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It's that time of year, when the sound of fireworks causes countless dogs to hide under the bed, in the bathroom, or in their owner's lap. Or worse, dig, chew, or otherwise bust out of any form of confinement, including the house or garage, and escape into the dangers of the outside world.
There are things you can do to help keep your dog calm during fireworks or other triggering events, such as thunderstorms. And this is something I speak about not only as a veterinarian of more than three decades, but as the owner of a dog with a fireworks phobia, Quixote.
Normally brave and bold, Quixote shakes uncontrollably and pants at the rate of about 300 times per minute during fireworks as well as thunderstorms. My mother-in-law Valdie’s Pekingese-Shih Tzu mix, Shing-I, gets into the basement bathtub or won’t leave her arms when she hears loud noises.
What I've learned is that the best defense against Fourth of July problems is a good offense.
Provide pets with safe, secure hiding spaces inside your home. Dogs and cats who are comfortable in crates can find them a good place to ride out the noise, especially if the crate is put in a quiet, darkened part of the house. Whatever you do, don’t just throw your pet outside. A terrified pet can find a way out of the yard and, once out, will just keep running. The Fourth is a sadly busy time for emergency veterinary clinics, with a steady stream of pets hit by cars, and for animal control facilities dealing with an influx of lost pets.
Anti-anxiety medication. If you know your pet becomes totally unhinged by fireworks noise, talk to your veterinarian before the holiday about an appropriate medication to calm your pet. Generic Xanax (alprazolam) is what does the trick for Quixote and Shing-I. I start them out a few days before the Fourth and continue until the day after. Discuss your pet's best options with your veterinarian.
Physical calming aids. Head halters, such as the Gentle Leader head collar, mimic how mother dogs control and comfort their young by putting pressure on the bridge of the nose or behind the ear. You can also try the Calming Cap, a product that fits over a pet’s head and eyes. The Gentle Leader head halter and Calming Cap are available through Premier products (http://www.premier.com).
The Thundershirt (http://www.thundershirt.com/) is based on research on both autistic humans and livestock that shows that anxiety can be reduced when gentle, all-over pressure is applied. My Facebook readers gave it a big thumbs-up when we discussed it recently.
Pheremones. Some behaviorists recommend pheromones, such as those found in Feliway (for cats) and DAP (dog-appeasing pheromones, for dogs) (http://www.petcomfortzone.com). These substances mimic those in nature that make animals feel more relaxed.
What have you found that works for your pets? Please share your ideas and experiences!