By: Donna Cox, CVT Donna is a Certified Vet Technician, Lakewood Veterinary Hospital, Lakewood, CO and Duffy’s Mom. 

It’s that time of the year again, when fireworks fill the skies. They may be from a professional display or the kid next door in his driveway. Whatever the source, the noise can be terrifying for some pets. Behavior modification is an excellent way to condition the pet so they are less anxious, however this close to the 4th, that technique is not practical. Different strategies will help pets get through 2009, while pet-parents look more long-term for 2010.

Many dogs attempt to hide when they hear the noise from fireworks or thunderstorms. A comfortable crate, preferably located in a quiet, dark location, is very helpful. Adequate crate training is necessary. Soothing background or “white noise” can also be beneficial.  However, some pets prefer to stay as close to their owners as possible. This is the M.O. of Duffy, my 4-year-old Boarder Collie.  Allowing them to be with you, if you are home, is very comforting to them. I try to frequently feed Duffy treats in his crate, just in case I need to use it. He can be destructive if “freaked” and left alone.  I would not hesitate to use anti-anxiety drugs on healthy pets, since fireworks can be so terrifying to some.  Owners should consult their own veterinarians regarding this, as the drug(s) of choice can vary with breed, age and individual health concerns.

Natural alternatives are also an option, and I recommend Rescue Remedy, a flower essence therapy, or Pro Quiet, an L-Tryptophan supplement. Lavender has been shown in studies to be calming with travel anxiety, though I know of no studies with noise phobias.

A new approach is to use dog appeasing pheromones, or DAP. Female dogs secrete pheromones that comfort and reassure their nursing puppies. These “appeasement” pheromones have the same calming effect on adult dogs. DAP mimics these appeasement pheromones to reduce stress in dogs of all ages.  The natural remedies may be adequate for mild anxiety or may reduce the amount of pharmaceutical treatment needed. Personally, I prefer to have the option of at least having the medications on hand in case Duffy needs them.

Looking toward July 4, 2010, the best defense against Fourth of July problems is a good offense. Professional trainers and behaviorists start socializing dogs and making every potentially negative experience — such as fireworks and thunderstorms — into something rewarding.  One way to help your pet is to expose him or her to commercial recordings of thunderstorms or fireworks and play them at gradually increasing volume. Be sure to start at very low volume, since a pet’s hearing is very acute. Give lots of praise and treats. As the volume and duration are increased during subsequent sessions, give them tasty treats so they have the expectation of a repeat treat. Initially, play the recording for five minutes, eventually leaving it on during daily activities as “normal” background noise. As always, be sure that your behavior and voice remain calm and unstressed.