June 30th, 2015

Fear of Fireworks

Becky Lundgren, DVM

Summer is full of celebrations involving fireworks. Canada has Canada Day on July 1, the USA has Independence Day on July 4, and France has Bastille Day on July 14. Dogs and cats react to fireworks as individuals. Some aren’t upset by the explosions, and others get hurt by panicking and jumping through closed windows or bolting through doors to get away from the terrifying noise and lights.

American pet advocacy groups point out that the number of escapees is so high that Independence Day is the busiest day of the year in shelters — and that many pets get lost, injured, or killed. You should know which clinics or emergency hospitals will be open during fireworks season, in case you need one, as this will help you avoid time delays and stress.

Your pets will do better if they’re not left home alone during fireworks events. That’s not always feasible, so think ahead before leaving them alone.

Signs of anxiety can include pacing, trembling, panting, drooling, attention-seeking (vocalizing, pawing, nuzzling, and climbing on people), hiding, and bolting. Escape attempts tend to involve hiding behind furniture, and staying in a basement or bathroom. Because the source of the noise is confusing, inside dogs may want to escape to the outside, and outside dogs may be frantic to get inside.

Nervous pets tend to drink more water, so keep more available than usual. (And remember, these summer events usually mean hotter weather, and the likelihood of power problems, so extra water is already a good idea.) Bring outside pets inside, so they can’t bolt. Keep your cats securely inside, and if your dog needs a potty break during the fireworks, take him outside on a leash, even in a fenced yard. Make sure all your pets are wearing an ID tag or a collar that contains your phone number. Tags and collars can be lost, so a microchip is even more useful in helping you find your lost pet.

Drug-Free Remedies

What can you do to keep your frightened pet safe and calm? For many frightened pets, just staying in a crate (as long as they are used to one) or in a “safe” room with a closed door is all that’s needed.

Synthetic pheromone sprays such as Feliway  for cats and Adaptil (formerly called D.A.P.) for dogs are available at pet stores. These sprays imitate the properties of the natural pheromones of the lactating female that gives kittens or puppies a sense of well-being.

An herbal relaxant called Composure comes in chews or liquid for dogs; the feline version is in chews.
Some pets respond to pressure wraps, such as Thundershirts or Anxiety Wraps. The pressure on the body may have a calming effect.

Ear muffs to muffle sound are also available.

Calming caps cover a dog’s eyes to reduce visual stimulation.

If you can plan ahead for these summer events, veterinary behaviorists often recommend behavior modification, classical counter conditioning, and teaching a desirable coping response.

In behavior modification, controlling the intensity of the fireworks is necessary and often the most challenging part. While it often isn’t possible to expose a fearful dog to only “little fireworks,” controlling other factors can help. Distance from the fireworks can be less intimidating, as would be keeping the dog indoors.  Music may disguise the bursts of noise; consider loud music with a regular beat.

Classical counter conditioning can create a positive association with fireworks if the anxiety isn’t extreme. Give high-value food rewards (canned food or peanut butter), offer your pet his favorite toys or food puzzle toys, or have your pet practice his tricks with you. The goal is for him to learn that fireworks result in highly pleasant rewards.
You can teach a desirable coping response. The appropriate response for a dog facing something frightening is to retreat to a safe place until the frightening thing ends. Providing a safe retreat, such as a crate or a closet, will give security and confidence, although selecting the location is up to the pet. Blankets to muffle the sound and a pheromone diffuser will provide natural motivation for the dog to seek this location. Being able to cope when the world becomes overwhelming is a life skill essential for both people and dogs!  Hiding is not a sign of a problem, if the pet quickly returns to a normal behavior when the fireworks are over.


It’s easier to prevent a fearful reaction than it is to reverse one. If your pet is nervous around loud, unexpected noises, a short-term sedative before the fireworks start may be just the ticket. Talk to your veterinarian ahead of time, so you can have something on hand to give your pet before the fireworks start. Some medications often used for fireworks or thunderstorm phobias in dogs are Xanax and Valium.
Some severely anxious pets may benefit from drugs like clomipramine or fluoxetine that increase the level of serotonin. However, these drugs can take several weeks, if not more, to build up to an effective level, so this is not spur-of-the-moment fix.

You have many choices of how to help your pet cope with fireworks stress.  Talk to your veterinarian about what is best for your pet. Hopefully, everyone in the family will then be able enjoy the holiday!

Noise Phobia Can Be Treated

February 23rd, 2012

“You enter into a certain amount of madness when you marry a person with pets.” – Nora Ephron

Hello pets and pet lovers!  I recently received this email I’d like to share with you.

 Dear Egan,

Do you think you could address the frightening issue of thunder?  It didn’t bother me when I was a baby, but now it does and I think I get worse with every thunderstorm we have.  My momma doesn’t think I’m upset enough for medicine but I wish she knew of some good things to help me when I’m scared…Is there anything else she can do?  I really hate being scared and I know my momma is worried about me.

 Thanks cousin. 


Bjorn (aka Bear)


 Thanks, Bjorn, for the email.  I’m glad you brought up this topic.  Spring is approaching and with it is the likelihood for severe weather, including thunderstorms. 

 Thunderstorm anxiety – or rather fear of noises – is a common problem among many of our friends and relatives. It is usually accompanied by panting, pacing, trembling, remaining near the caregiver, hiding, excessive salivation, destructiveness, excessive vocalization, self-trauma, and/or inappropriate elimination.  Any or all of these behaviors, to any degree, may be a sign of noise phobia or anxiety.

 Some dogs are terrified of all loud noises, such as thunder, firecrackers, and gunshots, while others will tolerate some of these sounds and be frightened by others.  Many hunting dogs have no aversion to the sound of a gun, but will run and hide during a thunderstorm.  It is inexplicable as to why our canine brothers and sisters should fear one but not the other.

 Unfortunately, there is no single, magical solution to this problem.  As in your case, the anxiety may not be severe enough to merit a medical solution, but that doesn’t make the problem any less stressful on you or your people.  In these cases the solution may be found in some of the suggestions that follow.

 There are literally dozens of anxiolytic agents – drugs which decrease anxiety – used by veterinarians to combat noise phobias.  They may be used alone or in combination with other drugs.  Some must be given daily while others are given only when the fearful stimulus is present.  These agents are often necessary to combat noise or storm phobias.

 For those pet parents who prefer to avoid medical intervention, some homeopathic remedies exist.  Since I do not suffer from this malady, I have no personal experience with these treatments and my research has uncovered mixed results in response to their use.

 The most common remedy – and one with the most positive feedback – has been the use of peppermint oil.  Applying straight peppermint essential oil – just a drop – on one or two of the paw pads during the fear-inducing episode appears to distract the pet and cause a soothing effect.

Another remedy recommended by a veterinarian/pet-owner is Homeo-Pet’s TFLN, a homeopathic remedy.   Approximately 15 drops on the pet’s gums or mucous membranes seems to take effect within 15-30 minutes. This owner put it on a piece of bread and fed it to her dog with good results. 

Another treatment I’ve read about that has gotten good reviews is the DAP (dog appeasing pheromone) diffuser or collar. These items produce a pheromone similar to the scent of a mother-dog so it is thought to be soothing to the pet.  These can be used alone or in combination with medication.

Tasha’s Easy-Does-It is another homeopathic therapy that is often used with a skullcap to decrease anxiety.  Again, it has received some good reviews from other veterinarians.

Perhaps the non-medical remedy that shows the most promise to me is the “Thundershirt.”  My research has turned up very positive results as well as an endorsement by Dr. Temple Grandin, a world-renowned and reputable animal behaviorist whose area of expertise is designing and improving animal facilities to reduce stress on the animals.

It also helps to find a quiet place for the dog to “hide” in and then put on some “white noise” to block the sounds of the fear-inducing noise.

Of course most of these remedies should be accompanied by a desensitization program for best results.  While this requires an initial investment of time and effort, in the long run the response will be positive. If you don’t get the behavior modification component integrated from the beginning, many of these other treatments may be minimally effective at best.

This article should in no way be considered an endorsement for any of these treatments or medications.  Before starting any treatment, you should consult with your veterinarian. 

Hope this helps.

Until next time, keep your tail in the air and your nose in the breeze…the storms are coming!

 (photo by Dixdelel)