It’s that time of year again for fireworks. As much as we look forward to cookouts, spending time with family and friends, and of course fireworks; our pets may dread this time of year just as much. About 50% of pets suffer from firework and storm phobias. While storms may be hard to predict, fireworks we can try to plan for.
Some of the signs of firework and storm phobias are similar among dogs and cats, but some differ. Here are behaviors to look for with your pets:
- Vocalizing (howling/barking)
- Attention seeking
- Wide eyes with dilated pupils
- Vocalizing (somewhat rare with cats)
While it can be very difficult to deal with a pet suffering from this phobia, there are measures you can take to give your loved one, and you, some comfort. There are three main categories to treat, or alleviate, this phobia. They are behavioral, medical, and physical.
There are a number of behavioral things you can do to help your pet by changing not only his behavior, but your behavior as well. The most important thing is DO NOT CHANGE YOUR BEHAVIOR during a storm or fireworks. He will feed off of your anxiety which will make the situation worse for him. Do not baby your pet, as hard as this will be, because this will alert him that there is something to be concerned about.
Try to drown out the noise by closing windows and doors. Use fans on full speed throughout the house. Turn on the TV or radio. Allow your pet to hide. Do not force them to come out and “face their fears“. This may be too much for them. Animals like small, dark, hidden spaces. This allows them to feel safe.
The last is reconditioning, which will take time to accomplish but is well worth it. Play a video on TV of storms or fireworks on low volume while petting your little one and giving treats. Make this a nice comfortable environment so that it is a good experience.
Continue to turn up the volume a little at a time. If at any point they act anxious, turn the volume back down, and repeat the process. Eventually they will associate the loud noises with pleasant experiences.
There are many medical options to treat firework and storm phobias, both holistic and traditional.
Holistic: Most of the holistic remedies can be used on an as needed basis given about 30-60 minutes prior to the stressful event. Some examples are:
- Pheromones: DAP is a dog pheromone that is released after the mother has puppies and produces a calming effect. It is available in a spray or a plug-in diffuser to use in the environment. Feliway is a cat pheromone that is very similar to DAP that also creates a calming effect and is supplied in a spray or diffuser.
- Melatonin which creates a calming effect
- HomeoPet Anxiety pills
- Quiet Tabs
Short-term Medication: Short term mediations are used on an as needed basis and take effect within 30-60 minutes. They usually last only a couple hours but this is generally sufficient time to get through the stressful event. These are prescription medications, such as Valium, that you will need to contact your veterinarian for.
Long-term Medication: If your pet shows signs of anxiety in numerous situations and seems to be a daily occurrence, then he/she may be a good candidate for long term anxiety medications. The two most commonly used are Fluoxitine (prozac) and Clomipramine (clomicalm).
These take a minimum of 2-4 weeks to produce any effect, so will need to be started well before a stressful event. If you think your pet may benefit from anxiety medication, you will need to discuss this with your veterinarian.
There is also a physical treatment for storm and firework phobias, the Thunder Shirt. There are many different types on the market. This is similar to the “hug technique” used with autistic children and the swaddling used with infants to create a constant gentle pressure around their torso. This pressure causes the release of endorphins which are calming hormones. The great benefit to this is that there are no detrimental side effects.