Fearful Pets? Now is the Time to Plan for July 4th


It’s not that dogs aren’t patriotic, but many dogs, and also some cats, are terrified of the loud and sudden bangs we call fireworks on July 4th. It’s actually adaptive to be hard-wired to be afraid of sudden loud sounds. We too may jump at such sounds, and we might also run the other way or hide if we didn’t understand what the fireworks are all about. So who can blame our pets?

Often pets can be made less fearful by using a training method referred to as desensitization and counter-conditioning.

There’s enough time to at least give this approach a try. Begin by finding a YouTube or audio recording of fireworks. Play the sounds at a very low level, all while distracting the dog or cat with play/fun, or food (far from the speakers, at first). Remember, your pets’ hearing is far better than yours. The idea is that your dog or cat is so distracted, the low-level fireworks sounds are also barely audible – so they’re no longer a concern and prepared for July 4th. Soon the pet will associate the sound of fireworks with those great treats or with play. Now ever so gradually pump up the volume. At least that is the hope.

To assist this process and for learning to occur, an easy to use tool are pheromones.

For dogs, plug in an Adaptil diffuser, and for cats, a Feliway Classic diffuser. Each is a copy (analogue) of naturally occurring pheromones to help each species to feel more comfortable in their own environments. Absolutely, now is the time to plug in those pheromone products, which can facilitate the desensitization and counter conditioning training.

Any product or drug can be used in conjunction with pheromone therapy and begun a few days before the fireworks. Here are three nutraceuticals:

Solliquin: L-theanine, an amino acid found naturally in green tea which stimulates the production of alpha brain waves, supporting relation and mental awareness.

Zentrol : A non-sedating, non-pharmaceutical formulation for natural stress management and has shown to help reduce stress-related behaviors in as little as 60 minutes. The tablets are composed of novel natural ingredients, Souroubea spp, containing betulinic acid, and Platanus spp.

Zylkene: As their website says, helps pets to find their “zen.” Zylkene contains bovine-sourced hydrolyzed milk protein, an ingredient that has calming properties.

If your pet’s terror level is high, or one might say in the “red zone,” which can include shaking, excessive salivating, becoming incontinent, decreased appetite, and/or described as “inconsolable,” contact your veterinarian and ask about SILEO (dexmedetomidine oromucosal gel). This oromucosal gel (which means it is applied to the pet’s gums) is quick-acting, and it’s made for times just like these. It takes about 30 minutes to an hour for SILEO to take full effect, and it typically lasts two to three hours.

While SILEO is effective in most dogs and safe, it is still a drug, and it is not for all dogs (and is not labeled for cats). Speak with your veterinarian.

For some dogs, what might work is to combine several of the products, such as pheromones with nutritional supplements – as well as “jollying.” Take your pet to the basement, or the most secluded room in your home.

The “jollying” part is about distracting your dog with play and/or treats. If there are children who routinely have fun with puppy, it’s a great time for games. Leaving treats in Kong or other toys or food puzzles can be a really effective distraction as well.

Of course close the windows (to lessen the sounds) and pull down the shades. Turn on relaxing music or your favorite talk radio station. A Sound Beginning, or other sites have specially produced music to relax dogs.

Each of these options provides something for the dog to wear which has a potentially calming affect for July 4th:

  • Thundershirt: A vest that applies gentle, constant pressure, similar to swaddling an infant – originally created for dogs fearful of storms.
  • Storm Defender with its special lining, around your dog may bring relief to a nervous pet.
  • Anxiety Wrap uses acupressure and gentle, maintained pressure to relieve stress and fear in dogs.

The old notion about consoling a pet reinforces fear is not true. You can’t reinforce such a powerful emotion. The reverse is true, that some pets can be calmed some just by us paying attention and using soothing words. I argue that soothing our pets is a humane thing to do. However, kindness, while appropriate, rarely solves the problem, though it can help.

Number one message: Speak to a veterinary professional well before July 4th if you think there’s a problem, as now is the time to create a plan rather than to wait for the very last moment.