Dogs and Fireworks: Fun or Fear?
The 4th of July is one of the best holidays to celebrate on Long Island. We’ve got beaches, barbecues, and fireworks displays galore. The illegal firework market seems to be thriving, and you can find houses shooting them off just about on every block. There is one segment of the population, however, that doesn’t enjoy this holiday so much… pet parents.
Many pet parents find that their pets are terrorized by this holiday. Their dogs will act anywhere from slightly off, to in a full blown state of panic. Symptoms of noise phobia to fireworks vary but may look like:
- excessive panting
- scratching walls
- excessive yawning
- escape attempts
- aggressive behaviors
If you don’t have a pet that is afraid of fireworks, that is great! Don’t take it for granted. There is no reason for a dog to develop this fear, if you can be a little proactive. Here are some steps you can take to prevent fear of fireworks from starting. If your dog is ALREADY fearful, suggestions are at the bottom for what you can do to help them.
Fear is Serious:
Please, if your dog is fearful get him or her professional help. Imagine how you would feel if you were so frightened that you desperately hid in your own home, even had an accident! How would it feel to be so anxious that you crawled under your bed, or ran around your house frantically trying to figure out a way to escape? Just as humans can have a panic attack, so can dogs. This is a terrible feeling for your pet. There is NO REASON to let your dog suffer through the 4th of July. If your dog has a fearful response, please enlist the help of your veterinarian. Your dog needs you to be their advocate. With help, your dog may even recover from their phobia in the future. Once your dog has high-level fear to these loud noises, you will NEED to contact a veterinarian or veterinary behaviorist if you want your dog to feel better.
Environmental Modification: A Safe Space in the Home
One way to prevent fear before it starts, or help a dog who already has an issue with fireworks, is to set up a safe-space. I recommend walking your dog at around 7pm (before fireworks start) and keeping them inside after that until around 2am on both the day before and the day-of the 4th of July.
REMEMBER TO HAVE IDENTIFICATION ON YOUR DOG AT ALL TIMES: It doesn’t matter that your dog has a microchip. No one wants to take your dog to the vet after-hours on a holiday because you don’t have a tag on them. Please make sure you have a collar with a tag on your dog for the week of the 4th, and that the information on the tag is updated. This collar should be left on at all times, even inside of the home. Dogs can slip out doors and gates, or even go through windows when they are frantic and afraid. The combination of dogs and fireworks leads to more pets being lost on the 4th of July than any other day of the year.
Pheremones: Pheremones have been shown to have a calming effect on many dogs. They are available in spray, plug-in, and collar form. I recommend plugging in an Adapil diffuser in the bedroom where the dog sleeps one week before the 4th of July. On the day before and day of the holiday, I recommend spraying down areas where the dog is with the spray every 4 hours, as indicated on the packaging. Click here for more information on my favorite pheromone products.
A Quiet Place: I recommend setting up a quiet and safe room for your dog to go in at around 7:30 pm, before fireworks start. Remember to close all doors and windows before dark, throughout the entire house. Draw all shades in the home, so your dog will not see flashes of light. You should buy a white-noise machine for your dogs room. This noisemaker will help drown out the noises coming from outside. Run your noisemaker sporadically throughout the day when you get it, so your pet becomes used to it. Otherwise, they will associate the noisemaker with the 4th of July and become afraid of it! I recommend the Marpack Dohm, found here:
Hiding Spot: You can set up a crate, covered with a heavy blanket to give your dog a safe space to hide if they become afraid. The heavy blanket will also help drown out noise. This will also prevent your dog from getting stuck under or behind furniture.
Things to Do: Make sure to have many distracting activities for your dog to do in their room. Bully-sticks, stuffed Kongs, and other edible chews are great choices to have on hand in the room. These positive activities will give your dog a pleasant association with their safe space. Check out our article on using the Mine Pet Platter to create an entertaining meal for your pet.
Exercise First: Exercise goes a long way in preventing an extreme fear response. Be sure that your dog has had plenty of exercise during the day. This could include a trip to the dog-park, a nice run, swimming, or any activities that your dog likes. As long as it isn’t too hot out, aim for at least 1-2 hours of exercise and interaction the day of the 4th.
Thunder Shirt: Many dogs respond well to wearing a compression garment. These special shirts are designed to calm your dog with a gentle pressure. This should be placed on the dog BEFORE they begin to become anxious. You can find a variety of options here.
Mutt Muffs: Specially designed dog ear protection can help block out the noise of fireworks. Some dogs respond very well when the noise is blunted. You can learn more about this product here.
Medications: Necessary for the Panicked Dog
If your dog already has an aversion to fireworks and noises, you will want to work with your veterinarian to develop a medication protocol to prevent your pet from experiencing extreme levels of panic and stress. There are many great options for anxiolytic medications, and often they can be combined. Some commonly used medications include Trazadone, Gabapentin, and Sileo. Sileo is an FDA approved medication that is specifically designed for dogs with noise phobias. The key to all of these medications is to give them BEFORE the dog is fearful. You must give these medications well before the fireworks, as per your veterinarians instructions. There is NO reason for your dog to suffer through fireworks when you can have these medications on board. They work by preventing anxiety and fear from ever even starting. On the proper dose, your dog will be snoozing away. It is not fair for your dog to feel extreme panic on this holiday. If your dog is afraid, please speak with your veterinarian. If your veterinarian is not familiar with behavior modification drugs, then ask for a referral to your local veterinary behaviorist. Dogs that are afraid of fireworks can be greatly helped with the right medication on board.
Acepromazine: It’s TERRIBLE! Don’t Use it!
There is one medication that is terrible for the fearful dog, Acepromazine. This medication is like a chemical straightjacket for your dog. It does nothing for the fear or anxiety response, but it does prevent your dog from physically moving around. Basically, your dog will be terrified and trapped in their own body, unable to find relief or escape. Acepromazine is a humane medication in this situation if your veterinarian pairs it with an anxiolytic. This is a combination many vets will use for an animal who has injured themselves while attempting to escape a noise. The acepromazine provides an extra layer of protection against the dog physically attempting to go through a window, for example. Given alone, you will only be exacerbating your dogs issues by compounding their fear. Click here to learn more about why Acepromazine is a poor choice of drug for fearful dogs, written by Dr. Marty Becker, the founder of Fear Free. Dog’s and fireworks can go together well, even if your dog has a history of extreme fear. Medications can be extremely helpful… just not Ace alone!
Training: You Can Teach your Dog to LOVE Fireworks
If your dog isn’t afraid of fireworks, I still recommend that you take the steps above to prevent the fear before it starts. Once your dog has a panic-attack due to noise, they will be affected for LIFE. It is best to begin working this holiday to build a good association of fireworks and loud noises for your dog. To start, it is easy… you need:
AMAZING TREATS, LOT’S OF THEM!
Choose hotdogs, cold-cuts, steak… anything that your dog really really loves. You will also need a recording of fireworks. You can find a great recording here.
In short, you will play the fireworks CD on a low volume, and immediately begin feeding your dog the special treats. Once the sound stops, so does the treats. Do this for a day, and then raise the volume slightly. If at any point your dog acts nervous, you will have to reduce the volume to zero and start over so it is better to not go too far too fast. It is best to begin this training several weeks to a month before the actual holiday. If you get a new puppy, you can start right away! You should work your way up to the volume being on full-blast.
On the actual holiday, you must be ready with your special treats, in your safe room. The moment you hear the first bang, you should beginning heavily feeding and praising your dog. My dogs love toys and playing tug, so we incorporate play as well. If your dog learns that loud noises mean hotdogs and cheese, they will come to look forward to them. Believe it or not, with a little work, your dog can learn to LOVE fireworks. I recommend that you enlist the help of a Certified Dog Behavior consultant, if you would like extra help and coaching to get your dog through this loud holiday.
Fear Free Happy Homes: Dogs and Fireworks
I highly recommend that pet-parents check out the website fearfreehappyhomes.com. This website has a ton of information on keeping your pet stress and fear free in both their daily life, and at the veterinarian. Check out this great infographic they created about the holiday. Happy Fourth!