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Tips and Tricks

Fireworks – Dealing with Your Scaredy Cat or Dog

Fireworks can cause stress and anxiety in our pets, and that’s putting it lightly. Every year around July 4th, animal shelters report a record number of intakes, this is the result of scared pets getting loose and running away from home. The ones that are picked up by animal control are among the lucky (especially if they have some type of pet identification); many are hit by cars as they try and run from the noise.

Let’s start with simple things you can do to help your pet cope:

1. Make sure your pet is safe inside your home. Don’t tie up your dog or leave him in the backyard. It’s better to have him where you can see him. If you have a cat, don’t let your cat out to roam that day. Pre-firework activities begin earlier than sundown, so your cat is at risk even more than usual if allowed out. There are a million worse case, danger and death scenarios that can happen to a disoriented and anxious animal left on their own. Take extra special care of your pet this 4th. Better to practice pet summer safety than be sorry!

2. For the mild scaredy dog or cat. For some pet owners, providing a safe and comfortable space for your dog or cat to chill out while the action is happening works well enough. This can be a crate stuffed with blankets, toys and treats or a special fort built for the occasion in a closet or bedroom. Music or television in the background helps. The technique is to distract your pet so that he or she doesn’t get worked up. If your pet shows any anxiety at all, the ideal situation is to have someone stay with them.

3. For the medium scaredy dog or cat. There are a lot of different techniques you can try to address the problem of noise phobias in your pet. Behavior modification exercises do work and are a better long term option than medication. If your pet is experiencing noise related anxiety more than the once or twice a year celebration – if you live in an area with frequent thunderstorms etc., behavior modification therapy is a must try. Methods include progressive desensitization, which is essentially exposure to the same noises but in a controlled way. Some pet owners swear by homeopathic pet remedies you can add to water or food. I have also heard positive things about putting your dog in a snug t-shirt or thundershirt and even mutt muffs, if your dog will tolerate having something put over his ears. Behavior modification doesn’t happen overnight, but you can expect to see results over a few months if you have a plan and stick to it.

4. For the extreme scaredy dog or cat. Then there are those extreme nervous wrecks, which none of the above helps to soothe. My sweet pup Jezabel was this type of dog. She didn’t develop this phobia until she was 8 years-old, coinciding with the first year we spent the 4th in the big city of Los Angeles. As the first explosions popped in the sky, she would go stiff and clumsy, every part of her body shaking and seizing. She would try and squeeze into places that were nowhere near big enough to accommodate her; she would knock things over, stumble, fall down, panic, pace and then bolt from room to room in terror. I was afraid she was going to have a heart attack. It broke my heart and scared me very much. After that, I went to my vet and he prescribed a sedative, to be administered several hours before sundown. The following year, Jezzy slept through the fireworks and I enjoyed a hot dog and peace of mind. If the idea of a sedative seems too severe, there are other types of anti-anxiety medication out there. For extreme cases, this is worth considering.

Evaluate your dog’s level of anxiety, do some research, apply your critical thinking, talk to your vet and have a great 4th of July!

Posted by Mary M

Tags: fireworks, safety for pets

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