It’s here! Fireworks season is, for some, a great time to enjoy the beautiful explosions of light and sound high overhead. But many dogs don’t get as excited about fireworks as their humans. Many are actually terrified of them. (Of course, the same is true of many people!) For many pet lovers, this loud, colorful season of celebration is actually a stressful time. It doesn’t have to be that way for you or your beloved pet.
Why does your dog shake, hide, bark, maybe urinate or even run away during these festivities?
A study by the School of Veterinary Sciences at the University of Bristol found that there are multiple signs of fear or anxiety in animals that are underreported. Many of us identify the normal signs such as shaking, trembling, seeking human comfort, or barking, because those are what we tend to do when dealing with fear – except maybe for barking.
The research found that “Other behavioral signs, such as decreased activity or salivation, may not be as easily recognized by owners as signs of fear, and may be under-reported. Also, signs of urination, salivation and destruction may make pet parents disappointed or angry, and this may influence their interpretation that such behaviors are associated with fearfulness.”
The study concluded that a dog’s early life experiences greatly influence this behavior. “Our results suggest that the characteristics of dogs, their early environment, and exposure to specific loud noises are involved in the development of fear responses to noises.” A full 45% of dogs struggle with firework induced anxiety. An additional outcome of the study showed that less than a third of dog owners sought advice from a veterinary professional on how to best help their furry friend cope with all of these environmental situations.
Reduce some of that anxiety by understanding some causes of these reactions and offer some ways that you can help keep your four-legged friends feeling safe during the upcoming holiday season.
We’ve included several tips on how to help your dog manage these triggers. Remember, you should always seek the help of your vet in how best to manage the anxiety that your pet may be dealing with.
1. Take your dog for a walk.
Getting your dog out for some exercise before the fireworks start can help put them in a calmer state when the show starts. Additionally, getting your dog to run around or chase a ball can help them naturally use up some energy to ease their nerves for the evening show. You may even consider doing this multiple times throughout the day until the display begins. The more energy they burn ahead of time, the less they have to expend when they get stressed.
2. Create a safe space.
If you know your pet is likely to experience anxiety due to fireworks, try creating a safe space for them where they can be comfortable. Make sure their favorite toys and pillows are close by during the fireworks. Having familiar comforts will help them with coping when the fireworks kick off and their anxiety is triggered. Think of it like you’re creating a den for your dog. You can also add a dog appeasing pheromone into the environment, which has been shown to have a calming effect on your dog.
3. Pet and cuddle them.
Providing comfort to your pet by petting and holding them will remind your animal that they are safe in your caring arms. Comforting by physical touch will soothe your pet just as they do for you in your moments of stress.
4. Try CBD or hemp chews.
CBD or hemp can be calming for both people and animals. Pet stores now carry a variety of hemp-based options for dogs which may help your pet to feel calm for the fireworks and significantly reduce their reaction to show time.
5. Use a compression hoodie.
Try reducing the noise level for your pet. A compression hoodie wraps around your pet’s ears to help ease firework anxiety through sensory deprivation. The hoodie will help function as a “noise cancelling headset” for your pet so that they do not encounter the fireworks as dramatically and everyone can enjoy the evening more.
6. Try a weighted vest.
A weighted vest provides a swaddled effect on your pet much like when swaddling a baby. This will help your dog feel safe and secure when the noise comes. There are many versions of these available on the market, so do your research before purchasing one for your dog. Some are geared towards helping a dog be healthier and more fit and do more than just provide comfort. There are some that are waterproof and meant for recreational purposes, and there are sizes and colors for every dog out there. Bonus: this can also be helpful if your dog experiences anxiety during thunderstorms.
7. Reduce the noise.
Try to reduce the sound of the fireworks for your pet as much as possible by closing windows and curtains and playing music or utilizing a white noise machine. Doing so will reduce the impact of the noise for your pet, making the experience altogether less alarming.
8. Talk to your vet.
Ask your pet’s vet about medication options to help ease your dog’s anxiety. Vets will often provide a mild sedative to help your dog relax and stay calm during a fireworks show. Be sure to have an informed, thorough conversation with your veterinarian on this topic. You don’t want your dog to become dependent on medication and a behavioral modification plan should be part of any treatment. Some sedatives act as a numbing effect and don’t actually calm the dog’s fears; they simply don’t let them respond, which isn’t what you want for your pet. A good sedative would allow your dog to experience the fireworks while reducing their fear.
This list is not exhaustive! There are many options available to you to ease your pet’s nerves during this loud season of celebration. Discuss further options with your vet on how to best help your best friend deal with the fireworks. If your pet struggles with high anxiety during fireworks season, be sure to be prepared in advance with the tips listed above.
You’ll additionally want to be sure your dog is fully vaccinated and wearing proper ID in case they run off: this way they can get home safely and be protected from other run-ins with animal friends. By taking these measures to ensure the comfort and security of your pet, you will be able to enjoy the colorful displays of fireworks knowing your animal is properly equipped to face the fanfare. By ensuring that your dog also enjoys them, you can both have a great summer of having fun!