Australia Weather News

Bedding torn to shreds, fence palings splintered and chunks gnawed away from doors; the havoc storm-stressed dogs cause can be just as stressful as damaging winds and heavy rain.

So if you know your pooch is prone to storm anxiety, is there anything you can do?

The short answer is, yes. 

With the beginning of the disaster season bringing wild weather to much of Queensland this week, veterinarians are expecting injuries and anxious behaviour to be on the rise.

While Molly Gill's other dogs are not too bothered by storms, dog Missy pants and often refuses to eat.

This week's storms in Mackay were no different for her. 

These are common symptoms of anxiety, and North Queensland vet Bruce Howlett said there were strategies pet owners could take.

He said an important first step was to gauge how 'storm phobic' the dog is.

From there, there are products on the market that could help reduce anxiety such as storm jackets — which work by providing constant, mild pressure to a dog's body — to crates, which are enclosures that can provide a sense of protection while also buffeting noise.

"Storm jackets do seem to help mildly storm-phobic dogs," Dr Howlett said.

"You may find that putting it in the crate makes them feel happy.

"But I'd caution against confining a dog that's really scared … we've seen dogs rip teeth out of their mouth trying to bite their way out of cages."

Mackay-based dog trainer Ell Young from K9 Training said behavioural training could greatly improve a dog's anxiety levels. 

"One of the best things people can do is crate training," she said. 

"When we condition our dogs correctly to it, it's a chill-out zone.

"Mental stimulation is also a big one.

"If they're mentally stimulated they have less energy to put into being anxious."

Is medication an option?

Dr Howlett, from Stabler and Howlett vets in Mackay, said anxiety medication for extreme cases had improved greatly over the past 15 years.

"For the more severely affected dogs the only real answer is therapeutic."

"[For dogs] that smash their way through walls or chew holes in things [their owners] should see their vet and talk about getting a prescription."

Dr Howlett said that previously it was common to prescribe sedatives to animals, but new medications could be administered that work without heavy sedation.

"If you go back 15 years, the only therapeutic answer was to sedate them and make them sleepy."

"It stopped them getting injured but it wasn't a nice thing to do."

Why do dogs freak out in a storm?

Ms Young said existing anxiety issues, loud noises and changes in the atmosphere were among the many and complex reasons for the behaviour. 

"It's a confusing world they're living in," she said. 

"A change in the atmosphere might make it cold or windy, which can be upsetting.

"I've had one of my own dogs have very bad anxiety with storms.

"The fear takes over … their instinct is to run. That's what they're trying to do, get out."

Serious injuries in some cases

From broken teeth to cuts and abrasions, Dr Howlett has seen a range of storm-induced injuries.

"The frequent [presentation] is dental injuries," he said.

"Scratching claws off, scratching pads raw trying to dig their way out of a concrete kennel, some cuts and abrasions."

He said while many cases of anxiety were mild, he encouraged owners of highly stressed dogs to speak to their vet to avoid injury.

"It's not because they're bad dogs, it's because they're genuinely terrified."