by Tanya ten Broeke, DVM, Owner of Gladstone Veterinary Clinic

The Fourth of July is a really fun holiday for people. It is most definitely NOT a really fun holiday for animals. Sure, many dogs enjoy the tasty treats that go along with backyard gatherings. (Be careful, though—eating fatty foods can cause pancreatitis, and eating corn cobs or kebab skewers may result in a trip to the ER for emergency surgery!) The terrifying sounds of fireworks are enough to send most dogs and cats scurrying under furniture for safety, fearing for their lives.

Many dogs and cats with noise phobia can have very intense symptoms, such as panting, pacing, whining, drooling, hiding, and destructive behavior. They may break through windows or escape through doors and become injured during the process. Many dogs become so frightened that they escape their yards or houses during fireworks and end up lost. More dogs are lost over the Fourth of July holiday than any other day of the year.

But there are a lot of things you can do to help keep your pets from feeling like the world is going to come to an end during fireworks.

  • One of the most important things is to talk with your veterinarian about prescribing anti-anxiety medications that should help decrease those feelings of fear and terror caused by loud noises. If you have leftover medication from a previous year, check in with your veterinarian to make sure that is still appropriate for your pet—he or she may have new health conditions or the bottle of medication may not be one that we currently recommend. We have newer and better anti-anxiety options than we did just a few years ago, and some of the older medications may just be sedatives, which don’t decrease anxiety at all, but just make your furry friend terrified inside, but just too sedated to show it. Also, don’t just give your dog or cat a dose of human anti-anxiety medication that you happen to have for yourself or a family member. Dogs and cats are not just little furry people, and some human medications can’t be used in animals or may have concerning side effects. Most importantly, do a practice run with any new medication to see how long it takes for full effect, what the best dose is, and what are the side effects of the medication. Anti-anxiety medications work best when they are at their full effect (usually about 1-2 hours after administration). Be sure to give the medications early enough so that they will be effective before the fireworks start. Once your pet becomes anxious and scared, it is harder to calm them down than to avoid that fear in the first place. If you have concerns about the effectiveness or side effects of the medication, talk with your veterinarian ASAP. Anti-anxiety medications should be used in conjunction with other tips below for best results.
  • Keep your dogs and cats inside, preferably in a room in the house with no outside windows or doors, so the noise of the fireworks is muted.
  • Stay home with your pet if possible. Play with familiar toys, engage in games, or practice obedience to help distract your pet. Using a head-halter and leash may provide additional control and calm some dogs.
  • Use background noise to help drown out fireworks—like loud music with a strong beat, an exhaust fan, or other white noise.
  • If your pet has found a safe hiding place, don’t try to move him. He will probably be more comfortable there than somewhere else.
  • Never punish your pet for behavior associated with fear of fireworks, since it will only increase your pet’s distress and anxiety. Give encouragement and praise using a “happy voice” and relaxed posture may help to calm your pet and help him learn that the situation is non-threatening.
  • Try putting a Thundershirt on your dog or cat to help relieve anxiety. Be sure that the Thundershirt is fitted and put on properly for best results. These are available online at www.thundershirt.com and at local pet supply stores (Sellwood Pet Supply, Creature Comforts, etc.)
  • Use pheromone products, such as Adaptil or Feliway to help relieve anxiety. These calming pheromone products are available as room diffusers, sprays, and collars.

Because the Fourth of July is mid-week this year, we expect that people will celebrate over the weekend before AND the weekend after, so make sure you are prepared. Please call or stop by if we can help with medications or advice. We want EVERYONE to enjoy the Fourth of July holiday!

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