We used to own a dog who was absolutely terrified of thunder. She would hunker in the tiniest corner of a bedroom she could manage and pant. And since she was a lab X husky, that made for a lot of dog!
The cats on the other hand seemed largely unfazed, but we had a thunderstorm recently that set my youngest (and newest) cat off. She huddled on our bed, glared out the window, and occasionally patrolled the windows, still glaring.
Fortunately, the storm didn’t last long (and the geriatric cat didn’t care), but it was the first time since the dog passed away that we had a pet that was freaked out by the weather.
Cats may have a reputation for being more independent, but they too can be afraid of the weather suddenly shifting, especially if it’s accompanied by loud noises. (My young cat isn’t even all that thrilled when it’s very windy!)
So why are cats scared of thunder? Well, in short, it’s the noise. Cats hear loud (And higher octave) noises about three times better than humans do, so a crack of thunder to us sounds like the end of the world to them! And so, they react the way anyone would react – they go for cover.
A few cats are even thunder-phobic and react to the noise with a bushy tail, hissing, spitting, and hunkering down. Fortunately, this sort of reaction is rare – most cats just try to hide or want extra comfort, depending on their temperament.
Some cats can also feel the change in air pressure, much like humans can. This warns them that bad weather is on the way even before there’s much of a sign of it.
If you see your cat starting to act nervous and you know that a storm has been predicted, you’ve probably got confirmation that it’s going to storm somewhere close by.
And since air pressure causing popping in the ears isn’t very comfortable, you can see why cats get irritated. Cats may also be able to smell the rain coming or the smell of ozone gas caused by the lightning, even before you see it.
Getting a Cat Ready for a Storm
If you know a storm is bearing down on you, and your cat is starting to act nervous, there are some things you can do to start laying down the groundwork to prevent a crazy feline. Make sure your cat stays indoors and start projecting your own feelings of calm.
Cats do pick up on what their humans are feeling and if you feel calm and fine with the storm, your cat will be more likely to calm down. Prepare some hiding places for your cat that are comfortable and warm – their carrier, a place under a bed they like to hang out near, and in corners.
Some cats like to hang out close to their humans while others will hide for the darkest, closest corner they can find. Only you know which way your cat will go, so prepare accordingly!
It can also be helpful to move your cat to a room with no windows and tiles or a non-carpeted floor, if possible. This helps to reduce the static electricity build-up, gets rid of the visual stimulation of seeing the wind and lightning, and can even mute the thunder, all of which may make your cat feel better. The effectiveness of this will depend on your cat though – some would vastly prefer to stick close to their humans.
Helping Your Cat Through the Storm
Most cats are going to show some sign of nervousness or anxiety during a storm. This can manifest as:
These are not things to be worried about – they are perfectly normal for a cat who is worried about earthquakes – noises coming from seemingly nowhere!
There are several ways you can help your cat manage the stormy weather. A big one is to simply make sure that your cat has somewhere safe to retreat to, whether that’s a cozy place under the bed, their carrier, or somewhere else where they will feel comfortable.
Cats will vary wildly on where they want to go, so you’ll just have to figure that out for yourself. Make the area comfortable with their favorite blankets and maybe a toy or some treats.
Some cats like to be gently petted or even given a treat or some toys to play with in order to distract them.
While some people don’t think that petting or cuddling cats during a storm is helpful, others think that it’s a good thing to do because it means your cat won’t feel lonely.
As long as you’re not going over the top with the cuddling, there’s nothing wrong with petting your cat since that tends to be soothing for most of them. Toys can be helpful though because they provide a distraction.
Above all, it’s important to act pretty much as you normally would when it’s not storming. If you’re worried or anxious about the weather, your pet will pick up on it and be worried too. If you continue on as though things are normal, your cat will likely calm down.
If you live in an area with a lot of storms, you may find that over time your cat just becomes desensitized to it and won’t care anymore. My geriatric cat is pretty accustomed to stormy weather, so she tends to just sleep through them or cuddle up with my eldest child.
Signs That a Cat Has a Phobia Around the Storm
It’s rare, but some cats can develop a serious phobia around storms. This is usually the result of some past trauma such as being zapped by static electricity, severe winds causing damage, or being caught out in a storm without shelter.
Signs of phobia in cats can include hissing, spitting, tail brushing up, and high-pitched vocalizations when it’s storming. It can also manifest as your cat hiding long after the storm is over, even to the point of refusing food.
If this behavior sounds familiar to you, you may have to talk to your vet about how to help your cat recover from its phobia. Your vet may recommend things like medication, catnip, special wraps (like what some dogs use), or a cat calming diffuser.
There’s also behavior modification that can be done such as rewarding a cat for coming out quickly after a storm or having a special toy that only comes out during a storm. Your vet will better be able to guide you. A storm phobia can really impact a cat’s quality of life, so it’s important to get it addressed.
Not all cats are scared of thunder, and some will blissfully sleep through a storm or carry on their business like usual. But being at least nervous about the weather changing is perfectly normal in cats and by staying calm yourself, you can really help your cat manage the scary weather.
Having cozy hiding places, toys, and special treats can all help too. But if your cat is exhibiting signs of a storm phobia, talk to your vet because that’s not the kind of thing you want to make your cat go through alone.
Is your cat scared of thunder? What do you think would help it manage the fear?
Pam is a self-confessed cat lover and has experience of working with cats and owning cats for as long as she can remember. This website is where she gets to share her knowledge and interact with other cat lovers.