How to Make Sure Your Pet Doesn’t get Spooked by Fourth of July Festivities

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Fireworks on the Fourth of July may be a fun annual tradition for most of us, but for our pets – particularly dogs – this national holiday could be the most terrifying day of the year. We’ve all heard the horror stories about runaway pups and even worse, tragedies that can occur when pets are left unattended during festivities. JustAnswer Veterinarian Dr. Jo Myers gets questions every year on how to avoid these situations. Here is her best advice for pet owners.  

Why is it important to bring dogs inside and shut the windows during the 4th of  July?  

This isn’t necessarily important for every dog. If your dog appears unbothered by the noise and lights of fireworks, it’s fine for him to be where he can see them. But fireworks are stressful and scary for many dogs. Their reactions to the sudden loud noises and flashing lights can range from minor alarm to mortal fear. Dogs with noise aversion, an honest-to-goodness medical condition, are literally in fear for their lives when exposed to a noisy trigger like fireworks, and they are truly suffering. Mildly affected dogs will hide and tremble for a few hours while the fireworks go off, but dogs with severe noise aversion will destroy property and injure themselves in an effort to escape the scary sounds, and they may take days to recover.  

It’s awful for them and the best way to minimize these symptoms is to avoid exposure to  the fireworks. The purpose of bringing your dog inside and shutting the doors and  windows is to minimize the sounds. Go a step further and leave the lights on to mask firework flashing and turn up the music, or run a noisy fan to cover the sounds.  

Keeping your dog inside will also reduce the likelihood of him escaping during his panic  (if he’s inclined to do this) and getting hit by a car or some other bad outcome.  

Should dogs be left outside in the yard? 

It’s terrible to expose a dog to  something that causes this kind of panic. The odds that the dog will hurt himself in an effort to escape are high, and it’s also likely he will escape if he is unsupervised in a  yard.  

If fireworks frighten a dog, it’s better to give him a safe place to hide inside where he is shielded from the lights and sounds as much as possible.  

What if they have a dog house? 

A doghouse isn’t going to do much to shield the dog from the lights and sounds of  fireworks, so it’s inadequate for a severely noise-averse dog. If the dog is only a little afraid of fireworks and seems comforted by hiding in there, then it’s a reasonable solution. 

Should they be tied up? 

I’m not a fan of dogs being tied up, ever. It’s a last resort, regardless of if there are fireworks or not. Being tied up doesn’t do anything to help a dog who has a phobia triggered by fireworks and it can increase his fear, being trapped where he is exposed to the scary lights and sounds. But as a last resort, being tied can protect him from escaping and being hit by a car, etc., as a response to his panic.  

Why is it important to act secure and confident to reassure your pet during  fireworks?  

If you’re upset and anxious, your dog will pick up on that and become even more upset  and anxious. Acting that way essentially tells him the right way to respond to the current  situation is to freak out. On the other hand, if you are calm and confident, your dog will pick up on that as well and perhaps be able to follow your example. If your dog truly  suffers from noise aversion, however, this is a medical condition beyond his control, and  he needs additional help beyond your good example to stay calm.  

I know this isn’t a practical idea or likely to be popular with readers, but if your dog is  severely affected by fireworks, the best thing you can do is leave. Get him away from fireworks. Sure, I understand that in many locations people shoot off fireworks for weeks, but not being around them is  the real solution to the problem, regardless of if it’s an easy solution or not.  

When you cannot prevent exposure to fireworks, do all you can to minimize the  exposure to the noise and sound:  

• Provide your dog a safe place to hide in a kennel, under a bed, in a closet, or  under furniture 

• Run a loud fan, air conditioner, or play loud music 

• Draw the blinds but leave the lights on. Flashes show up more in a dark room Use strategies to provide relief:  

• A swaddling garment like a Thundershirt 

• Calming pheromones like DAP 

• Medications as prescribed by your veterinarian

Aside from the DAP products, the over-the-counter calming products don’t have any  proven benefit, even though they are popular. This includes CBD products. I don’t  recommend any of them (aside from a DAP product). If your dog has severe noise  aversion and shows serious symptoms like:  

• Inconsolable panic 

• Injuring himself 

• Destroying property 

• Severe trembling 

• Diarrhea 

…then he deserves medical care for this medical disorder. In order to avoid wasting  money on unproven and potentially unsafe over-the-counter products, talk to a  veterinarian. There are a variety of prescription medications your veterinarian can reach for in an effort to help.  

How long should it take a pet to adjust after fireworks? 

The recovery time following exposure to the anxiety trigger is one thing your vet will look  at to determine the severity of a dog’s noise aversion. Severely affected dogs may take  days or even more than a week to get back to normal after one BOOM!. More mildly  affected dogs are okay again as soon as the fireworks stop. Recovery time can run the  full spectrum between the two extremes.  

In regards to what a pet “should” do, ideally a pet wouldn’t respond at all to fireworks to  begin with, making a recovery period a non-issue. If your pet panics at all, please talk  to a veterinarian.  

What mood changes should a person look out for in their pet? 

Signs that you should seek veterinary care for your pet include:  

• Hiding 

• Trembling 

• Lip-licking 

• Yawning 

• Hypervigilance 

• Anxiety 

• Panic 

• Trying to escape 

Noise aversion is a legit medical condition, not a training issue or an undesirable behavior. These dogs are in fear for their lives and are suffering. They won’t just “get over it” or eventually see that the fireworks won’t actually hurt them. When your dog is in a panic, he is not in a mental place where he can learn.  

The main way dogs “get over” noise aversion as they age is by losing their hearing. Old, deaf dogs no longer suffer from noise aversion if they had it earlier in life.  

So, if your dog carries on like nothing is happening around fireworks, you’re lucky and in good shape. He doesn’t have noise aversion. But if he gets nervous or panics, he has a medical condition that warrants medical attention.

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