Current approaches to treating storm phobia in dogs (Proceedings)


Often referred to as thunderphobia, but for many dogs other storm related stimuli are at least as, if not more important, than the sounds of thunder.


Often referred to as thunderphobia, but for many dogs other storm related stimuli are at least as, if not more important, than the sounds of thunder.


Fear reactions that

  • are persistent over time

  • are consistent in terms of what causes the fear

  • are learned, irrational, not adaptive

  • May be, but is not necessarily intense (hysteria, catatonia, panic)

"Normal" Fear vs. Phobia

  • Experiencing fear every time a hungry lion charges at you is normal (run, hide, defend)

  • Experiencing fear when lightning hits a nearby tree is normal (run, hide)

  • Experiencing fear every time there is a dark cloud in the sky is a phobia

Interaction of Stimulus X Fear

  • Possible Causes

  • Genetic Factors

  • Traumatic/Aversive Events

  • Restricted Early Experiences

  • Unintentional Reinforcement

Management Steps

  • Punishment

  • Under NO circumstances should punishment be used

  • Relaxation...Keeping the pet calm and relaxed in general is an very important part of treatment

  • Sit/Stay/Relax exercises

Treatment may be simple:

  • Bring the dog indoors during the storm

  • Provide television or radio "noise"

  • Dog may be ok as long as owner is present

  • Provide "safe hiding place"

  • Bathtub

  • Laundry basket

  • Closet

May be serious and not respond to simple treatment

  • Serious injury

  • Significant damage

  • Upset owners

  • Owner-pet bond

  • Re-homing

  • Euthanasia

Composite fear

  • thunder, lightning

  • change in barometric pressure, ionization, illumination

  • Set Realistic Goals

  • Thunderstorm Phobia - TX

  • Anxiolytic medication

  • Maintenance drug: gets daily

  • Fast-acting drug: gets as needed

Behavior modification

Maintenance Drug

  • At least for length of storm season

  • Relief from chronic, mild to moderate anxiety

  • Some anxiolytic effect if owners miss storm-specific dose

Fast-acting Drug

  • To get dog through the storm NOW

  • Maintenance drug may not be sufficient when severe storm immediately overhead

  • Fast-acting anxiolytic effect

  • Some notable for anti-panic effects, especially alprazolam

Behavior Modification

  • Desensitization and Counter-Conditioning

  • Begin with lowest intensity stimulus that the pet exhibits a fear response to

» Sounds

» Sights

» Smells

» Other

  • Barometric pressure

  • Negative ions

Maintenance Drugs

Tricyclic antidepressant

Clomipramine 2-3 mg/kg b.i.d.

Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor

Fluoxetine 1-2 mg/kg daily

Paroxetine 1-2 mg/kg daily

Fast Acting Drug

Diazepam 0.5-2.0 mg/kgAlprazolam 0.02-0.1 mg/kg


  • Expose pet to a very low level of stimulus

  • Counter-condition with food when relaxed or playful

  • Very gradually increase the intensity of the stimulus until it approximates actual levels

  • If at any time the pet experiences anxiety or fear, move back to lower stimulus level


D.A.P. may be beneficial in some cases.

Crowell-Davis SL and Murray T 2006. Veterinary Psychopharmacology. Blackwell Publishing.

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