What to do if your cat is afraid of thunderstorms

Thunder and lightning are scary! That’s a fact. Even many people are afraid of them, and most cats are no different as we can see when they often tremble, shiver, try to hide and even salivate during a storm.

Lightning and thunder over Innsbruck,Austria.
Lightning and thunder may be both beautiful and scary at the same time. The beauty, however, is not much appreciated by cats. Photo of lightining in Insnsbruck by Martin L, CC.

The good news is that the storm will pass. Storms always do  pass, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do something to comfort your cat during a thunderstorm.

Your main focus will be on calming and helping your cat to get through the storm, and, depending on how common thunderstorms or hurricanes are in your area, you may also train your cat not to be afraid of thunder. Yes, that really is possible.

How to calm a cat while thunder sounds

Let’s first take a look at how to calm a cat during an ongoing thunderstorm. The most important actions are to create a calm environment, keep calm yourself and stay close to your cat, if necessary.

  • Provide a location where your cat can rest. It’s best if it’s a quiet location, and a place where your cat can be near you. You may have noticed that your cat either tries to hide somewhere quiet during a storm, or seek to be closer to you. It’s good to play along with your cat’s preferences, but you can also choose a room with fewer windows or one on the opposite sideof the apartment or house from which the wind blows.
  • Try to get the best out of your cat’s hiding spot. There are good ways to hide, and ways that are not so good. Try not to let your cat hide under the bed, behind large furniture or in the litter box. Your cat’s stress levels will be significantly lower if he can see what’s around. You can snuggle your cat in your lap, or place a cardboard box on your bed if your cat prefers one, or even provide a luxurious cat tree. Some cats prefer simply sleeping on top of your bed.
  • Block as much light and sound as you can. Draw the curtains shut or roll down light-blocking shades. Not being able to actually see the storm makes it less real for your cat. You can also turn on a some music or television to help suppress the sound of thunder. You can also talk to your cat, which will not only shut the sounds of the storm out, but will also keep your cat’s attention on you. And speaking of which…
  • A hand petting white cat
    Gently petting your cat is likely the most effective method to calm him down.

    Be physically close to your cat during the storm. If you have a great bond with your cat, the best distraction from the storm, of course, will be your attention. You can talk to your cat, play with him, pet him or just remain near him. Go with what you observe is the most comforting to your cat. It is very important is to stay calm yourself, as your stress may easily transfer to your pet. Talk to your cat in a normal voice, and act as though there is no storm. If you are over-doing things and trying to soothe your cat too much, your actions may have a negative effect.

  • Use other distractions. Not thinking about fear makes it less significant. It’s true for humans, and it is also true for cats. Anything that will keep your cat’s thoughts off the storm will be helpful. Solo play toys,  and interactive playing are a couple of your options. Food and treats are great, too, and best if you can provide them through play. For example, a ball filled with food or treats can keep your cat’s attention on the toy for a long time. NOTE: When using food for calming, make sure you deduct the amount fed in play from your cat’s daily food intake.
  • Provide enough activity during other times. Helping your cat to deal with a thunderstorm doesn’t end with the storm. The most significant thing you can do is to provide enough activity to your cat regularly. Your cat has a ton of natural energy which needs to be expelled. If the energy builds up, he will be restless at times, especially during storms. Think of it this way: a tired pet is a calmer one, besides which playing has many additional benefits.Also, playing with your cat is not your only option: You can take advantage of solo play, food hunts, electronic cat toys and other activities to provide your cat with some fun.

NOTE: Above technique relies on methods without using calming medication on your cat. In most cases this is not necessary, but if you think that your cat’s stress becomes severe during storms, go this road only after talking to a veterinarian.

Can you train a cat not to be afraid of thunderstorms?

Keeping a cat calm during storms is almost always the most rational.  However, if storms are common in your area, it may be beneficial to invest some time in training your cat not to afraid of them in the first place:

  • Get an audio recording of a thunderstorm. You can find many on YouTube or download one somewhere else and play on your media center. The better the quality audio system you can play it on, the more realistic a sound your cat will hear.

    cat listening to audio speakers
    Audio recordings will help to teach your cat that storms are not as scary as they sound.
  • Play the sounds of a storm at a very low volume and simultaneously serve your cat’s meal or provide a treat. It is best if you go with your cat’s regular mea schedule, which works well if he is enthusiastic about meal times. If your cat has food accessible at all times, consider switching your cat to scheduled meals, for it will provide an important training tool to you as well as provide both you and your cat several other benefits.
  • Gradually increase the volume each day as you play the sound of the storm during meals. You don’t need to go nuts: just a slight turn of the volume knob every day is sufficient. The aim isn’t to reach the actual volume of a real storm. Instead, your cat learns to associate the sound of the storm with something positive, something to be enthusiastic about, and, when the next storm comes, he will likely be jumping with joy, knowing that food (or whatever reward you have chosen) is on the way.
  • Reward calm behavior during the storm. An alternative technique is to give a tasty treat each time when your cat exhibits calm behavior during a storm (or during a recording of a storm), and maintaining a neutral attitude when he shows signs of stress.

Remember that training a cat not to be afraid, as described above, may sound easy. It is, if you are able to pay attention to detail, and identify when the intensity of training stresses your cat out too much and when it is just right. If you are having trouble, reach out for professional help.

If thunder is not that frequent a visitor in your area, the best is not to worry about active training, but to keep the focus on calming you cat during storms as they occur. The storm will pass.

Does your cat have behavior issues? See our list of solutions to most common cat behavior problems.