Soothing Storm-Stressed Dogs

Lightning-istockAs a vet, Nancy Dreschel knew many dogs that freaked out during thunderstorms—one panicked dog even crashed through a closed, second-story window. Now, she researches solutions. A promising one includes a pheromone emitted from the mammary glands of mother dogs to soothe puppies, which may also help adult dogs in a thunderstorm.

Dreschel, an instructor in the Department of Dairy and Animal Science and former private-practice vet, has studied the physiological and behavioral symptoms of storm-stressed dogs, about 15 to 30 percent of all dogs, since 2003.

She’s found that levels of the hormone cortisol in dogs’ saliva increase tremendously in storm-frightened dogs and stay high afterward. “Dogs that were around other dogs seemed to be less stressed physiologically by thunder- and lightning storms, and the stress didn’t last as long after the storms were over,” says Dreschel.

Dreschel is collecting data by applying the “dog-appeasing pheromone” from mammary glands and a few other compounds to bandanas tied around dogs’ necks before they listen to a five-minute recording of loud thunderstorms. So far, she says, the pheromone seems to help, and she expects to be able to answer whether it causes physiological effects in about a year.