Thunderstorm phobia in dogs may be genetic

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DENVER – If your pooch cowers and cries every time a summer storm rolls in, it may have as much to do with genes as with upbringing.

A recent study shows that both a dog’s breed and its previous experiences may affect whether it is afraid of thunderstorms.

A fear of storms is one of the most common phobias in dogs. It can cause them to tremble, whine, drool, and retreat to a hiding place.

Behaviorists are not yet sure what part of the storm frightens dogs most, whether they’re reacting to lightning flashes, thunder, the sound of rain on the roof, or even a sudden drop in air pressure or the electrical charge of the air.

To investigate the cause of this phobia, a group of veterinarians surveyed the owners of 69 storm-phobic dogs.

Specific breeds. They discovered that some breeds may be predisposed to a fear of storms.

Herding dogs, such as collies and German shepherds, and hounds, such as beagles and basset hounds, seem to be more likely to develop a storm phobia than other dogs.

The phobia is also common in sporting and working breeds.

The study suggests that this tendency may be explained in terms of the dogs’ genetics. For example, herding dogs have been bred to react quickly to stimuli, such as a calf wandering away from the herd, but not to be aggressive. It could be that herding dogs have a strong reaction to the startling noises and flashes of a storm, but they repress any aggressive response to it, causing anxiety.

Adopted dogs. The study also shows that rescued dogs – dogs adopted from shelters or rescue organizations – may also be more likely to develop storm phobias.

The researchers suggest that these dogs are more likely to have had traumatic experiences prior to adoption. These kinds of early-life experiences can make dogs more anxious and fearful of the unknown.

Veterinarians and animal behaviorists offer various treatments for storm-phobic dogs. Therapies typically include the development of a behavioral modification plan that focuses on relieving the anxiety associated with the thunderstorm phobia.

Veterinarians can also prescribe anti-anxiety or antidepressant medications to help dogs remain calm during storms.

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