Getting Your Dog Ready for 4th of July

Dog and owner enjoying fireworks

As we anticipate the upcoming celebrations of the 4th of July, it’s essential to recognize that our pets’ reactions to fireworks—whether it’s hiding under the bed, trembling uncontrollably, or exhibiting other anxious behaviors—are not just quirks but indicative of genuine medical issues: fear and anxiety. These emotions can overwhelm and induce panic in our pets, affecting their well-being and quality of life.

There are a number of things you can do to help your pet cope with fear of fireworks—from behavioral techniques and environmental modifications to the use of medications and natural supplements. We will discuss each of them in my recommended order, starting from mild anxiety to increasing severe anxiety.

What You Need To Know:

WHY START NOW?

German Shepherd in patriotic sunglasses in front of USA flag

Commencing preparations early isn’t just a matter of convenience; it’s crucial for ensuring your pet’s safety and comfort during the upcoming festivities:

  1. Your Vet Is Busy Right Now: Veterinary clinics and pharmacies experience high demand during the 4th of July season, so early planning minimizes the risk of booked appointment calendars or medication supply delays. Depending on when your pet had their last appointment, your veterinarian may need to schedule with your pet. For pets not seen within the last year, an appointment may be needed before prescribing a new medication or refilling an old one. This appointment ensures your veterinarian has an accurate assessment of your pet’s fear response, obtains a current body weight, and is able to run any lab work, if needed. Your veterinarian is your partner in addressing your pet’s anxiety. They can provide expert advice on behavioral techniques, environmental adjustments, and the use of medications or natural supplements tailored to your pet’s specific needs. By scheduling a consultation early, you allow ample time for thorough discussions and the implementation of effective strategies.
  2. Optimizing Medication and Dosage: If medications are part of your pet’s anxiety management plan, starting early allows for proper dosage adjustments and ensures the medication’s effectiveness. Some medications may require time to reach therapeutic levels, and testing different options may be necessary to find the most suitable one for your pet.
  3. Behavioral Training and Environment Preparation: Effective behavioral training and creating a safe environment require gradual implementation. Introducing your pet to stimuli associated with fireworks—such as loud noises and bright lights—early allows them to acclimate gradually, reducing fear and anxiety over time. Setting up a safe retreat or sanctuary within your home also requires careful planning to ensure it meets your pet’s comfort needs.
  4. Monitoring and Adjusting: Whether you choose natural supplements or behavioral techniques, starting early allows you to monitor their effectiveness and make adjustments as needed. Each pet responds differently, and ongoing evaluation ensures you are providing the best possible support.
  5. Fireworks Tend to Occur Sporadically Before July 4th Too

Remember, fireworks anxiety is not just a passing discomfort—it’s a genuine medical concern that deserves attention and intervention. Together with your veterinarian, you can create a personalized plan that minimizes stress and maximizes comfort for your pet during this festive season.

WHAT IS NOISE AVERSION?

Scare pitbull afraid of noise with pet parent holding ears for noise phobia

Noise aversion manifests as an exaggerated fear response to auditory stimuli, leading to intense anxiety and stress in affected animals. Dogs experiencing noise aversion may exhibit a range of behaviors including trembling, pacing, panting, hiding, or seeking comfort from their owners. These reactions are rooted in a deep-seated fear response rather than mere discomfort.

Fireworks Are Different Than Other Noises

Fireworks, with their sudden and unpredictable explosions of sound and light, pose a unique challenge for dogs with noise aversion. Unlike predictable noises such as thunderstorms, fireworks lack a discernible pattern, heightening dogs’ anxiety levels. The combination of loud bangs, flashing lights, and the unfamiliarity of the situation can trigger profound fear responses in sensitive pets.

The Basics of Sound

Sound is a type of electromagnetic radiation characterized by its frequency, measured in hertz (Hz), where one Hz equals one wave cycle per second. Humans perceive frequencies between 20 and 20,000 Hz, while dogs can hear from 40 to 45,000 Hz, and cats up to 64,000 Hz. This superior range also allows dogs and cats to detect sounds from much further distances than humans. The loudness or intensity of sound is measured in decibels (dB). Immediate hearing damage occurs at 100 dB, and prolonged exposure to levels above 85 dB can also be harmful.

Health Risks of Noise Pollution

Noise pollution is increasingly recognized for its impact on human health. Research has linked living near airports to a heightened risk of cardiovascular diseases, independent of air pollution effects. Individuals in the loudest areas, such as near airports, have a higher risk of stroke, coronary heart disease, and other cardiovascular conditions, even when accounting for factors like ethnicity, socioeconomic status, smoking, road traffic noise, and air pollution. The biological response to noise is dose-dependent, with the greatest risk among the 2% of the population exposed to the highest noise levels.

Pet Hearing Sensitivity

The anatomy of dogs’ and cats’ outer ears (pinna) enables them to pick up sounds more acutely than humans. Dogs, which rely on auditory cues to navigate their environment, are particularly susceptible to the unnatural sounds of modern life. Exposure to loud noises and chronic noise can elevate stress hormones and blood pressure, with effects lasting weeks after the noise ends. Studies show that dogs exposed to loud sounds experience increased heart rates, higher salivary cortisol levels, and signs of anxiety. Consistent ambient noise at 85 dB can cause anxiety in dogs, and background noise at 100 dB can result in hearing loss.

PREVALENCE OF NOISE AVERSION

Scared terrier during fireworks. Owner using dog's ears to cover dog's eyes.

Studies indicate that noise aversion affects a staggering 67% of dogs in the United States. This condition encompasses a heightened sensitivity and fear response to loud noises, such as fireworks, thunderstorms, gunshots, and other sudden sounds. While some dogs may exhibit mild signs of distress, others experience severe anxiety that can lead to destructive behavior or self-harm.

Despite the severity of noise aversion, studies indicate that only 40% of owners seek veterinary assistance for their pets’ anxiety-related behaviors. Delaying professional intervention can worsen symptoms over time, reduce pets’ quality of life, and strain the bond between pets and their families.

IMPACT OF FIREWORKS ON PETS

Large fireworks display over water

Fireworks can trigger a fear response in pets, leading to a significant release of cortisol, a stress hormone. While the immediate effects of this stress response manifest in the dog’s behavior during the moment, the elevated cortisol levels can persist in the system, causing stress effects that last for days. This prolonged presence of cortisol can adversely affect a dog’s digestive system, social behavior, sleep patterns, immune system, and ability to learn. Understanding these impacts is crucial, as they can be categorized into short-term and long-term effects.

Short-Term Effects

During fireworks displays, pets experience immediate and often severe stress reactions due to the sudden and unpredictable nature of the noises and lights. These short-term effects include:

  • Unnecessary Fear and Anxiety: Fireworks induce intense fear and anxiety in pets with noise aversion, triggering behaviors such as trembling, pacing, panting, and seeking refuge.
  • Escape Behaviors: Many pets attempt to flee from the perceived danger of fireworks by escaping their homes or yards. Pets have been known to leap over fences, dig under gates, tear through screen doors, bolt through a barely opened door, break windows, or chew through crates. This can lead to dangerous situations such as getting lost, injured, or involved in accidents.
  • Destructive Behaviors: Dogs overwhelmed by fear may engage in destructive behaviors like chewing furniture, scratching doors, or breaking through barriers like crates or windows.
  • Increase in Shelter Intake: Animal shelters report a significant increase in the number of stray pets picked up during and after fireworks displays. This surge places strain on shelter resources and increases the risk of pets being euthanized if not claimed or adopted promptly.’
  • Other Behavioral Responses to Fear: Pets may exhibit excessive barking, howling, or even aggressive behaviors as a response to their heightened anxiety during fireworks.

Long-Term Effects

Beyond the immediate impact, fireworks can have lasting effects on pets’ health and behavior:

  • Delaying diagnosis and treatment can increase both the frequency and severity of a dog’s symptoms, contribute to the development of other anxieties such as separation anxiety, compromise their immune system, disrupt their sleep patterns, contribute to long-term health issues, worsen their overall quality of life, increase their risk of injury, and even put a strain on the bond between your family and your dog.

It’s crucial for pet owners to recognize these behaviors as signs of significant distress and seek prompt veterinary or board-certified veterinary behaviorist consultation. Each pet’s response to treatment is unique, necessitating tailored strategies to alleviate their anxiety effectively.

WHAT ARE THE SIGNS MY PET IS AFRAID?

When a dog suffers from noise phobia, their behaviors often reflect intense avoidance or other anxiety responses.

Here are some common signs and symptoms to watch for:

  • Pacing or restlessness
  • Excessive lip licking
  • Increased duration and intensity of panting
  • Trembling or shaking
  • Excessive alertness, hypervigilance, jumpiness
  • Cowering or crouching
  • Hiding
  • Furrowed brow or ears pulled back
  • Freezing or immobility
  • Refusal to eat; decreased appetite; lack of interest in food or treats
  • Refusal to go outside
  • Yawning
  • Excessive vocalizing (whining, barking, or howling)
  • Attempting to escape
  • House-soiling
  • Dilated pupils or wide eyes
  • Increased heart and respiratory rate
  • Hypersalivation, drooling
  • Anal gland expression
  • Attention-seeking or clingy behavior
  • Destructive behavior
  • Aggression

Every dog is different, and they will likely not experience all of these symptoms. Some may only show one or a few of these behaviors, while others may exhibit many. The degree to which a pet experience these symptoms will vary greatly. Additionally, it’s possible for a pet who was once never afraid of fireworks to “suddenly” develop this fear.

Recognizing these signs can help you take steps to mitigate their distress and seek appropriate veterinary care. The sooner a treatment plan for noise phobia is started, the less likely it will progress to severe behavioral issues. Even the mildest of anxiety symptoms, such as whining or hiding during an event, justify immediate intervention, such as a discussion with your veterinarian ASAP before the next phobic event occurs.

WHY IS MY PET AFRAID OF FIREWORKS?

Two fireworks

Understanding the Fear Response

Most animals, including dogs, have evolved to avoid perceived threats for survival. When a threat is perceived, dogs experience stress or fear. They react reflexively, driven by this self-protection instinct without conscious decision-making. This fear response triggers the release of cortisol, a stress hormone. This hormone prepares the body to either fight, flee, or freeze in the face of a perceived threat. The body prioritizes survival, leading to behaviors like growling, snapping, barking, lunging, cowering, or attempting to escape. In stressful situations, dogs may not respond to verbal cues as usual. They are in panic mode and may not hear us. It’s important not to punish dogs for panicking. Instead, with professional guidance if necessary, aim to establish positive responses to stress or fear, fostering healthier coping mechanisms.

Dogs heightened auditory sensitivity means that sudden loud noises, like fireworks, can be particularly jarring. Plus, the unpredictable nature of fireworks, from flashes of light to booming sounds, cause our pets to perceive them as a threat or potential harm, which then manifests as intense fear and panic. This natural tendency means that even dogs with little to no negative associations with loud sounds can still react with fear. Although there is a biological basis, firework anxiety is a genuine phobia and should be treated as such.

Fireworks frighten dogs for several reasons:

  • Perceived Threat: Fireworks create sharp, abrupt sounds that do not resemble natural noises. The unclear location of the sound and light can make pets feel trapped, with no clear path to escape. Pets can’t understand whether these noises pose a real threat to their safety.
  • Lack of Early Exposure: Puppies need exposure to new sounds and experiences to develop confidence and healthy coping mechanisms. Positive exposure before 12 weeks of age is crucial to ensure that dogs are not frightened by these sounds later in life.
  • Previous Traumatic Experiences: Traumatic early experiences can heighten an animal’s fear response, increasing their desire to avoid or escape these situations. Consulting a reputable veterinary behaviorist can help, as they can prescribe anti-anxiety medications and assist in managing fear-related behaviors.
  • Social Learning: Dogs can learn to be afraid of fireworks from other dogs. Exposure to a noise-averse dog can create similar reactions in a dog that was previously neutral.
  • Pain: Musculoskeletal pain is associated with a later onset of noise sensitivity in dogs that were previously non-reactive. Noise-induced tension exacerbates existing muscle or joint inflammation, leading to increased discomfort. This discomfort becomes linked with loud or sudden noises, causing dogs to develop sensitivity and avoid situations where they’ve had negative experiences, such as aggressive encounters in parks or noisy rooms at home. The study suggests that noise sensitivity in dogs may signal a need for pain relief.
  • Breed Predisposition: Some breeds are more prone to fear of loud noises. A 2020 study on genetics and canine sensitivity found that herding breeds, such as Cairn Terriers, Pembroke Welsh Corgis, and Rough Collies, are more likely to be scared of fireworks. In contrast, breeds like Labrador Retrievers, German Shepherds, and Miniature Poodles are less likely to respond fearfully to fireworks due to their breeding history and genetic predisposition.

The Role of Genetics and Early Development

The temperament of a dog, influenced by genetics and early development, plays a significant role in their predisposition to stress, anxiety, and fear. For instance, high levels of stress during a mother’s pregnancy can pass a propensity for anxiety to her puppies via the stress hormone cortisol. This hormone keeps an individual on high alert, and high cortisol levels in the mother’s bloodstream can negatively affect the developing puppies.

Studies have shown that dogs exposed to recordings of thunderstorms had higher cortisol levels and exhibited more signs of fear, such as hiding, running away, and seeking human attention. In some cases, dogs with chronic exposure to fear-inducing noises may exhibit HPA hypoactivity or “vital exhaustion,” where their internal stress mechanisms become less responsive.

Age and Sensitivity

As dogs age, their sensitivity to loud noises can increase, often related to pain or changes in how they perceive sound. Older dogs lose the ability to detect higher-frequency sounds, which provide important location cues. The inability to pinpoint the source of a noise can heighten their stress levels. This is particularly relevant with fireworks, where the unpredictability and varying locations of sounds can be much scarier for a dog.

Preventing Fear

Preventing fear from developing in the first place is one of the most effective ways to manage firework anxiety. Counterconditioning, where owners play with their dogs, give treats, and express positive emotions during fireworks, has been shown to significantly reduce fear responses. Identifying your dog’s fear level using tools like the Lincoln Sound Sensitivity Scale (LSSS) and working with a veterinarian to choose the most effective treatment method, including medication and coping mechanisms, can help manage this anxiety.

Understanding and addressing your pet’s fear of fireworks is essential for their emotional health and well-being. By recognizing the causes and signs of fear, you can take proactive steps to help your pet feel safer and more secure during stressful events like fireworks displays.

HOW CAN I CALM MY DOG DURING 4TH OF JULY?

To ensure your pet stays calm during the 4th of July, it’s crucial to both prepare ahead of time and have a plan in place for the day of the event. By taking these steps, you can help minimize your pet’s anxiety and keep them safe.

PART 1: PREPARE AHEAD OF TIME

Dog sleeping in crate

Behavior Modification Techniques

  • Counterconditioning and Desensitization: Gradually expose your dog to the sounds of fireworks in a controlled and positive manner. Start with recordings at a very low volume and pair them with treats, play, or other enjoyable activities. Gradually increase the volume over time as your dog becomes more comfortable. Working with a board-certified veterinary behaviorist or a rewards-based certified dog trainer can be very effective in implementing these techniques successfully. Read Our Introductory Guide Here.

Environmental Modification Techniques

  • Create a Safe Space for Your Dog: Designate a secure, quiet, enclosed space in your home where your dog can retreat and feel safe. This could be a crate, a specific corner, or a room like a bathroom, closet, or spare bedroom with minimal windows. Ensure this area is comfortable, with familiar bedding, toys, and water. Read our Guide to Creating a Safe Space here.
  • Enhance the Safe Space: Add noise-canceling materials such as heavy curtains, blankets, and rugs to help muffle the sounds of fireworks. Consider plugging in a pheromone diffuser nearby or placing some clothing that smells like you. Research also suggests essential oils (coconut, vanilla, & ginger) calm dogs.
  • Familiarize Your Dog with the Safe Space: Introduce your dog to the designated safe space a few weeks before the 4th of July. Encourage them to spend time there by using positive reinforcement techniques, such as giving treats, playing, and providing toys. This helps build a positive association with the area and ensures your dog feels comfortable and secure when the fireworks begin.
  • Ensure Your Dog’s Identification is Up to Date: Make sure your dog is microchipped, and ensure the information associated with the microchip is current (read our guide here). Check your pet’s identity tags to ensure their name and your contact information is visible. This increases the chances of being reunited with your pet if they become frightened and escape during the fireworks. If your pet is an escape artist, consider getting a GPS tracker. I recommend Tracker for dogs and cats.
  • Secure Your Yard: Before the 4th of July, inspect the perimeter of your yard for any potential escape routes. Check for holes, gaps, or weak spots in the fencing material, and ensure gates are secure and latch properly. Address any issues well in advance to prevent your dog from escaping in a panic.

Consult Your Veterinarian

  • Speak with your veterinarian about potential medications or supplements that can help manage your pet’s anxiety. They can recommend appropriate options and provide guidance on how to use them effectively.

PART 2: ON THE 4TH OF JULY

There are a number of things you can do to help your dog cope with noise phobia and I have them listed in my recommended order starting from mild anxiety and increasing to severe anxiety.

Environmental Modifications

  • Keep Your Pet Indoors: Keep your pet inside to minimize exposure to the loud noises and flashes of fireworks. Secure all windows and doors to prevent your pet from bolting outside. Utilize the safe space you created for your pet.
  • Draw Curtains and Blinds: Block out visual stimuli such as flashes of light by closing curtains and blinds. Amazon carries portable black-out curtains, which can suction to your windows temporarily, providing a much more calm environment for your pet.
  • Play Calming Music: Play soft, calming music or white noise to help drown out the Studies indicate that music, particularly classical, significantly alleviates anxiety in dogs by masking the startling sounds of fireworks. Classical music has been shown to lower dogs’ heart rates and reduce behaviors associated with stress, making it an excellent choice for creating a peaceful environment. To make it easier, “Classical for Pets,” a curated playlist on Amazon Music, features soothing tracks perfect for calming your furry friend. Spotify has lots of pet playlists If soft, classical music isn’t doing the trick, then pick something with a heavy bass that will drown out the loud firework booms. You could try rock or even North African Belly Dancing music. For more tips and playlists to keep your pet calm, visit our blog here.

Behavioral Modifications

  • Have a Pre-Fireworks Plan:
    • Exercise: Take your dog on a long walk, run, or hike early in the day. Play games and engage in activities that tire them out both physically and mentally. Exercise not only reduces fear and anxiety, but also decreases reactivity, promotes good behavior, and helps dogs better tolerate noise pollution and separation anxiety. It builds confidence, fosters trust, and enhances their ability to remain calm. Aim for enough rigorous exercise to ensure they are sufficiently tired before fireworks. Be sure to return home well before the fireworks begin to avoid any sudden loud noises while outside.
    • Bathroom Breaks: Take your dog out to pee or poop before the fireworks start to minimize the need for outdoor trips during the event.
    • Feeding Time: Feed your dog early in the evening, as some dogs may lose interest in food when scared. A full stomach can also make them feel sleepy and more relaxed.
    • Administer Medications or Supplements: If your veterinarian has recommended medications or calming supplements, administer them at the appropriate time for maximum effectiveness. Some may need to be given a few hours before the fireworks start, others require only a few minutes.
    • Make Sure Your Pet Is Wearing Their Collars and Tags
  • Stay Close to Your Pet: Provide Reassurance. Your presence can be very calming for your pet. Stay close, offer gentle reassurance, and remain composed, as pets can pick up on your emotions. If you plan to be out during the fireworks, arrange for a dog sitter to stay with your pet. If boarding your dog, inform the caretakers about your dog’s typical reactions and provide them with calming tips.
  • Distract Your Pet:
    • Engage in Play: A frozen Kong or a food puzzle like a Toppl can help keep your dog occupied and distracted from the noise.
    • Offer High-Value Treats: Provide special treats that your pet loves to create positive associations during the fireworks display.
    • Social Learning & Modeling: If possible, pair your dog with another dog that is not afraid of fireworks. Observing a calm dog can help reduce your pet’s anxiety.
  • Avoid Punishment: Be Patient and Understanding. Do not punish your pet for their fearful behavior. This can increase their anxiety and make the situation worse. Instead, offer comfort and understanding.

Utilize Calming Aids & Pheromones

Dog wearing thundershirt

To help manage your dog’s anxiety, we can utilize hormones and pheromones to tap into their natural biological mechanisms, offering a calming effect similar to a comforting hug from their mother.

These calming aids offer several benefits for managing stress and anxiety in dogs. They provide a natural and non-invasive alternative to medication, are easy to use, are safe for dogs of all ages, and can be used in combination with other medications or with one another. These products are typically free from side effects, making them a gentle and effective option for promoting calm and reducing anxiety in your pet.

  • Wrap Them Up:
    • Thundershirts: These snug-fitting garments can help some pets feel more secure by providing gentle, constant pressure to calm anxiety, akin to swaddling an infant. This pressure triggers the release of calming hormones like oxytocin and endorphins, reducing stress and anxiety in dogs. Scientific studies support its efficacy, showing significant improvement in behavior and reduction of stress-related symptoms in many dogs.
    • CozyVests: is a product designed for dogs, similar to the Thundershirt, but it incorporates additional features aimed at reducing anxiety. CozyVest not only provides gentle, constant pressure but also includes calming music and essential oil aromatherapy. This multi-sensory approach aims to enhance the calming effect, addressing anxiety through both tactile and sensory stimulation. It can be particularly beneficial for dogs with severe anxiety or those unresponsive to pressure therapy alone.
    • Snoods or Happy Hoodies: Happy Hoodie is a soft, stretchable fabric band designed to fit over a dog’s ears and around its head. It helps to reduce noise and calm dogs during stressful situations such as grooming, thunderstorms, or fireworks. By gently compressing the ears, Happy Hoodie creates a swaddling effect that can soothe and comfort dogs, decreasing their anxiety and making them feel more secure.
  • Use Pheromones: The most popular pheromone products for dogs are collars, which use synthetic Dog-Appeasing Pheromone (DAP) to reduce stress and anxiety. DAP mimics the calming pheromones produced by lactating mother dogs, providing a sense of comfort and security to dogs in stressful situations. The benefit of using a collar is its continuous release of pheromones through body heat, offering constant, round-the-clock calming effects. This non-invasive and easy-to-use method is safe for dogs of all ages and can effectively reduce stress-related behaviors like excessive barking, whining, and destructive chewing without causing side effects.
    • Adaptil Collars or ThunderEase Collars: I recommend that all dogs start on an Adaptil collar a week prior to known noise events. Adaptil Collars are available on Amazon for small dogs or puppies. ThunderEase is powered by Adaptil and have a much wider range of available collars on Amazon.

Give Nutraceutical Treats

Nutraceuticals are over-the-counter, natural supplements that have been researched and validated to help decrease anxiety in dogs and cats. There are a number of products available that help reduce mild to moderate anxiety and can be used in addition to Adaptil collars or Thundershirts.

  • Nutramax Solliquin: Solliquin soft chews are a veterinary-exclusive supplement formulated to support behavioral health in dogs and cats. They contain a blend of natural ingredients, including L-theanine, magnolia extract, and phellodendron extract, which have calming properties to help manage anxiety and stress-related behaviors. Solliquin is designed to promote relaxation without causing sedation, making it suitable for daily use in pets prone to anxiety or exhibiting behavioral issues such as excessive vocalization, destructive behavior, or aggression. As with any supplement, it’s advisable to consult with a veterinarian to determine if Solliquin is appropriate for your pet and to discuss the correct dosage based on their specific needs.
  • Vetoquinol Zylkene: Zylkene capsules are a veterinary supplement designed to help manage stress and anxiety in dogs and cats. The active ingredient in Zylkene is a natural product derived from casein, a protein found in milk. This ingredient has calming properties and is known to promote relaxation without causing drowsiness. Zylkene capsules are typically used in situations that can cause stress for pets, such as changes in routine, travel, fireworks, or veterinary visits. Zylkene capsules are available in different strengths depending on the size of the pet, and they are often given once daily. They are considered safe and can be used alongside other behavioral management strategies or medications prescribed by veterinarians. As with any supplement or medication, it’s important to consult with a veterinarian to determine the appropriate dosage and to ensure that it is suitable for your pet’s specific needs.

Try CBD

German Shepherd wearing a US flag bandana in front of a US flag. Treat bag in front with Pet Releaf CBD for stress relief

CBD has gained significant attention for its potential to alleviate anxiety and ease pain in dogs. However, it’s important to note that regulation of CBD for dogs is minimal, so doing thorough research and consulting with a veterinarian before administering CBD is crucial. For more detailed guidance, check out our article, What to Know if You Want to Give Your Dog CBD.

Here is a brief review of the evidence and research supporting CBD for dogs with anxiety.

Preliminary Studies: Research on CBD’s effects on canine anxiety is still in its early stages. There are 4 significant studies to note:

  • A 2019 study by Cornell University found that CBD oil increased comfort and activity in dogs with osteoarthritis, suggesting its calming properties might also reduce anxiety. Another study published in the journal Pain in 2020 showed CBD significantly decreased pain and improved mobility in dogs with osteoarthritis, which may indirectly reduce anxiety by enhancing overall well-being.
  • A more targeted study aimed to assess the anxiolytic effect of CBD on dogs exposed to fireworks found no significant results, likely due to the low dose (1.4mg/kg) and mistimed administration (4-6 hours before exposure). Another study explored CBD’s impact on aggressive behavior in shelter dogs, revealing a reduction in aggression, but without statistically significant differences from the placebo group. Both studies likely faced limitations due to low doses (Morris et al., 2020; Corsetti et al., 2021).
  • In 2022, the long-term safety of CBD in dogs was supported in a randomized, placebo-controlled, double-blind study. This study indicated that healthy dogs could tolerate a once-daily dose of 4mg/kg broad-spectrum THC-free CBD over a six-month period. A similar study was replicated in cats in 2024, suggesting that a THC-free, CBD distillate fed at a dose of 4 mg/kg well tolerated by healthy cats when supplemented over a period of 26 weeks.
  • A 2023 study demonstrated that a single oral dose (4mg/kg) of THC-free CBD significantly relieved stress in dogs caused by car travel or being left alone. In this study, CBD was administered 2 hours prior to the stressful event. Measures of stress, such as cortisol levels and behaviors like whining and panting, improved significantly after CBD administration.

Veterinary and Pet Owner Surveys: Veterinarian surveys indicate many professionals observe positive effects of CBD on anxiety and other behavioral issues in dogs and frequently recommend CBD for these conditions. Similarly, over half of the pet owners surveyed report that CBD products help calm their anxious dogs, alleviate symptoms of separation anxiety, and ease fears of loud noises like thunderstorms and fireworks with little to no side effects.

Human Research: Human studies also provide insights, showing that CBD can reduce anxiety in individuals with social anxiety disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, and PTSD. CBD has also been found to decrease general anxiety, improve mood, sleep, quality of life, and cognition. These findings suggest similar mechanisms could apply to dogs, given CBD’s interaction with the endocannabinoid system, which regulates mood, stress, and anxiety in both humans and animals.

Side Effects: Side effects of CBD are generally mild, primarily involving gastrointestinal issues like nausea, loss of appetite, vomiting, and loose stools. These side effects might be related to the product formulation and different oral formulations could reduce these signs.

Limitations and Considerations: Despite promising evidence, more large-scale, peer-reviewed studies focusing on CBD’s effects on anxiety in dogs are necessary. Proper dosing guidelines are still being established, and the quality of CBD products can vary. It’s essential to use high-quality products and consult with a veterinarian before administering CBD to your pet.

What We Recommend: We recommend ElleVet Calm & Comfort Acute Strength CBD+CBDA. ElleVet Sciences were the first to conduct CBD research in dogs, in collaboration with Cornell University. Since then, ElleVet Sciences conducted a successful pilot on dogs with anxiety, using their CBD+CBDA product. Results indicated this product was 83% effective, and pet parents reported the product easy to administer, palatable, fast acting. 41% of the owners reported an effect in 60 minutes, 25% reported an effect in 120 minutes, 20.83% saw an effect in 15 minutes, and 12.5% reported an effect in 30 minutes. 60% of pet owners reported the effects lasting 1-6 hours, and 40% reported effects lasting 7-12 hours. Timing of effect appeared to peak at the 60 minute time point. Therefore, we recommend dosing between 1-2 hours before fireworks begin.

Ask Your Vet About Prescription Medications

Short-term (ST) and long-term (LT) medications can help manage anxiety in dogs, with ST medications providing immediate relief for acute situations like fireworks or thunderstorms, and LT medications helping with more general or chronic anxiety, which can also include noise aversion.

These medications are used to manage sudden anxiety episodes, especially related to noise aversion.

  • Diazepam (Valium):
    • Uses: Anti-anxiety, muscle relaxant, anti-seizure, appetite stimulant.
    • Administration: Can be given with or without food.
    • Onset: Typically takes effect within 1–2 hours.
    • Prescription: Often used for noise aversion or phobias in highly anxious dogs.
  • Sileo (Dexmedetomidine Oralmucosal Gel):
    • Uses: Situational anxieties, such as noise phobias and aversions.
    • Administration: Administered 30–60 minutes before a phobic event or immediately if unexpected.
    • Onset: Relief is often seen within minutes.
    • Prescription: Ideal for extremely severe anxiety; FDA-approved for noise-induced anxiety.
    • Effectiveness: A recent study found that 69% of owners reported improvement in their dogs’ firework anxiety with medications, including Sileo.

Other fast-acting medications that may be prescribed include Trazodone, Gabapentin, or Alprazolam. For a full list of anxiety medications for dogs, please refer to our blog here.

Why You Should NOT Use Acepromazine (“Ace”) for Pets with Noise Anxiety

Acepromazine, commonly known as “Ace,” has historically been used to manage various phobias in pets. Despite its sedative effects, it is falling out of favor, and here’s why.

Acepromazine works by blocking dopamine in the brain’s reticular activating system (RAS), leading to sedation. However, this means your pet remains aware of fear-inducing stimuli but is immobilized and unable to react, often described as a “chemical straightjacket.” This sedation does not alleviate the pet’s fear; instead, it can heighten their anxiety as they become more sensitive to the stimuli without the ability to respond. Essentially, while your pet may appear calm, they may actually be experiencing heightened fear and anxiety.

As a phenothiazine-derived psychotropic drug, Acepromazine is typically used as a pre-anesthetic sedative in dogs. Its dissociative sedative properties make pets easier to handle but do nothing to address underlying fears, potentially worsening their phobias by altering their perception and increasing their sensitivity to anxiety-inducing stimuli. This combination can ultimately make the situation worse for the pet.

Always Trial New Medications with Your Dog Prior to Fireworks

It’s crucial to test any new medication with your dog before a high-stress event like fireworks. Here’s why and how:

  1. Suitability and Dosage: Not every medication works for every dog or situation. After consulting with your veterinarian or a board-certified veterinary behaviorist to determine the right medication and starting dose, it’s important to trial the medication before the actual phobic event. This helps you understand how your pet will react.
  2. Monitoring: During the trial, monitor your dog closely to ensure the dose is correct and watch for any adverse effects, such as vomiting, diarrhea, swelling, or oversedation.
  3. Pre-existing Conditions: Consider any pre-existing conditions and other medications your pet is taking, as these will influence the appropriate medication and dosage your veterinarian recommends.
  4. Supervision: Never leave your pet alone or unmonitored after administering a new medication, especially for anxiety. Sedation, a common side effect, could cause accidents like falling off furniture, choking, or other injuries.
  5. Veterinary Consultation: Always consult your veterinarian before giving your pet any medication or supplement. Incorrect use or dosages can lead to severe side effects, including Serotonin Syndrome, which is particularly dangerous when dealing with behavior modification medications.
  6. Behavioral Modification: While medications can help manage stress and anxiety, it’s essential to address the underlying phobia with proper behavioral modification techniques, such as desensitization and counterconditioning. Seek support from certified behavior consultants, your veterinarian, or a veterinary behaviorist to help your pet lead a healthier and happier life.

What About Herbal Supplements?

We intentionally did not include herbal supplements in our recommendations here. You can explore our detailed blog post on herbal supplements for our general advice on their use. In this blog, we want to highlight research-based products that have been proven effective for pets through scientific studies and our own experiences with our pets and clients’ pet

PART 3: AFTER THE FIREWORKS

Senior labradoodle celebrating 4th of July

After the fireworks have subsided, remember that it can take 8-12 hours for your dog’s stress levels to return to normal. To prevent any sudden re-triggering of fear from stray fireworks, it’s best to avoid going out for the rest of the night.

Allow your dog to “self-soothe” after the fireworks. Engage them in natural calming activities like licking, chewing, or sniffing, which can help them relax. Offer a treat-filled toy or hide small treats around the house to keep your dog occupied for 15-20 minutes. These activities can significantly aid in reducing post-fireworks anxiety and help your dog settle down more effectively.

Patience and Love Are the Best Remedies for a Dog’s Anxiety

Patriotic dog being held like a baby

Understanding and managing your dog’s stress response is one of the most valuable skills you can develop. It offers a lifetime of benefits for your pet by helping them cope with anxiety-inducing situations. While immediate training during stressful events isn’t feasible, you can condition your dog to perceive these situations differently over time. This process helps build their trust in you, rather than diminishing it.

Each pet is unique, and while the suggestions in this blog aim to alleviate fireworks-related anxiety, they might not be effective for every dog or cat. It’s crucial to consult with your veterinarian to explore various options and determine the best approach for your pet. Remember, finding the right solution may require some trial and error, so be patient and persistent until you discover what works best for your dog.

WHERE CAN I LEARN MORE?

Find out more about how to keep your pet calm:

  • Watch Dr. Douglas Dean’s 4th of July recommendations here.
  • See WoofDoctor on Wheels recommended:
    • Calming products for dogs here.
    • Enrichment products for dogs here.
  • Read:
    • How to Create a Safe Space for your dog here.
    • Everything You Need to Know About CBD for your pet here.
    • Desensitization Training for 4th of July here.
    • How to Update Your Pet’s Microchip here.
    • How to Use Music to Calm Your Pet here.
    • How to Get Your Cat Ready for 4th of July here.

If you’d like to schedule an appointment or discuss anxiety medications for your pet, please call us at (843) 966-3362

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