Weathering storms and firework shows with your pet

June 26, 2019

The do's and don'ts of helping your pet through their fear and anxiety

Summer is the season of fireworks and thunderstorms. The sporadic and unexpected sounds can scare your pets. They can also make dogs, in particular, feel threatened or trapped. Kristi Flynn, DVM, is an assistant professor in the Department of Veterinary Clinical Sciences at the University of Minnesota College of Veterinary Medicine says that there are a few key things to keep in mind when helping your pet through those loud and scary booms.

DO’S

1. Comfort your dog 
“You don't need to make a big deal out of it, but it is important to help your dog feel more comfortable,” says Flynn. “It's okay to give them treats or let them play with a favorite toy if they are not too nervous to do so. Actually, pairing storms or fireworks with their favorite things can help them feel more confident, less anxious, and more comfortable about noise in future events.” Dogs can associate their feelings with certain experiences. So, if a dog starts to link their favorite treats with storms or fireworks, that can affect how they remember the experience. Over time, this could help them to be more relaxed in these situations.

2. Put them in a comfortable, secure place 
“Set your dog up in a safe, insulated spot where they choose to go. This could be under the bed or in a closet,” Flynn says. “Turn on the lights and play some music or a white noise machine to help dampen or drown out the noises and flashes.” Of course, dogs should only be crated if their crate is already a favorite spot. Dogs who are new to crating may not react well to this uncertain situation if they are also being stimulated by a storm or fireworks. 

3. Build their confidence when it’s quiet
“Try to desensitize your dog by playing gentle storm sounds at a quiet level in the off-season,” says Flynn. “Speak with your veterinarian well in advance about medications that help with noise anxiety and noise phobia. If medication is warranted, it is often better to test it ahead of time to see how the pet responds to make sure we see positive effects.” Some medications can help dogs feel less nervous during an event, which is a feeling they will remember the next time. 

DON’TS

1. Punish, scold, or ignore your dog
Negative responses do not effectively tell your dog to stop exhibiting fear. “When a dog acts fearful, that is an emotion and not a behavior,” says Flynn. Giving your dog treats or extra attention when it is showing signs of fear and anxiety does not reinforce what they are doing. “You cannot reinforce or discipline an emotion,” she says. Additionally, your dog’s pattern of fear and anxiety during storms and fireworks will not resolve itself on its own. 

2. Expect a veterinarian to prescribe cannabidiol (CBD) oil
“Vets are federally prohibited from endorsing CBD oil with clients,” Flynn says. “They may tell you something like, ‘There is no firm evidence suggesting that CBD oil works for anxiety or fear in a pet. These products are not regulated and are currently only to be used at your own risk because, at this time, we cannot say with certainty that they are safe or effective.’”

But what about cats?

“There are some cats that are afraid of storms and fireworks,” says Flynn. “If your cat is afraid, all the same best practices still apply. Find your cat a comfortable safe space and try to distract or comfort them with something they like—such as play or petting—or give them some canned food or a special treat, if they will eat.” If you have an indoor cat and you are having people over for the Fourth of July, use caution around frequently opened doors—cats can dart outside in fear.