Flash, Bang, Boom! Fight The Frenzy From Fireworks

Do you jump at unexpected loud noises? It’s adaptive for humans and other animals to startle at sudden loud sounds. We might run the other way or hide if we didn’t understand what a certain sound was. The same thing happens with many of our pets when they hear fireworks go off.

It’s not that pets aren’t patriotic, but many dogs, and probably more cats than we realize, are terrified of the loud, sudden noises and brilliant flares of light we call fireworks. While booms and bangs last only a few days, the fear can be traumatic for our pets. Starting now, here are some natural and medical ways to help.

Easy Does It

One easy way to help ratchet down pets’ nerves a notch or two is pheromones. For dogs, plug in an Adaptil diffuser, and for cats, use a Feliway Classic. Each is a copy (analog) of naturally occurring pheromones to help dogs and cats feel more comfortable in their environments.

Any product or drug can be used with pheromone therapy. Two nutraceuticals—nutritional supplements—may help.

Solliquin contains L-theanine, an amino acid found naturally in green tea. It stimulates the production of alpha brain waves, supporting mental awareness and reducing anxiety.

Zentrol (formerly Harmonease) is a non-sedating, non-pharmaceutical formulation for natural stress management and alleviation of fear behaviors in dogs.

Zylkene contains hydrolyzed milk proteins, which have calming properties. Use for one to two days, or longer, before you know fireworks will start. Besides fireworks, these supplements may also help with boarding, traveling, and separation anxiety.

Medication

If your pet’s terror level is in the “red zone,” with signs that include shaking, drooling, becoming incontinent, decreased appetite, or an “inconsolable” demeanor, contact your veterinarian and ask about a medication called Sileo (dexmedetomidine). This gel, applied to the pet’s gums, is quick-acting, and it’s made for situations when there’s no time for successful behavior modification (close to Independence Day or when fireworks have begun).

It usually takes 30 minutes to an hour for Sileo to take full effect, and it typically lasts for two to three hours. If the noise continues and 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. It may make your pup a bit drowsy, but that’s preferable to being terrified, and it works to diminish fear and anxiety.

Dampen The Noise

When fireworks are occurring, particularly for pets with mild anxiety, just closing the window and pumping up the music instead can be a game changer. For all pets, there’s no downside.

Some pets respond to training methods that experts refer to as desensitization and counterconditioning. Dog trainer Victoria Stilwell from Animal Planet’s “It’s Me or the Dog” offers an entire program with firework sounds. A reasonably new option, and a high-tech one, is with Through a Dog’s Ear or Through a Cat’s Ear is icalmpet (new 4.0 edition now available).

To do that, you need time – a few weeks or more, depending on the individual dog. Use YouTube or audio recording of fireworks. Play the sounds at a very low level, all while distracting the dog or cat with play and fun, or food (far from the speakers, at first). Remember, your pets’ hearing far exceeds yours. The idea is that your pet becomes so distracted by the good times and good treats that the low-level fireworks sounds are no longer a concern. Gradually, as you pump up the volume, the pet associates the sounds of fireworks with something fun, like play or food.

For some dogs, what might work is to combine several products, such as pheromones with nutritional supplements, and “jollying.” Take your pet to the basement, or the most secluded room in your home. Pump up that music, like 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 him from fearful mode into a fun play mode.

Cover Up

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

  • Thundershirt: Applies gentle, constant pressure, similar to swaddling an infant, created to lower anxiety for dogs fearful of storms.
  • Storm Defender: Cape with a special lining that may bring relief to your nervous pet.
  • Anxiety Wrap: Uses acupressure and gentle, maintained pressure to relieve stress and fear in dogs.

Because sound is the most significant issue regarding fireworks, earplugs for dogs are a consideration. However, persuading the dog to keep them in may be another matter.

Here’s what you should NEVER do:

  • NEVER tie up a dog outside or even keep a dog in a yard around July Fourth without adult supervision. Fearful or terrified dogs may get out (even if you think that is not possible). And tethered dogs may panic and even choke themselves as they desperately attempt to escape the sounds of fireworks.
  • NEVER scream at or punish a fearful or terrified dog. 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.

The number-one message: There’s no one-size-fits-all answer to fireworks fears. Speak to a veterinary professional who may tailor the right solution for your individual dog.

Steve Dale, CABC (certified animal behavior consultant) has written and contributed to many books about pets; hosts three radio shows; contributes to Veterinary Practice News, CATSTER and others; is on the Board of Directors of the Human Animal Bond Association and Winn Feline Foundation, and is chief correspondent for Fear Free Happy Homes. He speaks at conferences worldwide. His blog: www.stevedale.tv

This article was reviewed/edited by board-certified veterinary behaviorist Dr. Kenneth Martin and/or veterinary technician specialist in behavior Debbie Martin, LVT.