Fireworks, Thunder and Lightning. Oh My!

Every summer we have many people asking “What can I do for my dog who gets really upset during thunderstorms or when there are fireworks? ”   Sometimes pets are only mildly upset, perhaps simply more clingy to their owners.  In more extreme cases, dogs can become so anxious that they panic and can even injure themselves or damage the home if they try to escape from a crate or  break through a door or window.
For most dogs, and owners, there aren’t any perfect solutions.  Our experience with short acting drugs to fight anxiety aren’t helpful.  Sedatives only make the pet drowsy, they don’t prevent the pet from being anxious, they just keep 
them from being able to react to their fear. Having said that, there a few situations where sedatives may be a reasonable option.  
The anxiety medications which we find to be most helpful need to be given daily & take several weeks  before they start working.  This usually means starting them in spring and giving them throughout the summer.  There are definitely some dogs that are good candidates for these medications, but please check with us to find out it that’s the best answer for you. 
The ideal treatment is de-sensitization.  This technique is time and labor intensive, and is best done under the guidance of a certified pet dog trainer, veterinarian or even a veterinary behaviorist.  This treatment is based on exposing your dog to the stimulus that causes them to become anxious (thunder, fireworks, etc) at a low intensity while at the same time using training techniques to keep the pet relaxed.  Once they become relaxed with the stimulus at a low volume, you can increase the intensity of the stimulus over time.  Audio recordings of thunderstorms & fireworks can be found or purchased on CD, MP3 files and likely even smartphone apps.   Although this is considered the best way to handle thunderstorm and firework phobias in the long term, it does take a lot of time and work, and is usually best started months before summer.
For some dogs, a compression jacket, such as a thundershirt, can make a big difference.  They put gentle pressure over the dog’s body which has a calming effect.  They are certainly worth a try if your dog gets anxious during storms & 
fireworks shows.  
Another tool that can help with anxiety is a product called Adaptil (formerly DAP.)  This is a synthetic form of a pheromone that female dogs produce to comfort their pups.  It is available as a spray, a collar and even a plug-in 
dispenser and is intended to help reduce stress for dogs in many situations. 
Taking pets to a quieter, darker environment may also help.  Close windows to muffle noise and use light blocking window shades.   Providing background noise, such as a loud fan or even music may help decrease the stimulation from thunder & fireworks. 
One other thing that could be considered is lavender.   A study was done that showed decreased anxiety in dogs that had travel-induced excitement when they were exposed to the scent of lavender.  Although thunderstorm or firework phobias weren’t addressed in the study, they did suspect that the lavender had a calming effect on the dogs studied.  

Have a happy & safe Fourth of July!

-Kingsbrook Animal Hospital