The 4th of July causes chaos for a lot of families across the USA. Celebrations and firework displays are a cause of panic for many pets and this can cause significant stress and even significant flight response in dogs. According to Pet Amber Alert reports more dogs go missing between July 4-6th than any other time of the year.
Why are some animals afraid of fireworks?
Many dogs are afraid of loud unpredictable noises and flashes of light, this also includes events like thunderstorms which can cause real damage to the environment. Wild animals also respond fearfully during thunderstorms and hide- this is a normal response. If your pet has a noise sensitivity these events can be worse for them. Most house pets are shielded from real dangers of storms but they may respond in a way that create danger for themselves (panic and run away from owners which can lead to being lost or suffering trauma like being hit by a car).
What can you do to help your pet manage his anxiety during fireworks or similar events?
Remember that fear is an involuntary response and a pet should never be punished for being afraid. Punishing your dog may temporarily stop some behaviors like pacing, digging and whining but this only inhibits behavior it does not calm your pet. Never use shock collars or citronella collars on your pet when they are fearful.
Some animals respond well to having a safe spot in the house they can retreat to (crate, bedroom or closet, or the basement). If your pet become calm in his own space you should train them to go there on command. It is also important that your pet always have access to this spot even when you are not home incase fireworks or thunderstorms occur while you are away.
Thundershirts are a product you can use to wrap your pet in to help reduce anxiety. The fit is important for these types of shirts and they should be snug. If wearing
a garment increases your pets stress it should not be used. Your pet should also be monitored closely while wearing this product to be sure that he can pant normally (panting helps regulate body temperature).
Avoid taking your pet for walks or to community event that will trigger fear. Exposure to fearful stimulus alone will not make your pets stress better and may lead to your pet trying to escape and become lost. Equally important is to have someone remain in the home when possible during these stressful times to offer comfort, put on a thunder shirt, or give medications for anxiety. If a pet is scared enough they will try to break out of the home and this can lead to injuries.
There are several good medication options for your pet that will help relieve anxiety during these events. They all have pro’s and con’s and not all pet respond the way we anticipate. It is really important to discuss your options with your veterinarian and ideally do a test dose on a day with no stress to be sure there is not an adverse reaction to the medication. Some pets do well with one dose of medication and other pets require a combination of medication that is given at different points through the stressful event to control stress.
You should intervene when your pet is showing mild signs of stress to prevent the stress from increasing over time. If you notice your dog hiding or panting or pacing more during storms that would be the time to discuss options with your veterinarian do not wait until the behaviors last hours after the event or your pet has hurt themselves trying to escape the house.