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July 4, 2016

How to Help Your Dog Cope With July 4th Fireworks

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This cute pug may say he's ready for the fireworks, but his silly human sunglasses won't offer him much protection from the loud noises and bright lights that often scare pets. 

It's fairly common for dogs and cats to react with fear when there are thunderstorms or fireworks going off. Independence Day celebrations can be terrifying for dogs and cats with the loud sounds and flashes of light. Your big tough dog and confident cat might turn into scaredy cats.

Thankfully, there are several things owners can do to ease their pets through the 4th of July festivities. 

Plan ahead with desensitization exercises

With the holiday just around the corner, the time is now to starting teaching your dog to stop reacting to fireworks and lightning storms through a process called desensitization. Desensitization is a behavior modification technique which is used to treat anxiety reactions when exposed to things like loud noises. This technique can reduce or even end the phobia with a gradual exposure to the anxiety-producing stimulus.

One desensitization technique:

  1. Find a video recording of fireworks with sound to play on your computer or television. These can easily be found on the Internet. Play the recording at a low volume for your dog a few times a day.
  2. Pair these sessions with activities or treats your dog like such as playing, gnawing on chew toys, during meal times or with cuddling.
  3. Slowly increase the volume with the recorded fireworks over several days. Continue to have your pet associate good things during the session.
  4. If your dog starts showing any signs of fear, reduce the volume until he or she feels more comfortable.
  5. Repeat the sessions a few times daily until the volume level is quite high and the sounds and flashes don't impact your dog.

Set the tone

Dogs are wired to be in tune with their owners. If you are tense when fireworks go off or during thunderstorms, your pet will pick up on that and react accordingly. Perhaps you become stressed with concern for your pet's agitation. Your dog will respond to your stress, you'll be more worried about your dog, and the situation will escalate.

Remain calm during fireworks and other loud events and act like they are no big deal. Refrain from coddling your pet which only confirms that they need to be comforted. As your dog's pack leader, your dog looks to you to set the tone.

Helpful products

Despite using the above techniques, some pets will still be anxious during loud events. Many people have gotten great results with anxiety-relieving products. These include anxiety wraps and supplements.

  1. Anxiety-reducing clothes. There are several companies that have jackets that "hug" pets to calm them. It's unclear why these close-fitting wraps work for many anxious pets. Some experts believe that putting pressure on the body calms the nervous system. Products such as the Thundershirt (also available for cats,) the Anxiety Wrap and the Kong Anxiety-Reducing Dog Shirt all work on this premise. Another wearable anxiety-reducing product is our ThunderCap Dog Calming Cap. This cap covers the eyes and reduces visual stimuli. This cap can be used in conjunction with the calming shirts.
  2. Supplements. We carry a wide variety of drops, sprays, chews and even teas that are designed to calm pets. Many people swear by the Canine Calm mist. Others have used and recommend the old standby, Bach's Rescue Remedy. Calming chews are another great all-natural choice.

Severe phobias

For some pets, nothing calms them. In these rare cases, it's important to talk to your vet as highly-stressed dogs can injure themselves or even become aggressive. If this is true of your pet, your vet may prescribe an anti-anxiety medication or a sedative to help.

Benadryl is sometimes suggested as over-the-counter anxiety/sedative remedy for both cats and dogs. The general guideline is 1 milligram of Benadryl for every pound of dog, but it's important to discuss the correct dosage with your vet. There may be drug interactions with medications your pet is already taking.

There are also certain medical conditions in pets where Benadryl shouldn't be used. Pets with glaucoma, lung disease, heart disease, an overactive thyroid or high blood pressure should not use Benadryl.

Prepare your pet with current identification!

Even if you take the precautions listed above, fireworks can scare normally-calm pets into running away. That's why it's crucial to make sure pets have current identification.

Does your pet have a microchip?

Microchipping is a great idea because pets often do wriggle out of their collars or lose their tags. Just the other day, I found my dog's tag laying on the porch.

It's particularly important to have cats chipped since their collars are designed to break off to prevent strangulation.  

As wonderful as microchipping is, it's not foolproof. Some chips have been known to work their way out of the skin. Additionally, there are different kinds of chips and not every animal control facility has a scanner to ready every brand.

People who find a pet without a collar may assume your pet is a stray and decide to keep him.

Visible ID

For the above reasons, it's a great idea to be sure your pets have visual identification in addition to microchipping.

Does your pet's collar show signs of wear and tear? Old collars may fray and break. This is more common when pets are terrified during storms or fireworks displays. Would-be rescuers might find that they are left holding the animal's collar when they attempt to escape. For this reason, consider investing in a harness that's less easy to slip out of.

Make sure that collar or harness has a tag with current information. A kind person can call you directly when they find your pet. This can save time and a fee that the pound may charge to release your dog or cat.

What methods have you used to calm your anxious pets?

What do you think?

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This entry was posted by Mary Parker.

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