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How To Recognize Fireworks Fear And Help Your Pet Cope

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The Fourth of July is one of the busiest days of the year for animal control officers. Lost and terrified pets fill shelters. Booming fireworks cause frightened dogs to jump fences they’ve never jumped before; others leap from their owners’ arms and disappear across a busy street.

An anxious dog may show subtle or dramatic symptoms. He may be panting for no apparent reason, licking his lips, pacing or yawning (he’s not tired).  More extreme signs include trembling, hiding, cowering, clinginess, or other out-of-character behaviors. My Shetland Sheepdog Sherman would jump up on the dining room table and stand there trembling. My friend Judy’s Golden Retriever hides in the shower.

If your pet has similar behaviors, the following steps, alone or in combination, may help him get through the holiday with a minimum of stress while preventing disastrous mishaps.

  • Change the environment: Before the fireworks start, bring your pet indoors and close the curtains to minimize exposure to lights and noise. Provide access to a dark and denlike “safe room” such as a closet where he can hide.
  • Noise control: Mask scary sounds by running a fan or white noise machine, playing classical music (avoid Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture), or turning up the television.
  • Be calm yourself: Try to act as normal as possible, and never punish your dog for being frightened. Punishment will confuse him and scare him. Let him cuddle with you, but speak in a happy tone of voice.
  • Consider medication: Sileo is an FDA-approved treatment for noise aversion in dogs. It is a gel applied in the dog’s mouth between the teeth and gums. Your veterinarian can prescribe it.
  • Try calming wraps: Calming clothing wraps snugly around your dog, applying comforting pressure. Think of it as a hug. I’ve often seen an instant change in a dog’s behavior when wearing this type of item.
  • Add aromatherapy or a calming herbal remedy or flower essence: Flower essences and herbal remedies are highly diluted natural substances that you can apply to a bandana that your dog wears or spritz on his bedding. Examples include lavender, chamomile, vanilla, and valerian. Most are available at health food stores or online, and many companies offer special blends to address specific signs. Probably the most well known is Rescue Remedy, a blend of five calming flower essences: impatiens, Star of Bethlehem, cherry plum, rock rose, and clematis. It is meant to provide rapid relief in highly stressful situations.
  • Pheromones: These chemical substances are naturally produced by animals and help them communicate with each other. For instance a mother dog will produce pheromones that comfort her puppies. Adaptil® is an artificial version of a dog-appeasing pheromone (DAP) that helps reduce anxiety due to fireworks or other stressful situations. Feliway is made for cats. Available as a spray or plug-in diffuser, they are available in pet supply stores or online without a prescription.

I hope these tips help you and your dog have a fear-free Fourth!

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

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