Fireworks are Terrifying for Pets
–by Steve Dale
People may not get why so many dogs and cats are so fearful of fireworks. The answer: it’s adaptive. It is the same for us when we hear a sudden and very loud, unexpected or unexplained sound, we too go into fight or flight and either run for the hills or hide. Of course, our pets never receive an advance email explaining that fireworks are supposed to be about a special celebration. Or that they are going to happen in the first place. What’s more, their sense of hearing is keener than our own, which means they are more sensitive to the noise and are prone to flee or hide when fireworks go off around them.
To prevent your pets from running away, keep your cats indoors around the Fourth. Dogs must also be secured in a fenced yard, kept outside only with adult supervision, or ideally, kept inside altogether.
Microchips with UP-TO-Date Information will Help Reunite Pets with their Families
During this noisy holiday, animal shelters become inundated with lost pets who have fled fireworks in terror. If you haven’t microchipped your pet, now would be the time to do so, and be sure to register with the microchip provider. If your pet is already microchipped, make sure their registration is up-to-date so that if your pets escape your yard, and end up in a shelter, the staff will be able to get them home.
Prepare Your Pet, if Possible, by Desensitizing Them
The good news is that you may use behavior modification to help prepare your pet for the Fourth. This effort will take at least a week, and usually several weeks, to succeed. So you can begin to practice getting your pet accustomed to the sounds of fireworks right now.
To begin, find a YouTube video with a fireworks display which should be easy to locate since there are dozens of these videos. Start by playing it at a very low level through your computer speakers or on your phone, all while distracting the dog (or cat) with play or by offering high-value treats placed inside a toy. At first, the pet is far from the speakers (or the phone), but ever so gradually, move the speaker closer to your pet and simultaneously pump up the volume.
If your pet becomes concerned or spooked, you’ve gone too far too fast. Repeat the cycle–moving your pet further from the speakers or your phone, lowering the volume, and then gradually pumping it up again.
The philosophy behind this activity is twofold: a) to help the pet feel more comfortable with fireworks by desensitizing them to the sounds; and b) to re-associate a once fearsome sound with something enjoyable, such as special treats or a favorite toy.
This method does not work for all dogs, but it can be a game-changer for many others, completely resolving terror for some, or at the least, reducing it. This method can be a game changer, but you must have patience and see if it works for your pet.
Pheromones, Nutraceuticals, Probiotics, CBD
Sometimes dogs with a fear of loud sounds may be generally anxious. If that’s the case, the products noted below are a good idea anyway to help take the edge off, enhancing the pet’s quality of life every day, and may augment receptivity to behavior modification training described above.
For dogs, plug in an Adaptil diffuser, and for cats, a Feliway Classic diffuser. They’re copies of naturally occurring pheromones to help each species to feel more comfortable in their own environments. Plug in those pheromones before the Fourth; don’t wait until the actual holiday.
There are today so many nutraceuticals available online and at brick and mortar pet stores. However, only a pawful truly have scientific efficacy listed here:
Zylkene: Helps pets to find their “zen.” Zylkene contains bovine-sourced hydrolyzed milk protein, an ingredient that has been shown to have calming properties, particularly for situation stress and to loud noises. Like great granny used to say, “If you’re upset, drink a glass of warm milk.” Great granny was right. These are tablets which can be opened and the palatable contents sprinkled on dog or cat food.
ANXITANE: (L-Theanine) Chewable Tablets help pets keep calm and relaxed. Containing a pure synthetic form of L-Theanine, an amino acid naturally found in green tea leaves, ANXITANE Tablets are a palatable option that both cats and dogs.
Solliquin: Soft chews with L-theanine, an amino acid found naturally in green tea, stimulates production of alpha brain waves, supporting relaxation and mental awareness.
Zentrol: A chewable with a proprietary formulation of natural ingredients for stress management that has been shown to help reduce stress-related behaviors in as little as 60 minutes.
Calming Care is a probiotic from Purina ProPlan Veterinary Diets, which is sprinkled on the dog’s food. A six-week supply of supplements contains a strain of beneficial bacteria known as BL999 that’s been shown to help keep dogs calm during stressful situations.
While all these products are safe and there’s science to demonstrate effectiveness, still it’s strongly suggested to get input from a veterinary professional. By themselves, these product don’t usually resolve dogs or cats truly inconsolably phobic about fireworks; they are best used as an adjunct to other therapies or for dog or cats “mildly stressed” about the fireworks.
Anecdotal reports suggest that CBD for pets may help to relieve anxiety. However, there’s no published science on its efficacy – at least not yet. Also, not all CBD products are the same; the notion that CBD products can do no harm may not be true, but I recommend consulting a veterinary professional. However, depending on where you happen to live, local laws may not allow veterinary professionals to discuss these products, even though they may be readily available.
● Important note: THC is toxic to pets–so please, no matter how tempting it may be–do not give your dogs or cats edibles to calm them down. Rania Gollakner, BS, DVM and Lynn Buzhardt, DVM, writing for VCA Animal Hospital, explain more about cannabis toxicity here.
A newer product that affects brain chemistry is called Calmer Canine. Created for dogs with separation anxiety, this device may also support dogs with anxiety regarding thunderstorms and therefore likely fireworks.
The Calmer Canine looks like a halo and should be used for treatment by holding above the dog’s head or it can be worn attached to a vest (which come in different sizes).
The amygdala, the fight or flight center, is the area in the brain responsible for producing fear and emotional responses. An anxious brain is out of balance, not only hormonally, but also with overactive brain cells that produce harmful substances causing inflammation. Calmer Canine works by providing targeted pulsed electromagnetic field signals to the brain. These signals are invisible, sensation-free, and have no known adverse reactions. What is known is the ability to lower anxiety. This is great for pets unable to take pharmaceuticals (anti-anxiety medication) or pet parents who prefer a drug-free option.
Typically, the product takes a month to six weeks to assist dogs with separation anxiety and presumably would take as long to offer benefits for fear of fireworks.
Easy to Implement and Worth a Try
Many dogs or cats aren’t in full terror mode but still something should be done so they don’t worsen. For these animals, you can combine several products, such as pheromones with perhaps a nutritional supplement and a nutraceutical of choice–while enticing and distracting your dog or cat with play and treats. If children routinely have fun with your puppy, fireworks displays are a great time for games. Giving high value treats in Kong toys or food puzzles can be an effective distraction as well.
Of course, you can also close the windows (to lessen the sounds) and pull down the shades. Turn on relaxing music or your favorite talk radio station. A Sound Beginning, icalmpet, or other sites (including many free online) have specially produced music to relax dogs and cats.
Each of the following options has potentially calming effects and is something dogs can wear:
● Thundershirt: A vest that applies gentle, constant pressure, similar to swaddling an infant – originally created for dogs fearful of storms.
● Storm Defender: a cape with a special lining that surrounds your dog.
● Anxiety Wrap: uses acupressure and gentle, maintained pressure to help relieve stress and fear in dogs.
If your pet’s terror level is high–and she is demonstrating visible signs of fear, including shaking, excessive salivation, incontinence, decreased appetite, or are otherwise seemingly “inconsolable”–psychopharmaceutical intervention may be a serious consideration and arguably the most humane choice.
SILEO oromucosal gel (rubbed on a dog’s gums) is targeted for noisy times such as fireworks or thunderstorms. SILEO takes full effect in 30 minutes to an hour, and lasts a good two to three hours.While this is a good option for dogs, SILEO is not labeled for cats.
There are certainly other drug choices which a veterinarian can offer–so you may want to schedule an appointment now, ahead of the holiday, to discuss options.
A Final Word
The old notion about consoling a terrified pet only serves to reinforce fear is simply untrue. It is impossible to “reinforce” such a powerful, adaptive instinct and soothing them verbally will never make the situation worse. Calming our pets when they are fearful can help them feel more comfortable in the moment, but kindness alone rarely solves the problem.