With the threat of bad weather looming, we must not forget how devastating storm anxiety can be for our pets.
Dogs who react to storms may not be reacting to the noise: trigger stimuli could include other sounds (wind, rain), darkness, changes in light intensity, barometric pressure changes, ozone changes and changes in human behavior. Any of these can lead to panic.
Dogs experiencing fearful noises (e.g. shipping on a plane) as youngsters may be at increased risk for later development of more profound noise or storm phobias.
So what to do? Medication is one strategy, and if you feel your pet would benefit, talk to your veterinarian. Avoid medications that are dissociative anesthetics, meaning that it scrambles perceptions. Ask yourself if a scrambling of perceptions will make an anxious or uncertain animal worse or better. Sedation can be a better choice.
What you should not do is pet the dog or cat and say that it is okay. The animal knows it's not okay and such contradictory signals, especially in profoundly obedient pets, increase anxiety.
Instead, just talk normally and press firmly, or lie next to them without petting. Such behavior provides closeness and allows the pet's muscles to relax without inadvertently rewarding any of the signs of anxiety.
There’s some anecdotal evidence that dogs are more comfortable around something that ‘grounds’ them. Some dogs get in bathtubs or curl around toilets. Others seek closets or other small, protective areas. Still others do better if they’re wrapped tightly in a blanket. One of our dogs just feels more comfortable in her crate in times like this (storms and possible evacuations are a good reason to make sure your animal is comfortable in a crate or carrier).
As a precaution against your dog or cat running away in a panic, do make sure they have their collar on with ID tags. All dogs (and even cats) should be microchipped. It's a relatively painless, simple procedure (I've even done it to myself just to see).
So just like with us, have a plan. Maybe one room is better insulated or air conditioned than another. Maybe the crate or closet is made comfortable in advance. Protect yourself and don't forget to protect our four-footed companions.