Fireworks leave us awestruck, but for many dogs, they can cause severe anxiety. Dr. Aliya McCullough, Petplan’s on-staff vet, is here to help you develop a pet safety plan so everyone can celebrate the Fourth of July without a hitch.
Dog firework anxiety & signs to watch out for
Imagine hearing an unpredictable, booming noise and not knowing what it was. That’s how some dogs feel during fireworks. Even inside, the loud sounds can trigger a dog’s fight or flight response, causing them to feel trapped and try to run away.
Physical signs of anxiety:
- Going to the bathroom inside
- Destroying things
- Heavy drooling
- Escape attempts (some pets try to jump through windows or scratch doors)
- Injuring themselves
If fireworks trigger your dog’s anxiety, here are some ways you can calm them down.
Before the Fourth of July weekend
What can I give my dog for firework anxiety?
If you’re nervous about your anxious dog’s first Independence Day, ask your vet if prescription anti-anxiety medication could help with stress if needed. With their OK, start giving it to your pup before the holiday (preferably on a chill day), so you can see how your dog reacts to the medication.
Update their dog tags
Update or create dog tags with your current contact information in the case your pet runs away as a reaction to fireworks. Having updated tag information and a microchip will help reunite you. It’s best to keep dogs indoors or leashed throughout the holiday.
Talk to a behavioral therapist
Reach out to your dog’s veterinarian or veterinary behaviorist for any training tips and ask them about behavioral supplements for your pup, like melatonin. Dog pheromone collars, with chemicals that relax animals, are a calming non-prescription alternative.
Create a safe space
Creating a safe space for your dog is always a good idea regardless of their trigger. Imagine a dog oasis: food and water bowls, their favorite toys and blankets and bedding. Their crate could also be their safe space, but don’t start crate training your dog on the day of the holiday. Choose a smaller, interior room in your house like the primary bathroom or closet if they aren’t comfortable or have never been in their crate.
On the day of a fireworks display, close the blinds and play white noise or classical, soft rock or reggae music to drown out the sounds. Leaving the television or radio on can help too but in some cases may overstimulate your dog.
Pet-friendly ear coverings can help to drown out the loud noises, too. Calming dog wraps like vests or shirts may also make your pup feel secure. Introduce new products to your dog gradually, before the holiday so you don’t overwhelm them.
Introduce them to low-volume fireworks videos
Playing a sound clip or videos of fireworks at a low volume for your pup ahead of the holiday may help desensitize them. Play with your dog, ask them to perform commands or do their favorite tricks as the video plays. Reward calm behavior with their favorite treats and praise. If they seem anxious, try again at a lower volume.
Learn which emergency rooms are open on the Fourth of July weekend
In the case that an emergency does happen, it helps to have a plan in place to save time. Contact your local animal emergency room or veterinary hospital to see if they’re open. Map the route in advance, so if you need to rush there, you’ll know exactly where to go.
During the Fourth of July weekend
Exercise your dog in the morning
Before the celebrations begin, take your dog on a longer walk than normal or extend your game of fetch to get them tired and relaxed during the day.
Leave your dog at home
The bottom line is that dogs should not go to firework shows. The loud sounds can have harmful effects on your dog’s hearing and it can be frightening for them even if they don’t show obvious signs of distress.
Use the safe space
If you’re at home, great! Put your dog in their safe space when you start to hear fireworks. Give them a really special treat as positive reinforcement and to distract them from the sounds. If the room has windows or doors, make sure they’re locked and covered.
After the Fourth of July weekend
Pick up leftover fireworks
Fireworks contain harmful chemicals like potassium nitrate, sulfur and heavy metals. Our dogs are naturally curious animals — protect them from confusing a used firework as a treat by picking them up after the party is over.
If you suspect that your dog ate a used firework, watch out for these signs:
- Signs of abdominal pain: lack of appetite, hunched posture or lethargy
- Bloody diarrhea
- Tremors or seizures
- Discolored skin or gums
Other safety risks to consider during the Fourth of July weekend
Prevent your dog from overheating
If sunshine is in your forecast this Fourth of July, it’s understandable that you don’t want your pup missing out. However, knowing when the weather is too hot will help protect your dog from overheating. Avoid bringing them out during peak sun hours between 10:00 AM and 3:00 PM. Talk to your vet about applying sunscreen to your dog. In general, avoid sunscreens with an ingestion warning label, as the chemicals it contains could be toxic. Always make sure there are lots of shaded areas and plenty of water for your best friend, and bring them inside when it’s too hot.
Pick up any food scraps
Any new food (including scraps) that are introduced to your dog’s diet can cause an upset stomach. Avoid giving them any rich treats (no matter how much they drool) and pick up any food scraps off the ground. Here are some foods you should avoid:
- Chicken wing bones are brittle and can easily splinter causing injury to the gastrointestinal tract.
- Some nuts, like macadamia, are toxic to dogs.
- Onion rings are toxic to dogs and damage red blood cells.
- Dogs are sensitive to alcohol so keep any beer, wine and cocktails out of reach.
Keep decorations and party favors out of reach
Keep all decorations (like glow sticks and necklaces) and utensils out of reach. Toothpicks can damage the stomach and intestines if they’re swallowed. Streamers may look pretty, but they lose their appeal after they’ve been eaten by your dog. Items like bug spray, sunscreen or citronella candles are made with chemicals — keep them out of your dog’s reach as well.
Prevent your dog from eating charcoal ashes
If you’re cooking up delicious barbecue on a charcoal grill, be sure to keep the charcoal ashes out of reach as they can cause a gastrointestinal obstruction. Other grilling tools like lighter fluid or matches, should also be kept away from your pup as they contain toxic ingredients.
Happy Fourth of July! With these tips, you can focus on making happy holiday memories with your dog.
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