Humans can tell if there’s a storm nearby as we’ll notice dark skies and hear thunder. But according to some, our ability to feel when a storm is coming is nothing compared to dogs. But just how true is this, and do dogs know when a thunderstorm is coming, and if so, how far away can they sense storms?
This intrigued me so much that I decided to get the opinion of scientists and look at real research, rather than hearsay. What I discovered about dogs being able to sense the barometric pressure of storms, hurricanes, and tornado weather was incredible… and here it all is.
Do dogs know when a storm is coming? Yes, dogs do know when a storm, hurricane, tornado, or thunderstorm is coming. Their finely tuned senses will pick up on barometric pressure changes which change how their body feels, which they will then relate back to previous storm experiences.
Whilst we rely on the extreme cloud changes or the weather forecast to tell if there’s going to be a heavy downpour, dogs literally feel it in their bones.
How this all works, and why dogs freak out during storms is fascinating, and here’s why.
Do dogs know when a thunderstorm is coming?
Our canine friends know if there’s a storm on the way even hours before the dark heavy clouds have rolled in. Dogs can take the trophy as your household’s most accurate weather forecaster!
Something as simple as a slight dip in the air pressure outside is enough to make your dog alert you to brace yourself for the incoming storm…
Dogs and their strong storm detecting senses
Research shows that dogs have finely-tuned senses compared to us, which gives them exceptional weather forecasting abilities. In fact, some scientists even believe dogs can detect an earthquake coming, perhaps even 2 months before it hits.
On average, humans have nearly five million sense receptors around the nose region. Dogs more than 100 million receptors. They can simply sniff the air and know there’s a storm approaching long before the heavy rain droplets hit your roof.
Plus, their sense of hearing is nearly four times better than ours. This superb hearing ability makes it possible for dogs to hear thunder from a far distance, way before you even hear the first thunderclap from your couch.
Dogs are very sensitive to changes in barometric pressure (more about that lower down the page), which often drops prior to the arrival of a storm. The change in air pressure outside makes dogs experience bodily discomforts — like pain in the ears or a slight headache. These discomforts will alert your dog that a storm is coming.
Experts also say that dogs often experience a static charge on their fur when thunder rumbles. This static shock manifests as a tingling, uncomfortable sensation on their bodies. And just like that, they’ll know if the weather event they totally dread is on its way.
How far away can a dog sense a storm?
There is no research to definitively show how far in advance a dog can sense a storm. What we do know, is they can detect changes in barometric pressure, and have incredible hearing.
Whilst it might appear that dogs can sense thunder before it’s coming, it could simply be down to their super-advanced and sensitive hearing.
It’s said that dogs can hear 4 to 5 times further away than humans can. That means dogs can hear thunder, hurricanes, and tornadoes, well before we can. In fact, dogs could hear thunder as far away as 40 miles on a clear day and if the conditions are right.
How do dogs sense barometric pressure changes?
We now know that dogs know when a hurricane is coming, and might start to act weird before a storm, but how do they know?
It’s down to the change in barometric pressure.
This will let your dog know that a storm is coming by creating subtle changes in their body and how they feel. If in the past, they have had these feelings before a scary storm, it’s no wonder dogs might start to freak out and bark – because they know what’s coming.
Atmospheric pressure, aka barometric pressure, will rise or fall depending on weather conditions. When severe weather approaches such as thunderstorms, hurricanes, and tornados, the barometric pressure will go down.
When the dark clouds and storms go, the humidity will drop, and the barometric pressure will rise again.
And this is where it gets clever and affects a dog’s senses. These changes will be felt by the dog in different ways.
1. Possible headaches
Whilst we can’t talk your dog (maybe one day), we can see changes in their behavior related to storms approaching. One of these could be a headache during barometric fluctuation.
According to P. Shojai who wrote on LinkedIn, it’s due to oxygen pressure changing in the air, which also means the oxygen pressure in blood also changes.
“The brain’s supply of blood is hyper-sensitive to oxygen changes. If the oxygen pressure in the air dips, the brain prepares to have more oxygen delivered to it. It instructs the body to dilate blood vessels headed to the brain, which increases blood flow… thus, you get a barometric pressure headache.”
2. Blood pressure changes
He also says how blood pressure can also change as blood vessels constrict in the cold. In more simple terms, as barometric pressure drops when a storm approaches, your dog’s blood pressure will rise.
3. Possible joint pain
Your dog might also experience joint pain which could signal to them when a storm is coming. This relates to inflammation during barometric pressure changes.
“Joint fluid changes as barometric pressure changes. Scientists surmise that this happens when a fall in air pressure lets the muscle tissues and tendons swell, putting pressure on the joints.”
4. Blood Sugar levels drop
These joint fluid changes can also result in the thickening of blood when pressure drops. This has the knock-on effect of lowering your dog’s blood sugar levels.
Whilst he won’t understand what’s going on, your dog could relate this feeling to knowing when a hurricane is coming.
5. Fatigue and anxiety
When you put all these factors together it’s no wonder that your dog can sense barometric pressure, which in turn lets your dog know when a storm is coming.
Just imagine what he’s going through; low blood sugar, pain in his joints, blood pressure drops, and a headache… there’s every reason you dog will act weird and tired before a storm. They will act anxious, bark, possibly scratch at carpets, and not be themselves.
How do dogs act when there’s a storm?
Given what we now know about dogs being able to sense thunder before it’s coming, we need to pick up on the visual clues they give off. Not only will this let us know we might need to close the car sunroof, it also gives us ample time to prepare an anxious dog for the worst.
Do dogs act weird before a storm?
Dogs can act weird, anxious, and very restless before a storm. Dogs can tell when a hurricane is coming and so can you by looking for these noticeable stress-like symptoms, including:
- Some dogs will pant before a storm. Look out for trembling and panting, and perhaps they cower away from you.
- Running in panic towards the house (if outside).
- Running aimlessly inside the house (if indoors).
- Dogs to bark when a storm is coming. For the owner it can seem like the barking and whining excessively for what seems like no reason.
- Scratching furniture and curtains.
- Acting unusually clingy towards you all of a sudden.
- Hiding where they see fit.
- Their pupils appear dilated.
It’s also possible for a dog to become anxious and hyper-agitated because of the flashing lightning and crazy thunder noises.
As a result, some poop or urinate inappropriately in the house when in panic mode. While others, in their state of confusion, might start looking for means to run outside and escape their fear.
Don’t punish or scold a dog for being scared of thunder. If you do, you’ll somehow confirm to them that, indeed, there’s something to panic about when they sense a storm coming, making them even more anxious in the future.
Why do dogs freak out during storms?
Dogs will freak during storms because, unlike us, they can’t understand that a thunderstorm won’t hurt them if they are indoors. They have no idea what the loud bangs and flashes are.
How do I comfort my dog during a thunderstorm?
Fortunately, there are useful tips on YouTube you can apply to help your dog calm down and remain safe during a thunderstorm.
1. Be careful of how you act around your dog
Our canine friends are good at absorbing the emotions we dish out. If they see you screaming and trying to hide whenever thunder hits or lightning flashes from your curtain, you’ll give them reasons to be more scared.
Act relaxed. In fact, carry on with your routine. When you seem at ease, you’ll send the message that storms are perfectly normal and nothing worth freaking about.
Your calm demeanor will relieve your dog’s tension.
2. Turn on the TV or radio
By playing soothing music to your dog, or putting the TV on loud can dilute the scary thunder noises. Music or sound from the TV will also distract your dog from the thunder.
3. Close all windows and curtains
Ensuring all your windows are closed will prevent the possibility of your dog escaping the house in confusion. When you draw your curtains, you’ll help your furry friend not to worry so much about the lightning outside.
4. Create a safe and comfortable space for your dog
Pay attention to where your dog goes to take cover whenever there’s a heavy downpour. That spot might be the place where they feel most safe.
Go the extra mile and make the area warm and enjoyable for your dog to hide from. You can place their favorite blanket and toys to keep them busy and relaxed while waiting for the downpour to reduce.
Handy Hint: You can buy a special shirt that is designed to help dogs cope better with storms. It’s called a Thundershirt (view on Amazon).
5. Train your dog to get used to storm noises
In this case, play prerecorded thunderstorm sounds in the house regularly, particularly during days when there are no signs of a storm.
Doing so will help your dog become slowly familiar with the storm noises. Once they figure out these sounds aren’t harmful in any way but totally normal, they’ll be less distressed when there’s an actual storm.
Reward your furry friend with treats and praises if they remain calm when these prerecorded sounds are playing.
6. Distract them
One of the best ways to comfort a dog during a thunderstorm is by distraction techniques. You can use the time indoors to play with your dog or take them through the basic commands you’ve always wanted to teach them.
That way, you’ll divert your dog’s attention away from the raging storm, and help them focus on other better things.
It’s worth mentioning that you shouldn’t reassure your dog too much by petting them excessively when there’s a storm outside.
They might assume you’re rewarding them with petting episodes because of their fearful actions. In the end, you’ll only normalize their overreaction during thunderstorms.
Handy Hint: You can read more about comforting your dog in a storm by clicking here.
Can dogs sense thunder before coming?
Yes, they can. A dog’s hearing ability is roughly four times better than ours. This allows them to hear thunder from miles away. Plus, they experience a static shock through their fur, confirming to them that thunder is soon arriving.
Should I walk my dog in thunderstorm?
You should not walk your dog in a thunderstorm. The animal charity, Blue Cross, advise that dogs are kept indoors during storms, and should not be taken for walks.
Many dogs freak out during storms and leaving the house where the conditions are more violent could cause long term anxiety issues.
I spoke to a dog psychologist, and they said this about walking dogs in thunderstorms and why it’s such a bad idea.
“If you walk a dog in a storm, high winds, or driving rain, it can really stress them out. I’ve known of dogs bolting in a storm from their owner, and either being hit by a car, or lost, sometimes for good. Whilst dogs are good at sensing when a storm is coming, don’t expose them to the worst of it. Dogs hate storms, so keep them indoors and comfort them as much as you can.”
Can I leave my dog alone during a thunderstorm?
I don’t recommend leaving an anxious dog alone during a thunderstorm, especially if they have exhibited fearful behavior in the past.
Many dogs look to their owners as the alpha and leader of the pack, so when thunder rolls in and your dog starts to freak out, you should be there for them.
You can comfort them in several ways including:
- Keep your dog indoors and shut all windows and doors.
- Give them a safe place to hide if they need it, like a den.
- Be there for them and don’t leave them alone.
- Mask the sound of the storm with TV or music.
Which dog breeds are afraid of thunder?
The Country Living website recently published a great article explaining what dog breeds are most afraid of thunder and storms.
They explained that Cairn Terrier, Mixed Breed, Pembroke Welsh Corgi, Lagotto Romagnolo, and Rough Collie breeds are most scared of thunder and other loud noises like fireworks.
Can dogs die from the stress of storms?
While it is unlikely that your dog will die from the stress of a thunderstorm, the stress caused from being scared, particularly in more anxious dogs, can add to their chronic stress which can potentially trigger other health issues.
Can dogs sense a snow storm coming?
Dogs can also sense when a snow storm is coming, as according to WGNTV, this type of storm also results in a drop in barometric pressure.
“Barometric pressure usually falls when snow (or any organized precipitation) approaches, for several reasons. First, temperatures often increase when precipitation moves in. Increased air temperature decreases the air’s density, thereby decreasing the force exerted by that air, and the barometric pressure falls.”
If you own a dog, you might have noticed them acting weird when there’s a storm is on the way. Your dog’s reaction is a great barometer of what you might expect.
Being able to read the body language when your dog feels a storm is coming might just help you batten down the hatches for hurricane or tornado.