Q: Help! The Fourth of July is almost here, and my Australian shepherd rescue is terrified of the fireworks. Any tips?
A: Every year it’s the same. The Fourth of July = stress to a huge percentage of our pets. This is most obviously the case for dogs who suffer from a condition veterinarians refer to as noise phobia.
Make no mistake: This is a serious problem for our dogs. It’s not something we should assume is normal or benign.
This issue is so common that every year I print out a list of “dos and don’ts” for my clients and leave a stack at our front desk for my dog owners to take home. Here’s what I include.
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▪ Plan ahead. Contact your veterinarian to discuss medications that can relieve anxiety. Sileo® is a safe new drug that can help but stronger meds might be in order as well. While you might not approve of anti-anxiety drugs, it might be the most humane approach for panicked pets. (Be aware that your veterinarian may require a visit before prescribing these.)
▪ Drown out the sounds of fireworks. Turn on the radio, TV or fan.
▪ Keep your pet busy. Offer a toy that he or she hasn’t seen in a while. Get out the treats.
▪ Act enthusiastic. Our attitudes are infectious to dogs.
▪ Change the environment. Consider an overnight stay at a sound-proofed vet hospital or boarding facility.
▪ Create a safe and quiet place. Closets and crates are great, but tubs and beds (underneath) are fine too.
▪ Punish them. They’re not badly behaved; they’re terrified! Punishment proves that you can be as scary as the fireworks.
▪ Cuddle. While it may seem like the most kind thing to do, it’ll actually worsen the behavior in the long run. It teaches them that you’re the only route to safety. And because you won’t always be available in a scary situation, you have to teach them another way to feel safe –– without you. (Refer back to the “do” list for ideas.)
▪ Take them to fireworks displays. Now that’s just asking for more fear and stress.
Incidentally, a big thanks goes to Dr. Lisa Radosta at Coral Springs Animal Hospital for inspiring this list and for publicizing the issue so more dogs can get the help they need.