As soon as loud popping noise and bright flashing light of fireworks start outside, Max, a two-year-old golden retriever begins to pant and pace around. Peanut, a twelve-year-old boston terrier is drooling and trembling in the corner of the bathroom. Sound like a familiar scene in your home around July 4th? Here are some advices to help your dogs with fireworks anxiety.
1. Management around the house: Make sure your pet is staying indoor and secure since dogs with severe anxiety may try to escape from the frightening sounds and sights. The Humane Society of the United States reports that there is a dramatic increase in lost pets near the Independence Day. Minimizing exposure to the sound is also helpful. You may move the dog to a better sound-proof room and close all the windows to minimize the sound. Closing blinds and curtains may help eliminate the effect of flashing light. Providing your dog with a hiding place such as a crate, under the bed, and corner of the room may help. Make sure you don’t force the pet in those places, but rather open the routes to those places to see if the pet will voluntarily choose those places to hide.
2. Behavior modification: Methods to desensitize your pets to the sound that elicit fears are described in the Handbook of Behavior Problems of the Dog and Cat. “Expose the pet to a low level of fearful stimulus. The intensity of the stimulus should be just below the threshold that will evoke the fearful response. Reward the pet if it responds without any sign of fear or anxiety. Repeat, gradually increasing the strength of the stimulus is achieved.” You may record the sounds and play the CD or purchase one for these training sessions.
3. Thundershirt: You may purchase Thundershirt through www.thundershirt.com or from local pet stores. The idea of this shirt is simple. This is a tight shirt for your dog that will give gentle, constant pressure to calm the dog. They get this hugged feeling which will calm them. In a movie called Temple Grandin, a biopic based on Dr. Temple Grandin, a renowned animal scientist with autism, a device to give a gentle pressure on the body is used to calm Temple. Same idea applies to dogs by using Thundershirt, wrapping them in a towel, or designing your pet’s own shirt that will give them gentle tight sensation. Thundershirt company claims that over 80% of dogs showed improvement. If thundershirt doesn’t help your pet with anxiety, the company accepts returns within 45 days of purchase.
4. Anti-anxiety medicine: Please consult your veterinarian if above methods fail to help your dog with severe anxiety during fireworks. Based on your dog’s temperament and behavior during these events, your veterinarian may choose to use benzodiazepines (i.e. alprazolam, clorazepate, lorazepam) to use as-needed basis and/or use antidepressants (i.e. clomipramine, fluoxetine, amitriptyline) for chronic problems. Make sure to discuss with your veterinarian side-effects of these medication which may include extreme sedation, behavior changes, contradictory responses, vomiting and diarrhea. Please discuss with your veterinarian your pet’s pre-existing conditions such as kidney or liver failure. D.A.P (Dog Appeasing Pheromone) spray, diffuser, or collar may be another safe way to help your dog’s anxiety. Pheromone is a natural chemical within animals that has a calming effect on brain.
5. Sedative: If all else fails and your dog is destroying the house and getting hurt due to severe anxiety during fireworks, your veterinarian may prescribe a sedative. These types of medication need to be used with extreme caution, since many side effects including extreme sedation, low blood pressure, heart problems, liver or kidney compromise can occur. Sedative is not to be used long-term and lowest effective dosage is recommended.
Don’t wait till your pooch starts panting and pacing on 4th of July. Be prepared to keep your pet safe and free of anxiety.