimes desensitizing your dog to the noise works, other times natural remedies such as oils or herbs can help calm your dog during a storm.
This week I gathered information on calming supplements & clothing plus some other more out-of-the-box ideas I had never heard of. Read on to find new ideas to help calm your dog during a thunderstorm!
Why Are Dogs Scared of Thunder?
Your dog’s thunderstorm anxiety may be a simple fear of the noise itself, but it may have other contributing factors. This is the reason that one natural treatment works great for one dog but has no effect on another.
Before deciding on a dog thunderstorm anxiety treatment, learn about the different reasons dogs are scared of thunder – it’s not just about the noise.
Some dogs may be reacting to the buildup of static electricity in their fur. Trying approaches that prevent static buildup in their fur yield amazing results with these dogs.
Others may have a hormone or chemical imbalance that makes them more vulnerable to anxiety, which in turn exacerbates their reaction to loud or sudden noises. These dogs may find more relief using homeopathic or herbal remedies.
Yet others may be purely anxious about the noise itself, or may have paired the noise with a negative consequence. These dogs may respond to desensitization, safe rooms, calming, or comfort approaches.
What does this mean? It means that learning how to calm your dog during a thunderstorm will involve some trial and error as you investigate why your dog is scared of thunder. If you find one natural treatment that you try has no effect on your dog’s thunderstorm anxiety, try a totally different approach.
You may also find one treatment helps, but isn’t quite enough by itself; many dogs need a combination of dog thunderstorm anxiety treatments.
When Your Dog is Scared of Thunderstorms, Notice the Small Details.
The more you notice about how your dog behaves during thunderstorms and the setting in which your dog’s thunderstorm anxiety occurs, the more data you will have to choose the best approach for your dog’s fear of thunder.
- When you know a thunderstorm is coming, start to watch your dog before the storm arrives. Look for subtle signs your dog is getting nervous: panting, following you around the house, or moving to certain areas like bathrooms & bathtubs.
If this behavior starts and you cannot hear any thunder, it’s possible your dog is reacting to the static electricity in the air or the barometric pressure change.
- What does your dog do when it’s thundering? Do they hide in a basement or bathtub? Do they want to be near you? Pace all over the house? Act panicky as if trying to escape the noise?
- If you have tried natural remedies, which ones tend to calm your dog during a storm, even if only a little bit?
Knowing these details will help you evaluate the natural solutions below and choose the best one for your dog.
Natural Treatments for Dog Thunderstorm Anxiety Caused by Static Electricity
**note: this post contains affiliate links. No one paid me to recommend these products, I recommend them because I like them. However, using the link to buy the products helps support happynaturaldog.com.**
If your dog hides in the bathtub, behind the toilet, or in the basement, they may be sensitive to the static electricity buildup in their fur. I found two novel ideas that addressed this problem:
Lightly wiping your dog with natural, unscented dryer sheets can reduce the static electricity in your dog’s coat.
Traditional dryer sheets contain harmful chemicals, so use one like this Seventh Generation Dryer Sheet to avoid rubbing chemicals on your dog’s fur.
Storm Defender Cape
At first glance people may mistake the Storm Defender Cape for a Thundershirt (calming wrap – described in the next section), but it is a completely different approach to dog thunderstorm anxiety.
The Storm Defender is made to calm a dog during a thunderstorm by reducing static electricity buildup in their fur. The inventor, an electrical engineer, came up with the idea to help his thunderstorm-phobic dog.
It has a special metallic lining that discharges the static electricity on your dog’s fur and prevents static charge buildup, giving relief to dogs that are sensitive to the charge and possible static shocks that they experience.
The Thundershirt is a tight wrap that soothes your dog when they are anxious. Drawing from the same principle as swaddling a baby to soothe them, the Thundershirt applies gentle, constant, comforting pressure to your dog’s body.
I have used this on many dogs. For thunder anxiety it took the edge off, and I combined it with other natural solutions. The Thundershirt works for other anxiety as well; I had a dog that became extremely anxious when I was out of town and I had my son try putting the Thundershirt on her. It made a huge difference; she went from frantic to calm.
Mutt Muffs are noise-reducing headphones, designed to protect a dog’s hearing when it is in a small airplane. The company is very up front about the fact that the headphones are not designed for thunder and fireworks (they aren’t noise-canceling). That said, if your dog is extremely sound sensitive, these can help muffle the noise.
Reviews were mixed. Some owners had great luck with them, saying the headphones blocked enough noise to diminish their dog’s thunderstorm anxiety. Others had no luck whatsoever.
My guess is that it depends on if the dog’s thunderstorm anxiety is due purely to noise, or if static electricity is involved. I’m sure the level of anxiety affects the success rate as well, as dogs with deep-seated thunderstorm anxiety have developed associations of thunder with things not remedied by the mutt muffs – like lightning, rain, or wind – which also trigger the fear.
Create a room in the house in which you minimize the sound and light from thunderstorms. Basements are best as noise is more muffled. If you don’t have a basement try an internal room with fewer outside walls and windows.
Cut out cardboard pieces that fit tightly into window frames to block out lightning flashes, and turn on music or a white noise machine loud enough to drown out most thunder rumbling. Any dog scared of thunder will be grateful to have a place to escape the noise.
Moose was a rescued golden retriever who came to us terrified of thunderstorms.
When I first adopted him at age 9, he would wake me up if it thundered at night and keep me up, pacing the room, jumping on and off the bed, and eventually jumping on the bed and (not kidding here) sitting smack on top of my head.
Suffice it to say I had never dealt with dog thunderstorm anxiety that was this extreme.
One night when I was particularly desperate for sleep, I took him down to our basement. Once there, I broke down a cardboard box and smushed it into the window frame so it blocked out any lightning flashes. Then I turned on a slow rock radio station to create some “white noise,” and turned the volume up. The basement muffled the thunder, and Moose, free from the lightening (now associated with the following thunder) and hearing less of the thunder, lay down and went to sleep.
He began to associate the basement as a safe spot from the sudden bangs and it became his “woobie” of choice. Every year on July 4th we would prop open the basement door and turn the music on; when someone started lighting off fireworks he would go down there and go to sleep.
If a thunderstorm started during the night, I would wake up to find his cold wet nose 2 millimeters from my face with big eyes conveying the urgent need for me to take him to his basement safe spot. If I was sleeping deeply, he would execute plan B knowing that sitting on my face was guaranteed to wake me up.
I would open the bedroom door and he would trot down to the basement as fast as he could, wait for me to stumble down, put the cardboard in the window, and start the music, then he would flop down on the floor and resume his slumbers.
To this day, this is my easiest dog thunderstorm anxiety treatment. If you can create a quiet room and block out outside light there is a good chance it will help calm a dog during a thunderstorm.
Important Disclaimer: I am not a vet. Not even close! My degree is in marketing. My goal is to share my own personal experience and information I have gathered; not to give medical advice.
If you think you want to try something you read about here, talk to your vet! But first read this and many more articles to empower yourself for a good discussion in which you can ask your vet great questions about what you want to try.
Knowledge is power – never forget that!
Valerian root is an herb that needs to be used in consultation with your veterinarian. Some medications can interact with valerian root causing side effects or creating a stronger effect from the medication. In addition, you should avoid giving it to puppies, senior dogs, or dogs with health issues without veterinary supervision.
Valerian has a sedative effect so can help relieve thunderstorm anxiety. Many of the products on the market combine valerian with other herbs, some combine it with hemp seed.
Melatonin is a hormone that naturally rises in your dog’s body when they sleep. Giving it to your dog before and during a thunderstorm can help calm them down.
Important: Make sure you use melatonin made for dogs.
Human products may contain Xylitol which can be fatal to dogs!
Another herb known for its calming effects is passionflower. Use of this herb goes back to the mid 1500s, when it was used as a sedative and a sleep aid. Preliminary studies showed promise in lowering anxiety in patients with generalized anxiety disorder and also in presurgical patients.
Administering herbs to your dog
If you have a holistic vet, they can instruct you about what herbal products to use for your dog. I did find one combination product that is made for dogs which contains all 3 of the above herbs:
Chinese Herbal Remedies
If you have a veterinarian versed in Chinese Medicine, they may recommend Chinese herbal remedies to help your dog.
I found an interesting article on the website of Davidson Veterinary Clinic in North Carolina, in which the vet used Chinese herbs on her resident dog who had severe thunderstorm anxiety.
This vet had tried an herbal mix called Shen Calmer in the past, but it was not enough to comfort her dog during thunderstorms. She then added an herbal medicine called Er Yin Jian to the dog’s dinner (in addition to the Shen Calmer).
That night, the vet was amazed when her dog slept through a thunderstorm. No pacing, no panting – the vet said it was nothing short of a miracle!
Homeopathic Remedies for Dog Thunderstorm Anxiety
Homeopathic remedies are known for treating the whole animal. In this case, that means not only treating the dog’s reaction to thunderstorms, but also everything else going on in the dog’s life and mind.
Homeopaths stress that the owner working with over-the-counter remedies is at a serious disadvantage over owners taking their dog to a homeopathic veterinarian.
That said, there is nothing harmful about trying an over-the-counter homeopathic remedy. If it is wrong it won’t work, but it won’t harm your dog either.
Homeopet Storm Stress is an over the counter remedy that had many favorable reviews as a dog thunderstorm anxiety treatment. When I looked through the reviews it seemed like it either worked wonders or did nothing at all.
This again reinforces the idea that dog thunderstorm anxiety can originate in different ways and a natural remedy won’t be effective unless it addresses the underlying factors.
CBD oil is known for its anti-anxiety effects as well as other benefits such as it’s anti-inflammatory effect (see article about natural remedies for arthritis in dogs) and cancer fighting properties. It is thought to stimulate the serotonin receptors in the brain, blocking the absorption of serotonin and therefore producing a boost of serotonin levels.
This boost of serotonin calms the mind, elevates the mood, and reduces fear and anxiety.
When giving it to your dog, be aware that it will take an extra 15-30 minutes to take effect if given in your dog’s food vs. if given sublingually (under the tongue).
If your dog is on any medication do not give CBD without checking with your holistic veterinarian first.
If you are interested in trying CBD oil, be sure to read this article about CBD oil for dogs scared of fireworks. It contains information about the importance of choosing a safe CBD oil product, discusses how CBD works, and details the types of CBD oil that are most effective.
It’s important to be aware that the CBD oil industry is completely unregulated. This means that the oil you buy may say it’s THC free and claim a certain strength of CBD, but many tested oils show unacceptable THC levels and inconsistent CBD levels.
The animal nutritionist I work with recommends Lidke CBD Oil. I did my homework and found out that they have been registered with the BBB since 2006, source their products sustainably and organically, and are talked about in independent reviews for their high quality.
A number of the calming chews for dogs have hemp oil and hemp seed in them. It’s important to note, however, that hemp oil is different from CBD oil.
How are they different? Hemp oil, hemp seed oil, and hemp seed powder are all made from the seeds of the hemp plant. CBD oil is made from the entire hemp plant – leaves, flowers, and stalks.
Because hemp is made from hemp seeds, it contains little to no CBD.
How do hemp seed oil & powder help with storm anxiety?
When I researched the benefits of hemp seed oil, site and after site listed its perfect balance of omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids. They also highlighted other beneficial ingredients such as GLA (gamma linolenic acid), magnesium, vitamin E, potassium, calcium, iron, and zinc.
What didn’t make sense was, none of these beneficial ingredients are known for lowering anxiety. So why was it the top ingredient in a number of dog calming products?
After a wasted hour trying to find the answer to that question online, I started emailing and calling manufacturers. The ones who answered just stated that hemp powder or hemp oil lowers anxiety. But they couldn’t tell me how, they were just reading off their customer service fact sheet.
I finally got a hold of someone at Zesty Paws who, bless her heart, offered to contact the department that would have this technical level of information and call me back. When she called back with their answer, she explained that the role of the hemp seed oil is not to directly reduce anxiety, but to support cognitive function and brain health. The Omega 3 & 6 fatty acids, along with a compound in hemp seed called polyphenols, support brain health; a healthy brain is going to function better when stressed.
The brand Zesty Paws just gained a lot of respect in my book—if a company is willing to provide the customer with that level of information it says a fair amount about their ethics and commitment to quality products.
Here are a few calming chews which, in addition to containing some of the calming herbs mentioned earlier, also have hemp seed powder or oil in them.
Many dog owners use essential oils to help dogs with thunderstorm anxiety feel calmer and more relaxed.
Kristen Leigh Bell has written a highly regarded book, Holistic Aromatherapy for Animals, which discusses different essential oils and different methods of using them.
Bell makes a critical point at the beginning of her book:
”If an animal is fearful of loud noises, fireworks, storms, or crowds,Kristen Leigh Bell
avoid introducing essential oils at these times.”
This was a big “Ah-ha” moment for me. In all the years I have tried essential oils for different anxiety-inducing situations, nothing I read ever told me not to give it in those situations until I had used it in positive situations first.
By giving it to them when they were stressed, I was actually creating a negative association with the scent.
Bell tells a story about giving her fearful dog massages with soothing oils. Over time, the dog began to relax during the massages and enjoyed them. In addition to the physiological calming effects of the oils, the dog began to mentally associate the scent of the oils with happiness and relaxation.
At that point, she could begin using the oils during a fear inducing time, such as thunderstorms.
I would highly recommend her book if you want to try essential oils for your dogs. Bell discusses different essential oils and their uses, and recommends oil blends for different conditions.
Those with the most calming effects include lavender, valerian root, spikenard, mandarin petitgrain, red or green mandarin, sweet orange, sweet marjoram, and neroli.
She also gives instructions for how to make oil blends and spritzes, as well as instructions about how to apply them for maximum benefit.
Essential Oils & Diffusers
Once you have conditioned your dog to associate the essential oil with positive emotions, you can use these products to add the scent to a room or specific area before a storm starts.
It’s important not to put essential oils directly on your dog. Some dogs have sensitive skin, while others may be too sensitive to the scent. Using a clip-on diffuser charm like the one below allows you to remove it if the dog doesn’t like it or if you don’t need it anymore.
You can also put the essential oil in a room diffuser.
Collar Attachment: Use on Collar or in Bed or Crate
Counterconditioning involves changing the dog’s emotional response to a stimulus – in this case, changing their response to the sound of thunder from “OH NO!” to “OH BOY!”
Patricia McConnell has a great article discussing how to calm a dog during a storm in which she states:
“A gentle hand or tasty treat doesn’t reinforce fear, it reduces it.”I’m Okay, You’re Okay by Patricia McConnell
She has a great counterconditioning system that she calls “thunder treats” that she used for her own dog’s thunderstorm anxiety. Each time a thunderstorm rolled in, she would feed her dog a piece of meat, no matter how the dog was behaving. She added a verbal cue as well, saying ” oh boy, Pippy, you get thunder treats!” each time they heard a rumble of thunder.
She did this day or night, so you have to be willing to keep treats in a bedside drawer and wake up enough to mumble the celebratory phrase and pay out the treat!
Over time, her dog started to sleep through moderately loud storms and was much more calm during loud storms.
It’s OK to Comfort Your Dog During Thunderstorms
In the same article, Patricia McConnell debunks the old theory that you should not comfort your dog during thunderstorms.
She goes through the science of comforting your dog during storms, and shows that it DOES NOT make your dog more afraid of thunder.
So go ahead and comfort your dog; it may or may not make them feel better, but it will not make them feel any worse or make them more afraid of thunderstorms—and it will make you feel much better because you know you are doing the right thing for your dog!
The process of desensitization involves exposing your dog to the thing it is afraid of at an intensity where it doesn’t scare the dog or invoke a fearful response. Once the dog is completely comfortable at that intensity, you gradually increase the intensity, stopping at each increment and waiting until your dog is comfortable.
Your first reaction will be to shake your head and say that is not possible with thunderstorms. Desensitization involves daily training and the ability to control the stimulus that your dog is afraid of – neither being possible with thunderstorms.
Enter Victoria Stilwell, prominent advocate of positive reinforcement-based training.
Stilwell had produced a set of Canine Phobia Series CDs that included thunderstorm recordings to help owners desensitize their dog, but it is no longer available online for purchase. The Nature Sound Rain & Thunder CD above is what I would use instead. Stilwell recommends that you begin by playing it at a low volume, paired with your dog’s favorite treats or games, then gradually increase the volume over time. The goal is to gradually increase your dog’s ability to remain calm and happy during the recordings. When a real storm arrives, they will be more prepared to cope.
This training method will be beneficial for almost any dog scared of thunder. At the very least, it will make their reaction less severe and you can combine this with another dog thunderstorm anxiety treatment to help calm your dog during a thunderstorm.
If you plan to try this, learn more about a training method Jean Donaldson calls open bar closed bar dog training (i.e. desensitization and counterconditioning) to ensure your timing is correct and your training is successful.
Natural Dog Thunderstorm Anxiety Treatments
If you own a dog scared of thunder, there are a multitude of natural solutions to choose from. You are more likely to be successful if you take the time to observe your dog and notice details about how and when they react that may point to the root issue.
Be prepared for some trial and error – there are different underlying reasons behind each dog’s fear of thunderstorms, so it stands to reason that different solutions will work for different dogs.
If your dog struggles more with fireworks than thunderstorms, read these home remedies for dogs scared of fireworks.
Have you had success in reducing your dog’s fear of thunderstorms? Share your story in the comments below to help others struggling with dog thunderstorm anxiety.
Here’s hoping that one of the methods above will help calm your dog during a thunderstorm.
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