When you think of New Year’s fireworks, you probably think of fun, powerful bursts of color and happy celebration. However, your dog may think of big scary explosions and danger. Many dogs experience fireworks anxiety, or panic triggered by the loud, booming noises. Dog owners often ask, “How can I relieve my dog’s stress during the New Year’s celebration?” Dr. Jill Sackman, BluePearl’s Michigan medical director, veterinarian on our behavioral medicine service and expert on low-stress handling for pets, gives us the answers.
Know the signs. Common signs of panic in dogs include panting, pacing, drooling and barking. Your dog may also try to hide or run from the booming noise. Monitor your pet for any changes in behavior or signs of stress, especially if you don’t know how your dog handles loud noises and bright flashes.
Try medications. If you know your dog panics when he hears fireworks, consider talking to your family veterinarian about Sileo, an anti-anxiety medication specifically known for treating noise aversion in dogs. Sileo is a gel that you can easily administer by rubbing it in between your dog’s cheek and gum. Unlike tranquilizers, Sileo targets the brain activity associated with your dog’s fear of loud noises. You can also consider other behavioral medications such as Zylkene, a milk-based protein with anti-anxiety effects, or Solliquin, a supplement which can help calm your dog during stressful situations. When choosing an anti-anxiety medication for your dog, it is important to have a discussion with your veterinarian and select a reputable, established brand. If the frequency of noise anxiety is greater than a few times per year, owners should consider talking to a veterinary behaviorist about daily anti-anxiety medication and ways to desensitize their pet to the noise.
Create a quiet space. Before the fireworks begin, move your dog to the quietest safe area of your home. This could be a basement, a room in the center of the house, or an area with the most insulation in the walls. You can also play some gentle music or use a white noise machine to help drown out some of the scary sounds. Fill the quiet room with soft blankets, fun toys and a few treats.
Provide an edible distraction. Your dog’s passion for food may conquer his fear of fireworks. Use a fillable or Kong-style toy to create a scrumptious challenge for your dog to snack on during the evening fireworks. Fill the toy with dog food, treats or fresh veggies and then add peanut butter, yogurt or applesauce to fill the gaps. Place the toy in the freezer a few hours before the fireworks, then give it to him when the noises begin. You can also consider giving him a safe Nylabone-style chew or rawhide treat.
Comfort and love your dog. When your dog experiences fireworks anxiety, he feels genuine fear and panic. Receiving love and comfort from trusted humans can help tremendously. Support your dog by speaking to him in a soothing voice and offering snuggles. Your dog may also benefit from playful interactions with you, such as fetching a ball or playing with a toy.
Look into anti-anxiety pet products. Because fireworks anxiety is so common in dogs, you can now find many products designed to help them stay calm. Try out dog ear muffs or a snug anti-anxiety shirt. You can also look for puzzle toys designed to keep their minds occupied and distract them from fear.
“Fireworks are truly scary to dogs. They can experience very real panic attacks,” says Dr. Sackman. “The best thing dog owners can do is try to reduce their fear and anxiety.”
For more information on holiday safety, visit our recent press release.
If your dog frequently experiences loud noise anxiety, speak to your family veterinarian or a veterinary behaviorist.