By: Dr. Hilary Slaven
The Fourth of July Holiday. It’s a wonderful time of year, with warm weather and picnics and time spent outside with loved ones. Often we celebrate our country’s independence with a BANG! (literally). For some of us, that’s thrilling. For those of us that have furry friends that are frightened by things that go ‘boom’ and ‘flash’, it can be a tough season of the year.
Compounding the problem, the holiday falls right in the middle of severe thunderstorm season, which can mean several months of anxiety management at home.
To some extent, all dogs and cats have some fear of anything that falls out of a normal routine, especially loud noises. Some pets are overly fearful, to the point where we as their humans need to intervene.
This fear can exhibit itself in many different ways. These can include hiding, pacing, whining, drooling, howling, trembling, destruction of things in the environment, and urinating or stooling. Often, they seek proximity to the owner and may paw at them or attempt to climb into their lap.
This can be really scary for them and for us too!!
Some simple things that can be done to help calm your pet:
1. Turn on the radio or the TV. This type of “white noise” can help to mask thunder or firework noise.
2. Move the pet to a quieter place of your home, such as an interior bathroom or basement. Some pets prefer a place underneath a piece of furniture as a ‘safe’ place. If your pet is primarily outside, move him inside until the storm passes.
3. Consider a D.A.P. diffuser to plug into a wall close to the pet’s safe place throughout the storm event. (D.A.P. = Dog Appeasing Pheromone.) It is a product that contains a synthetic naturally occurring dog hormone. D.A.P. has been proven in multiple studies to decrease stress, and is available in a plug-in, a collar, and a spray. A spray can be used on a favorite toy and kept with the pet during stressful situations.
4. If your pet is seeking your attention during a storm, it is good to be near to them and provide comfort with that closeness. It is a good idea to stay calm and to develop a routine during storms (i.e. sit in the same place, do a quiet activity).
Conversely, it is not always a good idea to ‘coddle’ your furry friend during fearful situations. Meaning that hugging, holding, caressing your pet throughout the storm can develop a habit over time. Your dog now expects to be hugged and loved during every storm, even if he becomes less fearful over time, he will repeat the behavior because he has learned that when storms come, he gets constant attention. This attention seeking will occur whether the storm is at 2 PM or at 2 AM, so both of you are guaranteed to be up at night when storms are passing through.
5. Close fitting jackets such as the Thundershirt can help a dog to feel held and comforted. We have heard good feedback from owners, especially when used alongside the aforementioned tips.
6. Severe anxiety may not respond to efforts at home. At these times, oral medications may be the next option to help a dog or cat to cope with the fear and panic that these events bring. There are a number of medications available to veterinarians that can either sedate or calm an anxious pet. Often a pet needs a medication to lower the stress level enough to be able to learn a routine for storms.
If your pet has anxiety and medication is warranted, your veterinarian can tailor a medical plan to your pet and your situation.
Another thing to note: phobia over loud noises and light is often not ‘cured’, but signs improve and are less severe over time with appropriate treatment.
Finally, if you have learned that your dog is storm fearful, there are things that can be done at home during the off-season to prepare for this time. The term is ‘desensitization’. The idea is that during the off-season (December, January, and February), you are gradually introducing loud sounds with the help of a CD or audio file within your home. Over time, the dog will become less fearful of these sounds (they will become commonplace). Then, when the storm season hits, the sounds are not so foreign and can be handled much more easily. Check out this website for audio sounds: soundtherapy4pets
Contact us if you need help managing a fearful pet during this season! We want your pet to enjoy the fun of the Fourth of July holiday too.