Q: A couple of years ago you offered some suggestions for pets who suffer thunderstorm-related fears. My dogs’ fears seem to have worsened exponentially. I’m wondering if you’d be willing to offer your advice a second time.
A: Absolutely! It’s a great topic this time of the year. Here’s my party line on this under-respected emotional issue of dogs:
Generally speaking, thunderstorms and pets don’t mix. The ideal solution is probably to move to a desert climate where the risk of thunderstorms is slight, but that’s obviously not practical.
To help alleviate the stress of the inevitable South Florida boomers, I always have some tips at the ready. Here are my favorites:
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▪ Get your fearful dogs tons of exercise during this time of year. I know it’s hot, but if you do it early or late it’s not so bad. Think of it this way: An exhausted dog is typically too tired to stress out.
▪ A no-brainer: Keep thunderstorm-stressed pets indoors throughout the season.
▪ Human interaction is good for scared pets, but don’t fall prey to the concept that coddling frightened pets assuages their fears. It can actually make things worse by teaching them that their fears are justified.
▪ Give them a safe, cozy, insulated place to stay. Keeping pets in small, enclosed areas is way better than allowing them free reign. It keeps them safer and makes them feel better, too.
▪ All pets should wear a secure collar with current ID tags in case they escape in a panic during a storm. A microchip backup is essential.
▪ Ply them with treats and fun stuff to do if you won’t be home. Buy lots of new toys this time of year!
▪ Counter-conditioning methods can be very helpful. Behavior guru Patricia McConnell offers a comprehensive approach to noise phobias at patriciamcconnell.com.
▪ Distract them. Toast a loaf of bread in the oven to mask storm smells. Play “Star Wars” at a high volume during the worst of it.
▪ Can’t handle The Force? Try Through A Dog’s Ear, soothing music therapy for dogs. Download at throughadogsear.com.
▪ Try a Thundershirt or another cozy wrap. These swaddling dog clothes can help.
▪ Talk to your veterinarian about seeing a veterinary behaviorist or medications to help treat this phobia. But remember, drugs are always a last resort.
Dr. Patty Khuly has a veterinary practice at Sunset Animal Clinic in South Miami. Her website is
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