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Fireworks Management for Pets

worried dogThe 4th of July is virtually synonymous with fireworks here in the United States. While many people, and even some pets, enjoy these loud and colorful displays, other pets become upset. So, how do owners keep pets safe during this holiday?

Fireworks don’t seem to bother most cats. As with thunderstorms, cats often simply sit in a window and enjoy the show. This is not the case with many dogs. Dogs tend to have one of four following reactions:

  1. Dogs that ignore fireworks. If this is your pup, consider yourself lucky! Still, it is best to leave your dog at home. The darkness, crowded conditions and often inebriated spectators can bother even a steady dog.
  2. Dogs that bark at fireworks. While these dogs may seem calm, they will often bark steadily for the entirety of the fireworks display, which your neighbors may not appreciate.
  3. Dogs that quiver and try to hide. These dogs need fireworks management. They may end up stuck in a strange place when trying to hide, which can make their stress level rise even more.
  4. Dogs who react by trying to flee. The 5th of July sees many shelters overwhelmed with lost and found dogs. These dogs may panic to the extent that they jump out windows, crash through glass or screen doors and even chew through doors or walls. They definitely need firework management and may even require sedation.

Luckily, most towns only have big fireworks displays a couple times per year.  However, his makes it hard to do desensitization or counter conditioning, but does make it easier for you to manage your dog’s firework fear. Plus firework shows are usually advertised ahead of time, so you know when the problem will occur – unlike thunderstorms that may suddenly appear without warning.

Steps for fireworks management start with knowing when the fireworks will be set off. Call your town offices, check local newspapers and look at online activities schedules. If your town has a display set for dusk on July 4th, you know you need to have your dog settled about an hour before that.

Start by setting up a quiet, dark spot for your dog. A room in a finished basement or an interior bathroom with no windows works well. If there are windows, close curtains or shades. You are dampening sound as well as cutting off light flashes.

Set up a radio to play soft music or put on one of the calming sound CDs designed just for dogs. These sounds can help settle your dog and will cover up at least some of the loud noises.

Hopefully your dog is crate trained, so you can set your crate up in the quiet spot. Provide a top value chew item such as a Kong stuffed with favorite treats or a fresh marrowbone. If your dog loves squeaky toys, stick one of those in the crate or area as well. A family member may need to hang out in the room for company. Remember, it is just one night. For some dogs having company and playing tug or fetch could keep them happy during the time of the fireworks.

Melatonin is a natural and very safe substance that helps to mellow out some dogs. Ask your veterinarian about dosing and if the melatonin is compatible with any other medications your dog may be taking. Generally it is fine to combine with other medications. Give the melatonin an hour or two before the scheduled start of the fireworks show.

Look into natural anxiety remedies for pets. There are some excellent combinations of essential oils that can help a worried dog through this time. Do not use these on cats. Most aromatherapy mixes are spritzed on your dog, the area he is staying in, or rubbed on the inside of his ears. Do this prior to the start time of the fireworks display. Aromatherapies can generally be combined with other medications but check with your veterinarian.

For a severely fearful dog that might try to flee in a panic, your veterinarian may suggest sedation. You might be able to combine that with the suggestions above to achieve a lower dose for your dog. No one wants to have to sedate their beloved pet, but if it keeps your dog safe, it is worth it. If your veterinarian sends home pills, be sure to ask how early you need to give them. If the fireworks will start about 9 p.m., you may need to dose your dog at 7 p.m.

Fourth of July fireworks are a great American tradition – just remember that your dog may not appreciate them and may need some extra management to get through the night safely.

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{ 1 comment… add one }
  • Marlene July 3, 2012, 11:44 pm

    Instead of sedation, it’s worth giving anti-anxiety medications like benzodiazepines a try. They generally do not sedate all that much but relieve the anxiety so the pet can experience the fireworks (or other fear inducing stimulus like a thunderstorm) awake but not afraid. Sometimes this helps them to learn that there isn’t anything to worry about.

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