4th of July Survival Tips

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Even though the 4th is just one day, the neighborhood fireworks last for several days. Sometimes a month or more. For those living with a dog afraid of loud noises, it’s a very long time.

Now that the long holiday weekend is almost upon us, here are some tips for surviving the fireworks, and making things more comfortable for your dog.

Fireworks - by Scott Cresswell - Flickr Creative Commons

Fireworks – by Scott Cresswell – Flickr Creative Commons

What Are Noise Phobias?

A dog afraid of loud noises can’t help it. It is a very real fear of sound. It may have roots in a particular incident or storm, or they may be born with it. Dogs with separation anxiety have a higher incidence of noise phobias.

Noise phobias usually worsen over time, and other dogs in the household may ‘learn’ to be afraid of loud noises, too. When they see their buddy obviously worried about something, it is common to join in.

By approaching noise phobia quickly and completely, you help theaffected dog, companion dogs, and people, too. It is no fun being near a panting, drooling, trembling, hiding and pacing dog. Calming words usually don’t help, and your dog may pick up on your stress, making the situation worse.

Here are some of my favorite tools to manage noise phobia. As always, if your dog has issues with noise, please talk to your veterinarian – there are very safe and effective medications to help with this condition.

Loud Noise Toolbox

Create a safe space and accentuate normal activities – Dogs pick up on what we are feeling. Being annoyed, tense, or trying to soothe your dog may just make things worse.

Put on some calming music or turn on the TV to create a sense of calm normal. Use a treat or a play fetch with a toy to help distract. If your dog responds as they normally do, then their stress levels are probably OK.

Alternatively, I have used a well-insulated bathroom, with the fan running, to be a safe place. There are many ‘white noise’ CDs and iTunes types of apps to play in the background to dampen the noise of fireworks.

Plan the potty breaks – I always let the dogs out ‘one more time’ before bed. If fireworks are happening, no way would my sweet noise-phobic Sophie do her business. I planned ahead by taking several walks in the daytime, feeding an earlier than usual meal, and doing the last outing just at sunset – before the main fireworks start. This means an early outing the next morning, but it helped tremendously.

Sophie wearing the Thundershirt

Thundershirt – The Thundershirt is easy to use and surprisingly effective. I say surprisingly because I had my doubts when I was sent one to try out on my dog for a review, but it worked well for my dog. I took this photo as she slept through fireworks happening outside.

You can order Thundershirts on their site or find them at local retailers. You can also try to make your own wrap to help with anxiety.

DAP Collar/Spray/Diffuser Products – DAP, short for Dog Appeasing Pheromone, is one of my favorite products for managing dog stress and phobias. It is now renamed Adaptil, but is the same product. The cat version is Feliway, and I love it for travel and stressful situations my cats face. Safe and non-toxic, Adaptil and worked wonders for Sophie, creating a sense of calm and it works amazingly well with the other techniques above.

Learn more about the DAP collar and DAP spray. These products can be purchased online or at local retailers. There isn’t a collar or wearable product for cats at this writing. The sprays are not to be used directly on the pet. I use the Feliway spray in their crate or bedding (I let it air out for 5 min or so before the cats go in, as the alcohol carrier evaporates off).

Call Your Veterinarian
As always, your veterinarian is your first stop to discuss behavior changes or problems. It is important to rule out any underlying medical problems. Your veterinarian can also prescribe medication such as anxiolytics to reduce the anxiety without making your pet ‘out of it.’

Let’s Talk About Medication
The old medication standard for thunderstorms was a drug commonly referred to as “Ace,” short for Acepromazine (Promace ®). This drug is not the best choice for this condition, because while it sedates, it is not anxiety-reducing (anxiolytic). While it takes away the ability to move (most of the time) doesn’t calm the fears, in effect making them much worse over time.

In other words,  using Ace may add to the noise phobia over time. Read more about Acepromazine and Chlorpromazine by Terry Kelley CVT, CPDT.

Even though it is the holiday, call your veterinarian. If you do not have an emergency clinic in your area, your veterinarian should have recorded instructions about who to contact in the case of an emergency. Veterinary emergency clinics commonly deal with these issues.

Stopping the Trend

Each time your dog makes it through fireworks or a thunderstorm with a sense of calm/confidence, it helps slow the trend of getting worse each time (untreated).