Q: Canada Day is around the corner, my dog is fearful of fireworks, is there anything I can do?
A: You are not alone, many dog owners dread the fireworks celebrations we see every summer due to the stress, anxiety and fear they provoke in their dogs. Not only do many dogs suffer from fireworks phobia, it can be so severe that in the panic they hurt themselves trying to escape them.
Some common signs of anxiety include pacing, panting, trembling, standing with tail tucked, hiding, attention-seeking behaviour, and excessive vocalization such as barking and crying.
Let’s discuss different things you can try to help calm him down and alleviate his stress. Be aware that like all behavioral issues there is no simple fix, finding resolution will require time, patience and understanding.
First, I recommend trying a behavior modification approach. This involves finding a way to adjust our pet’s perception of the fireworks experience, from a terrifying one to a fun and positive one. This can be done by distracting them and in turn desensitizing them to the scary stimulus. Try doing this with your dog’s favourite treats and favourite games/food puzzles (this is also a good thing to do with newly adopted dogs or puppies in order to ensure you start off with a positive experience around fireworks and prevent a negative association BEFORE it becomes an issue). Please take refuge together in a part of the house which they are used to, and where the fireworks are heard and seen the least. You can also play classical music (or other music you may like that your pet is used to) to drown out the noise.
DO NOT leave your dog outside, they are more likely to bolt and hurt themselves in the process. Remember to have your dog microchipped and your contact information adequately identifiable. In worst case scenario, if they run away, they can be reunited with you quickly and easily.
If behavior modification options are not enough to help your pet, there are other remedies available that include veterinary prescription medications (anti anxiolytics and mild tranquilizers) as well as non-prescription veterinary nutraceuticals (Zylkene), herbal remedies (Composure) and synthetic pheromones (Adaptil). There are also anxiety-reducing wraps or shirts (Thundershirts) available. Ear muffs may also work if your dog tolerates them.
Remember it will take time and experimentation, until you find a combination that works best for your dog.
Talk with your family vet, to see what options they recommend specifically for your pet. Hopefully, with a little help and patience, together we can keep your pet calm and safe during any fireworks season.
Dr. Natasha Russell graduated from the University of Chile and practices in Edmonton at the Delton Veterinary Hospital.