Fourth of July! Freedom! Fireworks! Backyard Barbeque with friends. What could be better? Lots of things, almost anything, if you are the family pet! The fireworks don’t just start on the 4th and end that night. In many places they can go on for weeks. This year the thunderstorms are making it even worse.

The first way to help is to recognize the problem. We had a husky in the other day. She stayed under the chair, except when she came out to pace. She did not have any interest in cheese whiz or peanut butter. The owner admitted that she was hyperexcited during family get togethers. Yes, that is part of what I was talking about.

If your pet is demonstrating any of the following signs, they could be fearful. You should consult your veterinarian for extra help if your pet has two or more:

  1. Pacing, running from person to person
  2. Shaking/Shivering
  3. Whining/howling
  4. Panting/Drooling
  5. Hiding under furniture

Approximately one in every three dogs show noise reactivity. The anxiety often gets worse every year and it is easier to treat when it is mild rather than when they are destroying the house.

Pets with anxiety should be kept inside. Just like Bailey last week, too many pets get separated from their families when they become fearful, and unfortunately not all find their way home. If your pet is not microchipped, now is a good time. Without a microchip, Bailey might still be at my house or the shelter. Tags should be up to date with working contact info. Take a current photo also. (If you need a reason, you can post photos on our facebook page, we love pet photos!)

If you muffle the noise, it is less fear producing. If you can take your pet into the basement, turn up the radio or TV, it will wash out the background noise causing the fear.

This is a good time to play with your dog or teach them a new trick with tasty treats. Because you are distracting them, they will be less fearful.

There are pheromones that help. For dogs the DAP or Dog Appeasement Pheromone mimics the mom’s pheromone when she would chemically tell the pups that it was okay to nurse. Feliway is a calming pheromone for cats. These come in diffusers, collars and sprays and should be in place at least 24 hours before the noise begins. I think the plug-in diffuser is the more effective option, but the spray can be put on bedding, etc.

Another good tip is to exercise before the fireworks start. This doesn’t mean your obese pug with stenotic nares that cannot breath needs to start marathon training in the heat! Keep in mind, your pet’s capabilities, but tired pets are less likely to become over-stimulated.

Thundershirts are another non drug way to help. The tight shirt provides a “hug” that can help some dogs with their anxiety. Most of the time, we see a mild benefits, but sometimes it is just enough. We had one German Shepard that had so much anxiety, it couldn’t walk straight. We put on a Thundershirt and the benefit was immediate!

There are some things on the internet that we do not recommend! Benadryl is not one of my favorite drugs. It is frequently passed around Dr. Google as an easily accessible drug to treat your pet’s anxiety. Yes, it can sedate your pet, but it does nothing for the actual anxiety. A vet friend of mine describes this to his clients as putting a “straight jacket on a claustrophobic individual prior to shoving them in the coat closet. While it can be successful in preventing the owners from hearing the anxiety, it tends to actually make the anxiety worse in the future.”

CBD oil is one we are frequently asked about. There might be some potential for assisting anxiety treatment, but ongoing research out of several universities shows that it is not as perfectly safe as often claimed by its proponents. An additional major problem is that there are no mandatory quality controls or oversight, so there can be significant variation between batches and products. We do not recommend using it at this time. Even so, I have seen a kitten and a dog this week where I thought this might have been part of their problem.

There are some over the counter calming supplements that help some. We stock two or three varieties at Guardian Animal. While many of these are unlikely to cause problems if used according to label, they rarely provide adequate control of anxiety by themselves.

Ultimately, behavior modification is the best therapy. Teaching pets that they are safe during the storm or fireworks is best. They make storm recordings to use at low levels to teach the pet that it is okay. Ironically, the best time to sound desensitize them is after the storm season.

Your veterinarian can help with pheromones, medications and behavior modification. We typically have safer, cheaper medical and natural options, but sometimes clients try potentially dangerous over the counter products first.

Firework season is here. I was driving home the other night and waved at the neighbors. They responded by putting their fingers in their ears. Too late! My brain only recognized that they had set something off as I jumped through the roof of the truck. I, and many veterans, react adversely to the sound of gunfire and fireworks. I would never say that there should not be fireworks, but maybe for the sake of our pets and veterans, we could limit them to Fourth of July week.