Pets Terrorized of Fireworks? Now What?


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You’ve waited ‘till now to get your pet help for the fear of fireworks, there’s little time for behavior modification techniques to work by July 4. Still, don’t despair – not all is lost.

Depending on your pet’s level of fear – distraction might work. Take your pet into a room most away from the booms and bangs as possible, such as a basement. Close the windows and the shades and pump up the stereo. There may still be time order icalm pet (new 4.0 edition now available; cost varies depending on purchase), and any of the music cds specifically made for pets that may be downloaded. But you can also certainly turn on a classical music station, or a talk radio station (preferably one which I am on the air) for background.

Absolutely plug in an Adaptil diffuser for dogs, and for cats, use a Feliway Classic diffuser. Each is a copy (analogue) of naturally occurring pheromone to help pets feel more comfortable in their own environments.

The combination of doing all the above may calm your pet just enough to try the approach described below. If it works, it’s great news. Pets are like many guys – they just can’t multi-task. They can’t feel terror at the same time as they have their mind on something enjoyable. So if you can manage to adjust their thinking to the enjoyable – play and or eating, you’re in good shape.

For dogs, stuff treats into puzzle toys or Kong toys, etc. And/or play with a ball or squeaky toy, whatever the dog likes. Some cats are also terrified of fireworks and employ the same idea – see if you can distract kitty using an interactive cat toy (fishing pole-type toy with feathers or fabric at the end) or some other sort of favorite toy.

Some pets don’t even need quite that much attention – a pheromone product and a suitable hiding place are enough.

The only hitch is that even with the pheromone products and also the nutritional supplement products that can be added to pets’ water, some pets will remain far too afraid.

You may have read others who write to never comfort your petrified pet. They suggest that by comforting your pet you’re rewarding the fear.

That’s just not true. It’s perfectly human and humane to comfort a terrorized pet, it may even help some. You can’t reinforce emotion.

However, pets pick up on our emotions – so if you go too far, it’s possible to make matters worse.

If you need the big guns and know it – NOW is the time to act.

Any product or drug can be used in conjunction with pheromone therapy, and so can nutraceuticals. Many veterinarians offer these products:

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 (formerly named Harmonease): A non-sedating, non-pharmaceutical formulation for natural stress management and alleviation of fear behaviors in dogs associated with boarding, traveling, separation anxiety, etc.

If your pet’s terror level is really high, or one might say in the “red zone,” which can include shaking, excessive salivating, incontinence, decreased appetite, and/or best described as “inconsolable,” ask your veterinarian 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, since there’s no time for successful behavior modification (close to July 4 or when the fireworks have begun).  It takes about 30 minutes to an hour for SILEO to take full effect, and it typically lasts two to three hours. If the noise continues, and the behavioral changes recur, further doses can be given at intervals of two hours, for up to a total of five times during each noise event as needed.

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.

Some pet stores carry the following, which may help some or even help a great deal:

Thundershirt, Storm Defender, Anxiety Wrap: Each of these options provides something for the dog to wear which has a potentially calming affect:

Thundershirt: A vest that applies gentle, constant pressure, similar to swaddling an infant – the original product created to lower anxiety, originally created for dogs fearful of storms.

Storm Defender: With its special lining, around your dog may bring relief to your nervous pet.

Anxiety Wrap: Uses acupressure and gentle, maintained pressure to relieve stress and end fear in dogs.

Since sound is the most significant issue regarding fireworks, ear plugs for dogs remain a consideration. However, convincing the dog may be another matter.

Here’s what you should NEVER do:

  • NEVER tie up the dog outside on a tether, or even keep a dog in a yard around July Fourth without adult supervision. Fearful or terrified the dog may get out (even if you think that is not possible). And tethered dogs may panic and even choke themselves attempting to get away from the firework sounds.
  • NEVER holler or scream or punish the fearful or terrified dog or cat. All this will do is disrupt the human-animal bond and increase your pet’s anxiety. Think about it: Afraid of spiders? If you’re locked in a room with 100 creepy crawlies, and a friend hollers at you for being afraid, how does that help?
  • NEVER use drugs without input from a veterinary professional. Drugs which solely make pets sleepy, like Benadryl or acepromazine, never touch the fear the pet is feeling. So now the pet is sleepy and terrified which is arguably inhumane.

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

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Steve Dale is a certified animal behavior specialist who has been a trusted voice in the world of pet health for over 20 years. You have likely heard him on the radio, read him in print and online, and seen him speaking at events all over the world. His contributions to advancing pet wellness have earned him many an award and recognition around the globe.

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