By Dr. Bruce Little
The 4th of July is rapidly approaching which means there will be fireworks in our city parks, commercial buildings, on our streets, and in our back yards endlessly. Both legal and illegal fireworks will be everywhere in our cities and towns, and since this year will be a four-day holiday, the action will continue for several days and the noise intense. This holiday is a fun time for our families; however, it can be quite stressful for our pets. More pets run away over the July 4th holiday than any time of the year. Most animal shelters consider July 5th to be one of their busiest and hectic days due to the overuse of shelters as these runaway dogs are picked up by animal control officers and the Good Samaritans among us. According to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), a 2016 Harris Poll survey reported that 44 percent of owners determined their dogs had signs of noise aversion. This condition could be any loud noise at any time of year; however, spring and summer brings with them outdoor festivities, thunderstorms, and Fourth of July fireworks that make dogs who are prone to noise anxiety miserable. Although many dogs don’t seem to be bothered by the sounds and sights of fireworks, others become terrified during this annual celebration. Dogs suffering from noise aversion are distressed. They can display a wide range of behaviors, such as pacing and panting, and may damage property to escape from the noise. These frightened dogs will show signs of anxiety at the first sound of the explosions of fireworks as well as the flash that is associated with them. For those dogs that express mild distress during the traditional fireworks on this holiday, you may be able to control their fear satisfactorily by closing them in a basement or otherwise dark room. Close the blinds and play music on the radio or stereo and this might be enough to cover the noise and flash that makes them exhibit their distress. If you live close to the fireworks display, this method might not be enough to abate the sounds and sights and you may have to resort to stronger methods to relieve them of their fear. It is always better to begin protective measures prior to any holiday celebrations because once anxiety has set in, remedial measures will likely not be as effective.
There are several products that can be purchased at pet stores that may help your dogs to overcome their anxiety during fireworks displays. There is a product called a Thundershirt that is placed on the dog’s body that acts to create the presence of acupressure that helps some dogs. A hood that fits over the dog’s head called a Calming Cap is recommended by some behavioral experts who report the cap will lessen the anxiety seen in some dogs. There are various calming sprays and hormone solutions, one product named Feliway and another called Adaptil, that may lessen the fear in these situations. All these products are available at pet stores across the country. We must remember that dogs hear by amplifying sounds many times more than what humans do. Therefore, using ear plugs of any sort in dogs to lessen the effect of noises may have limited impact. Perhaps the best process for mitigating fear of fireworks is to work with the dog in advance of the holiday to help them become accustomed to loud noises and flashing lights. If successful in changing the behavior of your dog, you will no longer have to concern yourself with preparing for fireworks displays and activities around this holiday.
The above tips may or may not help your dog in your circumstances. If that is the case, consult your veterinarian about the use of anti-anxiety drugs that are available for use in cases of fear of fireworks, thunderstorms or other loud noises and flashes of light such as lightning. There are a variety of drugs that are tailored to fit certain degrees of anxiety including tranquillizers, pheromones, and herbal medications. The drugs need to be compatible with the conditions your dog exhibits and other health considerations. Your veterinarian will know how to determine which drug is most likely to be successful and is safe, and will recommend the appropriate product and dosage.
Approximately one year ago, Zoetis Animal Health began distributing an oral gel product named Sileo® that may help your dog overcome fear and anxiety from fireworks, including the large municipal displays and the noises of the neighborhood explosives and sparklers that people use. Test studies indicate that approximately 90% of dogs gain some level of relief from noise anxiety with the use of this drug. Zoetis does caution that no studies have been done to test the efficacy of Sileo® during thunderstorms or other weather-related conditions that might create anxiety in a dog. In May 2017, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) alerted dog owners and veterinarians about the possible risk of accidental overdose of dogs treated with Sileo®. The FDA had received several reports of dogs being overdosed with the use of Sileo® and is conducting an inquiry as to the cause. Sileo® is packaged in an oral dosing syringe with a ring-stop mechanism on the plunger that must be “dialed” and locked into place to administer the correct dosage. There is speculation that the cause of overdosing may be due to incorrect usage of the needleless syringes. Clinical signs of an overdose include lethargy, sedation, sleepiness, slow heart rate, shallow breathing, muscle tremors, incoordination, and loss of consciousness. It is important for users of Sileo® to get complete instructions on how to use the dosage delivery package to get the appropriate level of medication. Sileo® is a prescription drug and must be obtained through a prescription from your veterinarian. When purchasing Sileo®, be sure that a responsible adult is present to learn from animal hospital staff how to properly administer this drug. There may be other noise aversion drugs available of which your veterinarian can inform you.
It is never a good idea to leave your dog at home by itself during fireworks activities. If fear overtakes them, they are subject to go to great lengths to escape the cause of their fear. They might jump over or dig under a fence, breach the electronic fence, or dart through an open door to escape. They might chew through the wall to escape a room that gives them access to an exit from the house or other enclosure in which they have been placed. Be sure your dog is protected with an electronic microchip or a safe collar with your name, address, and telephone number so if it does go missing, it can be returned to his owner upon rescue.
The 4th of July holiday is a time for festivities that include family and friends, outside picnics and BBQ’s, guests who might bring their dogs with them, and late nights watching the fireworks at the community center or other popular locations. Plan a strategy for keeping the four-legged family members as comfortable as they can be by protecting them from as much of the noise and flashing lights as possible if they cause them anxiety. Consult with your veterinarian about steps you can take to mitigate these causes of discomfort and develop a plan for your dog’s best well-being. The dog will appreciate it, and the family will enjoy the holiday to its best extent.
In general terms, cats do not seem to have as many issues with fireworks as dogs. Some do become frightened; however, many cats will simply find a place to hide such as under the bed or behind the couch or some other safe haven to sit out the intrusion. The best thing to do is leave them there until the fireworks are over.
For more information go to:
American Veterinary Medical Association at: http://www.avma.org
Zoetis Animal Pharmaceutical Company at: http://www.sileosoundsolution.com