Dr. Anna Dunton-Gallagher
OFF THE LEASH
Fourth of July is a holiday many people look forward to, and many people continue it into the weekend. We look forward to cookouts, time off and fireworks. In our pet’s eyes though, it means delicious food that you have to sneak and super-scary noises. Did you know that the days following the Fourth of July are among the busiest for animal shelters? Fireworks scares are one of the top reasons that dogs and cats run away, so make sure you are prepared to keep your pet home, safe and happy.
One problem with noise phobias is that many pets develop them after many years of uneventful fireworks/thunderstorm seasons. My dog actually used to watch fireworks with me, until one day she became terrified of thunderstorms, fireworks and gunshots.
So how should you prepare for fireworks (or thunderstorms)? Both are guaranteed to happen! If your dog is crate trained, they usually view their crate as a “safe space.” Crate them prior to the noises starting and cover the crate with a sheet. The ideal place is in the center of your house in a room without windows or doors. Basements (that are finished) also can work well. Get them used to music playing that will help drown out the noise. The first time your dog goes somewhere should not be when they are scared, so acclimate them first.
Storm jackets can provide relief to many pets. These are very tight spandex material, so it essentially helps hold them tight and provide a feeling of comfort. These work amazingly well for some pets, and others notice no effect. It is certainly worth a try for pets with noise phobias.
Cats are usually good at finding their own safe hiding place when they become fearful, we just want it to be an inside place!
If you have an indoor/outdoor cat, please make sure that you keep them in on the 4th, since you never know when fireworks will start. There is a good chance they will complain about this (especially if it is nice). However, if cats cannot find a place to hide outside they will also run away in fear. This increases the chances of them being lost or injured.
ALL dogs and cats should be indoors during fireworks or storms. Never take your dog to fireworks or parties with firework. Although grilling on a lake can make for a fun day, many dogs will bolt suddenly when they hear fireworks. Well-trained dogs can become overcome with fear and not return to an owner’s call. In fact, even dogs that like to stick to you like glue, when they are fearful still can suddenly bolt. Do not take the chance of losing your pet on this loud holiday.
Noise phobias can be treated with medication. However, you should never treat your pet for the first time in a stimulating situation like fireworks. Pets can react differently to the same medication, so it is always best to try it for the first time when you can be there to monitor them closely. If your pet is triggered into an anxiety attack with every thunderstorm, it is worth speaking to your veterinarian about a training modification program with possible medication.
Training modification focuses on retraining your pet in times of fear to react in a way that is familiar, instead of scary. If they become used to a routine in which they are always safe, the fear can subside with training. This does take time, but can be beneficial in the end; especially since we had a thunderstorm even in the winter this year! Unfortunately, the more we let this behavior persist, the more they learn that fear is the appropriate response.
Of course, never, never have your pet near you when you are setting up or lighting off fireworks.
If you are going out of town for the weekend, make sure that your pet caretakers are prepared to deal with any fear that may arise.
Also, remember during cookout times that you shouldn’t be giving your dog bones. Cooked poultry bones are very dangerous, and even other harder bones like ribs can create problems. The staging area between kitchen and grill is a favorite place for pets to lie in wait for a generous snack, so keep an eye on the food. Kebobs are delicious, and when a dog knows they shouldn’t have one they are more inclined to swallow the skewer whole.
Enjoy celebrating this national holiday, while still keeping your pets safe. This particular vet must stay home with her dog to keep her comfortable with fireworks noise, but I can tell you that many spectacular fireworks displays are on television. Sure, it isn’t quite the same, but a small price to pay for my dog’s happiness. If you anticipate problems yourself, please call your veterinarian for ideas on how to help your pet be more comfortable.