Most cats don’t like thunderstorms and there are several good reasons for this. Thunderstorms are loud with sudden flashes of bright light. This is scary for some people, so for a cat, with their sensitive hearing and inability to understand what is happening, it can be downright terrifying.
Many cats don’t like thunderstorms, because they are loud and bright, and they can easily pick up on the changes in atmospheric pressure that come with a storm.
Signs of a frightened cat might include, hiding, restlessness, trembling, an increased heart rate, and inappropriate urination or defecation.
There are many ways to help a distressed cat during a thunderstorm, from using calming supplements and soothing synthetic hormones, to ensuring accessible hiding spots with a favorite blanket or toy.
If you have a cat who is frightened by thunderstorms, read on to learn about why they become so scared and what you can do to help.
Why Are Cats Afraid of Thunderstorms?
Some cats, of course, won’t be too bothered by a thunderstorm. But for the majority of cats, thunderstorms are a really frightening event. Let’s take a closer look at why:
1. Cats Can Sense When a Storm Is on the Way
Cats are sensitive to the changes in atmospheric pressure and the build-up of static electricity in the air that occur well before a storm arrives. Whiskers (vibrissae) are extremely sensitive to these changes in the environment.
There are nerve endings at the whisker tips which transmit information to the brain where it is then processed. All of this means that anxiety sets in well in advance of the thunderstorm itself.
2. Cats Have Excellent Hearing
Cats are extremely sensitive to sound and hear much better than we can, and even better than most dogs can. Those loud thunderclaps that sometimes take us by surprise sound even louder to your cat. Before the thunder starts, the sound of heavy rain or hail can also be frightening for your pet, especially when beating against windows or falling onto a roof or skylight.
Bear in mind that cats can hear sounds 4-5 times further away than humans, so your cat hears the storm approaching well before you do.
3. Cats Can Sense Vibrations
Cats can detect tiny vibrations in the ground through their paw pads. A cat’s paw pads contain nerve endings called Pacinian corpuscles which enable them to detect vibration frequencies between 80 and 240 Hz.
This means that your cat can probably detect the distant rumble of thunder through their paws. A cat’s feet are so much more than just cute little toe beans!
4. Cats Have Excellent Vision
Cats can see six times better in dim light than a human can. The sudden flashes of bright lightning that accompany all the loud noises of a storm will add to your cat’s fear.
5. Cats Are Always on High Alert
Cats are often in a state of hyper-vigilance because of their highly adapted senses. This mean that they sometimes overreact to things that are actually harmless. For instance, a single sudden loud noise such as a door slamming can send your cat bolting for cover.
Although this fight or flight response makes cats well adapted for survival in the wild, it also means that they are likely already be in a heightened state of anxiety when a thunderstorm begins, exaggerating their fear response even further.
6. Cats Don’t Know What’s Coming
When a storm comes, we’ve learned to expect the accompanying claps of thunder, flashes of lightning, and torrential rain. For a cat, storms are unpredictable and they don’t know what’s going to happen next. The sights and the sounds seemingly come out of nowhere, making them scary.
7. Some Cats Might Be Predisposed to Fearfulness
Cats with unknown backgrounds, a history of neglect, or generalized anxiety, are more prone to thunderstorm phobia. If a cat has previously been trapped somewhere during a storm, or been left on their own, they are more likely to have an increased fear response to a thunderstorm in the future.
How Do I Know Whether My Cat Is Afraid of a Thunderstorm?
Cats sometimes hide signs of fear or anxiety better than even dogs, so you might need to keep a close eye on your cat during a thunderstorm to check that they are doing OK. Signs or behaviors that your cat is scared might include:
- Running away
- Increased vocalization
- Increased heart rate
- Inappropriate urination/defecation
- Reduced appetite
- Excessive scratching
What Can I Do to Calm My Cat During a Thunderstorm?
1. Create a Safe Space
When a cat is frightened, they usually prefer to hide away somewhere. Ensure that your cat has plenty of options where they can seek shelter and comfort and wait out the storm until it has passed.
Place a favorite toy or blanket for them to snuggle up with. Ensure that your cat’s favorite bed is accessible in case this is where she feels safest. If your cat chooses to hide away during a thunderstorm, then it is best to leave them alone, rather than trying to tempt them out.
2. Keep Them Indoors
If you know that a storm is on the way, then keep your cat inside until it has passed. Remember to let everyone in the family know not to let your cat out and ensure you lock the cat flap temporarily.
If the storm has already started and you think your cat might be hiding outside somewhere nearby, try to lure them inside by rattling food boxes or jangling toys.
3. Close Windows and Curtains
Closing windows helps reduce the noise level from the sound of thunder and closing curtains or blinds will reduce the impact of bright lightning flashes. This will help to create a calm environment for your cat to feel safe in.
4. Use a Pheromone Diffuser
Pheromone diffusers such as Feliway can be very effective at helping to ease anxiety in cats. These synthetic pheromones will have more of a calming effect if they are plugged in and switched on all of the time, rather than just as a storm begins.
There are also other pheromone products you can try, such as sprays to spray on your cat’s bedding, or in the area where they like to hide.
5. Turn the Radio On
Playing music through a radio or TV helps mask the scary sounds of storms. A study conducted by the Scottish SPCA and the University of Glasgow showed that playing classical music has a soothing effect on dogs, and the same is likely true of cats.
6. Try to Stay Relaxed
Your cat can pick up on subtle signs of stress or worry that you might be showing and this can increase their fear. Remain calm and relaxed yourself, especially if your cat has chosen to hide out in the same room as you. You can help to provide reassurance to your cat by speaking to them softly and calmly.
7. Offer a Distraction
Some cats might appreciate a distraction from the sights and sounds of a thunderstorm. Catnip toys, puzzle feeders, and even simple items such as a cardboard box, all offer a good distraction for your cat until the storm passes. Some cats might just want to hide, and that’s fine; never force them to play if they are happier hiding under the bed or in a closet.
8. Use Calming Supplements
Calming supplements in the form of liquid, tablets, or capsules that can be opened and sprinkled on food, can sometimes help your cat to relax during a storm. Most supplements are often best started a few days before the scary event, especially if you know that a storm is predicted.
9. Try Desensitization
To help your cat cope better with future thunderstorms, try and desensitize them to the sounds of thunder. There are thunder sound effects available online that are designed for this use.
Play them very quietly to start with and in each session, play the sounds a little louder, all the while checking that your cat is still comfortable. Offer treats while the sounds are playing to create a positive association for your cat. If your cat is showing signs of anxious behaviors at any point, go back to the previous volume setting and build up more gradually.
It is normal for a cat to be scared of thunderstorms and they will often hide away until they pass. If your cat seems especially terrified, or does not recover quickly after the storm, then speak to your veterinarian for further help and advice.
Frequently Asked Questions
Will my cat be OK during a thunderstorm?
Cats might show signs of fear and anxiety during a storm, but they usually cope with this by hiding away somewhere they feel safe and they will usually recover pretty quickly after the event. If your cat is showing extreme signs of anxiety during a storm, talk to your veterinarian for further advice.
Should I lock my cat in during a thunderstorm?
Most cats will be safer and feel less scared if they can hide away in the comfort of their own home. It is usually best to keep your cat inside during a storm, where you know they will be safe and the sights and sounds of the storm are muffled.
Can I give my cat anything to calm them down during a thunderstorm?
There are various calming supplements for cats that might help ease any anxiety your cat feels during a thunderstorm. They are usually most effective if they are started a couple of days before the event. Speak to your veterinarian for more advice about which supplements might work best for your cat.