When it comes to pets and fireworks, the “big bang” theory is no theory; fireworks are terrifying for many dogs and cats. And why wouldn’t they be? We know and understand why the big bangs are happening. But our pets don’t get that luxury, and the big bangs are no fun for them. It’s actually adaptive for them to be fearful of these sudden loud blasts. And, aside from the sound, who knows what they may smell (remember pets’ sense of smell far exceeds our own).
What you do about it can depend on just how afraid your pet happens to be. Always begin with a consultation with your veterinarian or a veterinary technician with behavioral training.
If your pet’s terror level is high—in the “red zone”—signs might include shaking, becoming self-destructive, excessively salivating, incontinence, decreased appetite, and/or described as “inconsolable.” The most humane approach for these pets may be anti-anxiety medication.
Enlightened veterinarians today know what to prescribe (and what not to prescribe). For example, a drug called acepromazine is no longer considered a good idea, as it was years ago, because it doesn’t impact the dog’s seriously heightened anxiety level, it merely causes drowsiness. Similarly, Benadryl can make dogs sleepy, but the drug does nothing to alter brain chemistry. So, now what you have is a sleepy dog, but no less terrified.
It’s arguably inhumane to force drowsiness in a terrified pet. Imagine, you are frightened because you’re in a room filled spiders. To get over the fear, your doctor gives you a sedative. Now you’re trying desperately not to fall asleep, and you remain terrorized.
True anti-anxiety medication affects brain chemistry to effectively lessen anxiety. If some drowsiness is associated, that isn’t necessary a bad thing, but this is different than merely causing a terrified pet to become sleepy. A specific medication that works for one dog may not be as effective for another, and some drugs require time to kick in. It’s best to not wait until July 3 to consult your veterinarian.
For many dogs, drugs may not be required because the anxiety level isn’t quite in the “red zone.” Instead, behavior modification might do the trick, particularly if you supplement with some products listed below.
Start by desensitizing and counterconditioning your dog to the sounds of fireworks. The idea is to play the sounds of those big bangs very softly as the pup plays or eats, and ever so gradually pump up the volume (and bring the game or the food dish closer to the speakers).
At dogsandfireworks.com, you can download a free MP3 of fireworks sounds. Celebrated dog trainer Victoria Stilwell, from Animal Planet’s “It’s Me or the Dog,” offers an entire program with firework sounds on her site for $19.98. Also, Stilwell partners with “Though a Dog’s Ear” for $29.98.
For some dogs, simply combining several of the products and methods listed below would work best.
Take your pet to the basement or the most secluded room in your home. Pump up the music so the dog doesn’t hear the fireworks. You can play classical music, or even specially produced music from A Sound Beginning, or other sites with music to help lessen anxiety of worried dogs. Also, try to distract your dog or cat with play. Don’t worry, you’re not rewarding your pet’s fear; instead you are readjusting from fearful mode into playful mode.
Here are some products that might help:
Adaptil: A copy of the naturally occurring and comforting pheromone released by mother dogs to reassure puppies. Adaptil is available as a plug-in diffuser, or infused in a dog collar to go wherever your dog goes to help make your pup feel comfortable in his or her environment.
Thundershirt: A vest that applies gentle, constant pressure, similar to swaddling an infant. The original product was created to lower anxiety, usually for dogs fearful of storms.
Storm Defender: With its special lining, wrapping this around your dog may relieve nerves.
Anxiety Wrap: This product uses acupressure and gentle, maintained pressure to relieve stress and fear in dogs.
Zylkene: This nutritional supplement is derived from casein, a protein found in milk, and is used to promote relaxation.
CALM: A Royal Canin prescription diet for cats and smaller dogs, CALM includes two amino acids that help pets maintain emotional balance: alpha-casozepine and L-tryptophan. Additionally, the formulas include nicotinamide, also known as Vitamin B3, which creates a calming effect within the central nervous system.
SILEO (dexmedetomidine oromucosal gel): This is a new oromucosal gel formulation. When rubbed on the dog’s gums it can have a calming effect (specifically for noise-associated anxiety). It may cause some sedation depending on dosage, but, in this instance, that’s not a bad thing (only available through your veterinarian).
Solliquin: A chewable nutritional supplement that includes stress busters like L-Theanine, magnolia officinalis, and phellodendron amurense. All big words, but safe, and really can work.
Ear plugs for dogs: Originally created for gun dogs, these help to mitigate the big bangs. Ear muffs for dogs are also available. Sometimes, convincing dogs to keep them on can be a challenge.
There are a wide variety of other “calming products,” from aromatherapy to other nutritional supplements. Most of these are without much basis in science, but can certainly work for individual pets.