Ask Dr. Jenn: My dog is terrified of loud noises, especially fireworks and thunder. What can I do to make the Fourth of July easier for him?
Are you struggling to keep your dog calm during Fourth of July? Here are some ways to reduce their anxiety.
This is a common problem. The Fourth of July is fun for people but torture for so many of our canine companions. A friend of mine would load her dog up in the car and drive thirty miles into the country during the big firework display.
A car ride away from the noise may have been a good solution for Stella but is not a practical solution for most dog parents. So, what else can you do?
If your dog’s anxiety isn’t too severe, sometimes all it takes is background noise to drown out the scary noises outside. Let Fido hang out in a room without a lot of windows and turn on the TV or radio. Classical music especially has been shown to calm anxious dogs. Dr. Susan Wagner, a veterinary neurologist, developed a special playlist called “Through a Dog’s Ear”. This playlist consists of piano music at frequencies and patterns that calm a dog’s nervous system. The playlist is available in a variety of forms including CDs, preprogrammed speakers, and even a Spotify playlist.
Another way to reduce anxiety in some dogs is to provide gentle but constant pressure across the body. I am not suggesting that you squeeze your pooch for hours at a time – that’s likely to create more anxiety for you and him! Instead, I recommend purchasing a new outfit for your dog in the form of a compression coat/jacket/vest/shirt. There are many brands available but the one I recommend is the Thundershirt. These special articles of clothing fit snuggly and provide just the right amount of compression in just the right places – kind of like swaddling helps calm a newborn baby.
Have you ever heard of a pheromone? The Oxford English Dictionary defines a pheromone as “a chemical substance produced and released into the environment by an animal, affecting the behavior or physiology of others of its species”. So, what does that have to do with your dog’s anxiety? Scientists have figured out the pheromone a mother dog releases to comfort her nursing puppies and have recreated it in the laboratory. This comforting pheromone also helps calm adult dogs in anxious situations. Adaptil is the product I am most familiar with and is available as a spray, a collar, or a plug-in.
Supplements are extremely popular. There are many different supplements on the market, most available over the counter. Some contain CBD oil, Rescue Remedy, herbs, or milk proteins to create a sense of calm in your dog. Every dog responds differently to supplements. A supplement that helps your friend’s dog may not be effective in your dog. Not all supplements are created equally, so make sure you consult with your veterinarian before you purchase one. Also, remember that most supplements do not work right away. They need to build up in your dog’s system over a few days to weeks before reaching their full effect.
If these homeopathic methods aren’t enough to calm your dog through fireworks or thunderstorms, a consultation with your vet is recommended. Anti-anxiety medications, such as Trazodone or Alprazolam, may be necessary. The prescription medication Sileo is another great option and has been proven to reduce noise phobia in dogs. Sileo is in gel form and is applied inside the cheek, so you don’t have to try to make an already anxious dog swallow a pill. In most dogs, it greatly reduces their anxiety to loud noises but does not cause significant drowsiness.
Some pets respond well to desensitization training. This is done by slowly exposing her to louder and louder noises in a safe and controlled environment. This takes time and should be done with the guidance of a veterinary behaviorist, so it is likely too late to start this now. However, it may be something to consider working on this winter in preparation for next year.
These are just a few tips to make this summer less stressful for anxious dogs. What works for one dog may not work for another. Anxiety also tends to worsen with age. What may have helped last year may not be enough this year. Some dogs need more than one method to keep them calm. My little doggy will be celebrating the fireworks wearing her Thundershirt and listening to classical music in a room in the basement of the house. If this isn’t enough, I will have Sileo ready for her.