HELP! My Dog is scared of Fireworks and Thunderstorms, What can I do?
Thunderstorms, Fireworks and other noises can cause significant fear and anxiety in our beloved pets especially our canine companions. Signs of this particular phobia can include panting, trembling, hiding or escaping behavior, drooling, inappropriate bowel movements or urination, self-trauma or even significant property damage. Whether it is the unpredictable noise of erupting fireworks or the changes in barometric pressure and thunder claps during a storm, pet parents often feel helpless as their pets panic. But the good news is there are a lot of therapeutic options that may help your furry friend.
If at all possible, the best way to stop anxiety in our pets is to address it before it even starts. If it is possible to avoid the stimulus for a phobia do so. However since we cannot control the weather or firework season this not really a practical option. Talking to your veterinarian will help you understand what anxieties can be avoided and what treatment options may be beneficial to help your pet better tolerate and work toward conquering their fear of fireworks and storms.
Firework and thunderstorm phobias are driven by fear anxieties and as such treatments are focused on reducing the anxiety which then leads to a reduction in the undesirable behaviors. Anti-anxiety medications are often of significant benefit to our noise phobia pets. Treatments such as trazodone or diazepam help reduce anxiety but can also have a sedative effect, allowing the pet (and yourself!) to rest and sleep better. These medications can be used the day of a stressful storm or fireworks with the treatment lasting from 8 to up to 24 hours. However, if your pet has other day to day anxieties then they may benefit from routinely administering an anti-anxiety medication such as clomipramine or fluoxetine. These medications are generally less sedating but are designed to be given daily. Since noise phobias are a lot more common than most people realize, there is even now a treatment designed specifically for noise phobias in our pets. Thunderstorm and firework phobias are considered to be a large component of the noise phobias in our canine companions and the medication called Sileo, when given at the first sign of noise anxiety, will last between 2-3 hours which is often enough time to get over a sudden storm or those celebratory fireworks.
Beyond traditional medications as above, there are many natural options for your anxious pet. Dog Appeasing Pheromone (adaptil) is a hormone secreted by lactating female dogs which can be calming for not only puppies but also adults. This pheromone is available in collars, spot sprays and room diffusers to help keep your dog’s stress level lowered. Stressful and anxious cats have a similar pheromone product available called Feliway. The Thundershirt is a product that many pet owners are already familiar with. These tight shirts apply pressure to your pet like a comforting hug. This helps release trigger points that reduce stress in many anxious pets. The Thundershirt can be especially beneficial to those pets that seek close contact with their owners during frightening times. Numerous natural calming supplements are available for our companions as well. Products like Zylkene, a natural supplement containing milk protein which has been shown to help decrease anxiety levels. For those dogs or cats that deal with day to day anxieties, there is even a diet (Royal Canin Veterinary Diet – Calm) which contains supplements including tryptophan and a hydrolyzed milk protein which can reduce stress.
It is of utmost importance to remember that while these treatments can be beneficial on their own or together for an even greater effect, they should all be used in conjunction with a training program. The goal of treating these pets is to make the experience during the thunderstorms or fireworks less stressful and ultimately to get them over their irrational fear. While the medication may help them experience the event with less anxiety, the training can help condition them to live through future events with the ability to self-cope. Two common behavioral modification methods applied to these firework and storm phobia patients are counter-conditioning and desensitization therapy. Counter condition is basically giving your pet something positive to associate with the fearful stimulus. This may include when a low level of stress/anxiety is occurring the pets can have some treats or play a favorite activity. This way they can focus on something exciting and happy to override their fear response. Desensitization therapy is helping a pet become used to the noise based fear by exposing them to the fear at a very low level and slowly increasing it over time. This could include playing a CD with thunderstorm noises very quietly and doing positive activities during this time (Counter conditioning) and then slowly with time increasing the volume of the stressful noise. As each pet is an individual and each situation is unique, discuss with your veterinarian the techniques that could help your pet overcome their fear.
So the next time there are fireworks and thunderstorms, don’t forget to contact your veterinarian because the good news is you are not alone and there are many options to help your pets and often times your furniture live comfortably through these stressful events.