Independence Day fireworks can be a highlight of the summer season for many. But for the family dog, fireworks and thunderstorms can trigger fear and anxiety similar to a panic attack. A third of all dogs will suffer from noise anxiety connected to suddenness of the sound.
“To some degree, their ears are more sensitive. They pick up a wider range of sounds than we do,” said veterinarian Mark D. Freeman at the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine at Virginia Tech. “Sudden very loud sounds can cause dogs to be very frightened, and with the continuation of noise, it’s sort of a ramping up effect. The more noise they are exposed to, the more reactive they become.”
Many dogs will look for a place to hide or a place where they feel more safe and secure. “When they are in a situation where they are being bombarded with noises that are causing a tremendous amount of stress for them, they are looking for any source of security, and that includes a “safe” hiding place,” said Freeman.
There are a number of different techniques that can be utilized for animals that have phobias associated with loud noises. A general rule is to approach any phobia through behavior modification therapy, if that’s an option; desensitizing animals to the loud noises so that they ignore them is advised.
“Medications, such as sedatives, can be effective in helping a dog feel calm and quiet,” said Freeman. “Sileo actually is a sedative that we use very commonly in veterinary practice. It had originally only been available as an injectable medication, but has now been produced in an oral gel that is absorbed through the gum tissue.”
Unless you know for a fact that your dog has been desensitized and is not afraid of loud noises, it’s probably not a good idea to take your dog to a fireworks show.
“Every year near the 4th of July, we see a significant increase in the number of traumatic injuries to dogs, specifically related to the fear response associated with fireworks,” advised Freeman. “Dogs have jumped through glass windows and off decks and balconies, chewed through doors and walls, and many get hit by cars when they panic and run away from the noise.”
Dr. Mark D. Freeman is an assistant professor of community practice in the Department of Small Animal Clinical Sciences at the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine at Virginia Tech.