It’s that time of year when fireworks and thunderstorms send many dogs cowering in fear or bolting for the hills. Here are some tips to make this noisy summer season easier on our pups.
Keep your dog at home. Your pup does not want to attend the local fireworks festivities. Trust us.
Leashes and collars are a must for safety. A panicked dog can bolt if startled by a boom of thunder or fireworks and might jump over or dig under a fence. Leash up before taking your dog outside, make sure your dog is wearing a collar with ID tags, and secure windows and doorways so your dog can’t scoot out. Cats should be kept safely inside.
Create a safe haven. Some dogs like to find a quiet spot to ride out the commotion – the basement, a closet, or even the bathtub! Allow your dog to find a spot where they feel safe, but don’t confine them there if they tend to panic. If your neighborhood is very noisy, consider putting your (leashed up) dog in the car and spending some quality time together at the nearest parking garage; an airport is ideal because you’ll have plenty of space from neighborhood fireworks.
Comforting your dog is fine and will not “reinforce their fear” (that’s not a thing). Speak in calm, reassuring tones, and allow your dog to cuddle if that helps them feel better. Get some high-value treats (think string cheese, hot dogs) and make it rain treats whenever your dog hears any booms or bangs.
Keep your dog occupied with a Kong stuffed with treats and canned dog food, a chew toy, or a food dispensing or puzzle toy. Get Kong stuffing tips and check out our favorite toys. Run a fan or white noise machine to shield your dog from external sounds. Play quiet music or check out the music from Through a Dog’s Ear that is designed specifically to help dogs feel calm and relaxed.
Medication can be very helpful, and should be considered if your dog is highly fearful or phobic about storms or noises. Your vet will be happy to talk with you about medication options. Consider doing a trial dose or two to assess how your dog responds to a particular medication.
- Sileo (dexmedetomidine) blocks the release of norepinephrine, a chemical in the brain that is involved with the development of fear and anxiety. Sileo is FDA approved for treating noise aversion in dogs. It is a fast-acting medication that is given on an as-needed basis.
- Xanax (alprazolam) and Valium (diazepam) are anti-anxiety medications that commonly prescribed for storm phobia. These are fast-acting medications that can be given on an as-needed basis. Some dogs can have a paradoxical reaction to Xanax and become more agitated, so consider a trial dose to assess your dog’s response.
- Clonidine is a human blood pressure medication that acts in the central nervous system to inhibit the release of norepinephrine and may be useful in treating storm phobia.
- Acepromazine is not recommended because (i) it is a dissociative anesthetic, so it sedates the body but impairs the dog’s perceptions, which can increase anxiety, and (ii) one side effect is increased noise sensitivity.
Rescue Remedy is a homeopathic remedy that is a combination of several flower essences and is designed to help reduce anxiety.
Melatonin is a hormone used by humans for insomnia and jet lag; anecdotal reports indicate it may be helpful for storm phobia, although no studies have been done. Check with your vet about dosage for your dog.
Calming treats and supplements use natural ingredients to alleviate mild stress and anxiety. Some options to consider are Composure calming chews, Zuke’s Enhance Calming Functional Chews, Pet Naturals of Vermont calming treats, and the supplements Anxitane and Composure. Before using these kinds of products, consult with your veterinarian to confirm that the product is not contraindicated for any reason, and to confirm dosage. Be sure to read labels carefully, as you don’t want to inadvertently give your dog a double dose of any nutraceutical.
Body wraps like the Thundershirt use gentle pressure to calm your dog (the same idea behind swaddling a fussy baby). The Storm Defender is a similar product that has an anti-static lining to reduce the possibility of a static charge shock. Alternatively, you can take one of your old t-shirts, put it on your dog so the front of the shirt is on the dog’s back, and tie a knot to snug up the loose fabric at the bottom of the shirt. Supervise when using so you can determine if your dog will try to chew the body wrap.
DAP dog appeasing pheromone can enhance calm and alleviate anxiety. DAP is available as a spray for bedding, a diffuser for the room, or a collar. You can find DAP products at many pet supplies stores and online.
We hope these tips help you and your dog stay relaxed through this season of fireworks and thunderstorms!