November 19, 2022
I have mentioned how my response to bad weather tends to be to go outside and watch. A storm rolling across the unbroken prairie was one of the things I missed when I moved from Kansas, and something I looked forward to seeing when I visited. I always found the power of a thunderstorm exhilarating. I also tend to look outside during a tornado siren to see what is happening (kids, do not do this at home!) even though we are warned to “shelter in place”. When the sirens went off several weeks ago, I did what I usually do and went out to the back patio. Zena was a little skittish at first as this was her first experience with a bad storm but seemed to settle down once she saw my reaction. Later, my niece visited and when I mentioned this, she showed me a picture of her cat during the storm. Chandler had paid attention to the forecasters and crawled into the bathtub in an interior room like he was supposed to do.
When I looked online, I did not find a reference for cats, but I did find an explanation for why dogs freak during thunderstorms. Humans (at least most of us) realize thunder is just the loud rumbling noise that occurs after the lightning strike, and it is the strike that is potentially harmful. The strike also charges the air with electric particles which land on the fur of the dog and cause static build-up. Often, dogs do not know what to make of the way their coat suddenly feels, and in some cases the static build-up gives the dog an electric shock. This is accompanied by changes in air pressure and the dark and foreboding skies. These weather changes are ominous and can put the dog on edge. Some dogs may even develop storm phobias, especially if they are shy or nervous by nature. I would assume the same may be said for cats.
Storm phobia is a condition where the dog becomes irrationally afraid of any signs of a coming storm, including thunder. Their reaction can be excessive and may put themselves or those around them in danger. Dogs that spend a lot of time outdoors are more likely to fear thunder than those who are sheltered from these natural phenomena. Hounds, sheepdogs, and other working dogs are more likely to develop storm phobia and to have a profound fear of thunder than other breeds. They spend more time outdoors which exposes them to the forces of the storm. Puppies are also more prone to fearing thunder. Any loud noise makes a puppy anxious, and they scurry to find safety and a place to hide. Breeds with double coats struggle most with thunderstorms. German Shepherds, Golden Retrievers, Australian Shepherds, Siberian Huskies, Bernese Mountain Dogs, and Border Collies are some of the breeds whose thick coats become a major liability as static increases in a thunderstorm. The same goes for dogs who do not socialize much as well as rescue dogs who might have had traumatic events leaving them jittery and susceptible to phobias.
THOUGHTS: Humans can also suffer from storm phobia. Phobias are persistent, intense, and unrealistic fears, and specific phobias are related to certain objects and situations. These typically involve fears related to animals, natural environments, medical issues, or specific situations. While phobias can be extremely uncomfortable and challenging, therapy and medication can help. During the first year of the pandemic there was a 25% increase worldwide in anxiety and depression, and 90% of countries surveyed by the WHO chose to include mental health and psychosocial support in their response plans. Unrealistic fears around the pandemic continue to persist, along with a lack of regard by others. Both responses need to be overcome for our world to safely move forward. Act for all. Change is coming and it starts with you.