Does your dog hate fireworks?
If your dog finds the snap, crackle, and pop of this season unpleasant or alarming, you are not alone. Aversion to noises like fireworks, gunfire, and thunder is one of the most common causes of canine anxiety, affecting at least one in ten dogs. Some dogs experience relatively minor symptoms after being exposed to the noisy stimuli that trigger this anxiety, but if your dog shows more severe symptoms of noise aversion, you may wonder how you're going to get through this season. Even though we don't know much about why dogs react more strongly to loud noises than others, there are some steps you can take to improve the situation if your dog suffers from a fear of fireworks.
Avoidance is the best strategy
It's tempting to think that your dog will overcome his fear if you expose him to fireworks on purpose. Unfortunately, it doesn't work that way. True panic and fear in response to a noise like fireworks is not a training issue. It’s an honest-to-goodness medical condition that your dog cannot control. Noise aversion is not fully understood, but the current veterinary wisdom indicates a dog is either born with the predisposition for developing severe symptoms, or not. He doesn't necessarily have to go through a bad experience with loud noises during his puppyhood to develop it. When you understand that severely affected dogs are in mortal fear when they hear fireworks, it's easy to see why they don't get better with repeated exposure; they are afraid for their lives and panic accordingly. The mental state associated with panicking like this is not conducive to learning.
This means the best plan to prevent panic in a dog suffering from noise aversion around fireworks is to eliminate exposure to the trigger. In an ideal world, everyone with a noise-averse dog would spend the early months of summer in a remote area enjoying the peace and quiet of the countryside, away from fireworks. Understandably, that's not a practical solution for most people, so what other strategies can be helpful?
The best ways to cope with noisy fireworks
If you can’t escape from the noise of fireworks, do your best to minimize the impact they have on your sensitive dog by reducing or muffling the sound of the explosions as much as possible. Here are some simple Dos and Don’ts to make things easier for you and your furry friend:
DON’T take your noise-averse dog to events where fireworks are scheduled or are likely to be set off.
DO keep your dog inside, preferably in a small room with the blinds pulled.
DO keep the lights on in the room where your dog is so flashes from outside won't be visible.
DO leave loud music playing.
DO run a noisy attic fan or air conditioner.
DO create a safe hiding place under a bed or at the back of the closet.
DON’T feel like you're a bad pet parent if you let your dog spend a lot of time hiding in a small spot that he perceives to be safe. Hiding is your dog's go-to coping skill when he can't fully avoid a scary stimulus.
DO try swaddling your frightened Fido in a tight-fitting garment like a Thundershirt.
DON’T worry that sitting with him to pet him and soothe him with gentle words will end up encouraging him to be more anxious. That notion has been debunked.
DO avoid taking ownership of your dog’s panic. It's not your job to fix it for him and there's only so much you can do. If his behavior is causing your own anxiety to ramp up, he’ll pick up on that and this can make things worse.
If your dog’s symptoms of noise aversion are relatively mild and he can cope by hiding in a safe spot, that may be the only intervention necessary. If a dog takes more than a few hours to bounce back after the fireworks stop or if he has more serious symptoms, it may be time to explore pharmaceutical options for relief. If noise aversion is causing your dog to do any of the following:
- Damage property, like breaking through windows or chewing the door frame;
- Injure himself, like broken teeth, cuts, sprains, or fractures;
- Injure others, usually resulting when a human or other pet tries to interfere with his panicked efforts to escape;
then medication is an option you may want to consider. Reach out to a veterinarian at Vetster to learn more about the most current treatment methods for noise aversion.
An abundance of over-the-counter products are available claiming to produce a calming effect for dogs. While it's possible to find anecdotal reports supporting their use, there is no scientific evidence that products like these are effective, especially for a dog with severe symptoms of a legitimate medical condition like noise aversion. Some of these products contain high levels of alcohol, which is undesirable at best and potentially dangerous at worst. Cannabis-derived products containing CBD are the latest trend and are often marketed as “calming” supplements. The safety and efficacy of CBD supplements in animals has not been sufficiently studied. Furthermore, different regional regulations around cannabinoids means there is inconsistent quality in these products. Depending on the source of the supplements, they may be contaminated, so it is best to steer clear.
The bottom line is if a dog has serious enough symptoms of noise aversion to warrant medicating him, it's better to use approved prescription medications under the guidance of a veterinarian. Veterinarians have several different safe and effective prescription medication options to reach for which can provide relief for dogs who suffer from severe noise aversion. Although there are multiple approaches to take and combination therapies are likely the most effective option for your dog’s unique situation, some products, like Sileo are FDA-approved specifically for treating noise aversion. It may take time to determine which medication is right for your pet. Each dog is a unique individual and it's not always easy to predict the outcome with behavioral medications, so it's reasonable to expect some trial and error will be necessary. Given this, it's best to seek treatment early so you have the time you need to come up with the best plan for you and your pet before fireworks season begins.
Although any veterinarian can help find the right medication for your noise-averse dog, you may also wish to pursue behavioral intervention with a board-certified veterinary behaviorist. These specialists have received additional training and their qualifications make them leaders in the field when it comes to the most up-to-date treatment strategies. Many board certified veterinary behaviorists are widely accessible, working remotely with you and your local vet to help guide your pet’s care. You can read more about how to find a board-certified veterinary behaviorist here.
Remember, if your dog trembles and hides (or worse) when the fireworks start booming, it’s not just that she doesn’t like them. It’s also not a training issue. These are symptoms of a medical condition, and your dog deserves relief. Early identification and intervention for a problem like noise aversion can help keep the symptoms from growing worse over the course of your dog’s life. Canine behavioral medicine is a rapidly developing field, so following the recommendations of a veterinarian is the best way to help your dog get through this noisy season.
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