The Fourth of July can be stressful for pets

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A dog with pet health insurance holds an American flag in his teeth.

By: Dr. Fiona Caldwell
For Pets Best Insurance

The Fourth of July is always a much anticipated time of year for celebrating. Time with families, friends and fireworks brings happiness to many, but what about our pets? The sounds and sights of pyrotechnics are exciting to us, but they can also affect pet health and be very distressing for pets that have anxiety. There are some things you can do to help make this holiday fun for everyone.

Did you know that many pets go missing on July 4th? Animal control officers and shelters often see an increase in lost animals during this time. Extreme anxiety from firework noise can trigger an intense need to ‘escape.’ Pets can occasionally harm themselves and certainly can be destructive to your property during episodes of fear. Frightened pets have been reported to jump through windows, scale fences, tear though kennels, or chew their skin during fearful times. Because pets can harm themselves if they become scared, it’s a good idea to have pet health insurance for your pet. Pet insurance can often help diminish vet bills for unexpected illnesses and accidents.

If you have pets, even if they aren’t currently afraid of fireworks, there are some things you should do to keep them safe. Leaving a pet alone outside while you go off to see the fireworks display is likely a bad idea, especially if they are anxious. The noise will be louder outside, and escape will be easier. Always have identification on your pet. Microchipping is a good idea, as well as having a secure collar with your name and phone number on it.

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Give your pet a calm, dark, and safe environment during the scariest times. If your pet is already comfortable in a crate, this can be a very helpful tool. Do not attempt to introduce crating to a pet that is anxious and has never been confined. This should be done much before the scary event. Turn on ambient noise, such as radios or the television to create background noise in order to drown out firework booms.

While your presence may be soothing and comforting to your pet, excessive coddling and attention may positively reinforce their negative behavior. In other words, excessive attention you lavish on your pet during scary times may have the opposite effect of encouraging the exact behavior you are wishing to avoid. Never punish your dog for being fearful, this will only make the situation worse.

The most anxious dogs may benefit from veterinary prescribed anti-anxiety medication. Medication that aims to reduce anxiety is typically more helpful than true sedatives, which sedate, but don’t relieve anxiety. While there are some over-the-counter remedies, such as Rescue Remedy, a prescription medication will likely be more appropriate for the most fearful animals. Some pet insurance companies even offer limited coverage for behavioral issues and medications.

An “Anxiety Wrap” or “Thunder Jacket” is a product you can purchase to help with noise phobias. It works by applying pressure on the dog’s body to divert attention away from the scary stimulus. It is a similar technique to that used to calm autistic children.

After the Fourth of July is over, or before it comes around, your fearful pet might benefit from desensitization and behavioral modification. For example, you might play a recording of firework noise, very softly at first, while giving a treat, or doing some other activity the dog likes. Slowly over many sessions increase the volume of the noise. It is important not to go too fast; try to end on a ‘good note’ before starting the next session. If you move too quickly and the dog becomes fearful, you’ll have to start over.

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As always, in extreme cases, consulting with your veterinarian or a behaviorist is a good idea. If everybody feels safe, then you are more likely to be able to enjoy the festivities and take part in celebrating one of the best summer holidays!

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